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Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

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Guide 21 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > Kingman S
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 15 miles
Trailhead Elevation 459 feet
Avg Time One Way 6
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Perennial Creek
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11  2019-03-05
Bill Williams River & Lake Havasu Kayak Camp
3  2018-10-22
Upriver Paddle
1  2018-10-20 azbackpackr
8  2018-03-19
Topock Gorge - Upper
6  2018-01-20
Dead Burro Canyon
9  2018-01-03
Topock Marsh - Five Mile Landing
3  2018-01-01 azbackpackr
7  2017-11-26
Colorado River Beach epic bike ride
Page 1,  2,  3
Author azbackpackr
author avatar Guides 26
Routes 365
Photos 4,732
Trips 720 map ( 5,214 miles )
Age 66 Female Gender
Location Flag-summer-Needles-winter
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar → 7 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:22am - 6:42pm
Official Route
14 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Whatever floats your boat!
by azbackpackr

This wildlife refuge offers opportunities for kayaking Topock Marsh, Topock Gorge, and the upper end (north end) of Lake Havasu. Mountain biking is possible on the portage roads. It's a prime area for birders since it is part of the migratory bird flyway, and is a year-round home for many water birds as well. There is hiking in the wilderness area of the refuge as well, but there are no established trails.

The most popular route for kayakers is Topock Gorge, a spectacular section of the Colorado River between the Interstate 40 bridge and Lake Havasu. For beginning kayakers and bird watchers Topock Marsh is the place to go.

Kayakers and canoeists need to be aware that motorboats may also be on the water.

Mountain bikers need to stay on the levee roads.

No camping is permitted ANYWHERE on the refuge. No overnight backpacking, no overnight kayaking, no car camping, no RV camping, etc.

Several Kayak shuttle services are available in the area. Companies such as Desert River Kayak Outfitters and Jerkwater Canoe Company will provide this service and rental boats. Due to strong river current a shuttle is necessary to do Topock Gorge. A shuttle is not required to kayak in the calm waters of Topock Marsh.

A couple of good maps are available. One excellent map "Lake Havasu" is published by Fish N Map Company. Another pretty good one can be downloaded and printed for free from this website: These maps both also include river and lake sections between Davis Dam (Bullhead City, Arizona) and Parker Dam (Lake Havasu).

NO FEES are charged to enter the refuge.


  1. Refuge website:

  2. Non-profit 501(c)(3) organization for both Havasu and Bill Williams River Refuges:

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your kayak trip to support this local community.

2014-12-07 azbackpackr
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent of 18 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Topock Gorge - Upper
    Topock Gorge is a canyon carved by the the Colorado River, between the I-40 bridge and Lake Havasu. (Trivia: It used to be called Mojave Canyon, on old maps and in historic photos.) It's a fairly popular paddling destination. Most people paddle it using a shuttle option, leaving a vehicle at Castle Rock Bay, on Lake Havasu, which is the nearest take-out point. This necessitates help from other people.

    I just wanted a simple solo adventure. I launched the kayak a short distance downriver from the I-40 bridge. This launch spot on the Arizona side of the river is not easy to find--I'd heard about it from a local. I had to use my kayak cart to get the 50-pound boat from my Jeep to the put-in. It looked as though I might be trespassing on gas company property, but there are no "No Trespassing" signs, and I was assured by my friend that many people walk down there to fish from the shoreline.

    Of course, it was easy floating downriver with the current, but it seemed to take forever to paddle back up, especially since a breeze came up, not in my favor. (The NWS had assured me the wind would be out of the South. Hmmm, wrong again!) I paddled downriver following the right (California) shore and stopping at a couple of beaches. Paddling back up the opposite (Arizona) shore I stopped several times as well. I have been having a sciatica problem, and need to get out of the boat and walk around.

    The water releases from Davis Dam have increased a lot over the past month. In winter the river is kept very low. Winter would be the best time to do this down-and-back paddle, when the river is running at 5,000 cfs, instead of 18,000 cfs! Also, pick a time when there will be a definite south breeze to help push you back upriver!

    There are no levees in this section, so the appearance of the river is similar to pre-dam conditions. However, yesterday I spent a couple hours at the Needles Museum, looking at dozens of old photos of the river, pre-channelization. Back in those days, Topock Gorge/Mojave Canyon had a lot more sandy beaches along its banks.

    It was another gorgeous day on the Lower Colorado River. Almost the last hurrah for me, since I will be moving back up "on the mountain" to Flagstaff on April 1st.

    Camping info: Topock Gorge lies within the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. No boat-in (shoreline) camping is allowed. For kayak campers this makes for a very long paddle of 20 miles, between two campgrounds--Park Moabi (Pirate Cove), and Windsor Beach Campground at Lake Havasu State Park. This is unfortunate.

    I found another volleyball! This is a real nice one (see photo). Too bad I am not able to play.

    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Dead Burro Canyon
    This hike was tougher than anyone had realized. The directions given on the golakehavasu website were pretty awful: a hand-drawn map and a description that didn't seem to go with what we were seeing. I think I now know where we went "wrong," but on the other hand, we had a very interesting hike. The area is pretty spectacular, with a lot of rock formations, potholes with water in them, slot canyons and dry waterfalls. There are cliffs and towers of rock, and expansive views of Lake Havasu.

    I'll post a few photos my friend took. I didn't bring my camera, and took a few photos with my phone, which are totally out of focus.

    A few brittle bush are in bloom
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Topock Marsh - Five Mile Landing
    This time I launched at Five Mile Landing. This little ramp is on the map, but there is no sign at the turnoff. Motorboats can no longer launch from here. The marsh is getting too shallow, especially right now with the water level being kept so low. It is fairly ideal for kayaks, but it is easy to get lost in the dead tree area if you launch here. There used to be a campground here, but it's long gone. It's a pretty place, with many enormous salt cedars and a lot of palms.

    I pretty much kept to the route I had planned. I paddled up the east side of the marsh lake, then worked my way across to the west through a lot of water that was very shallow. I was scraping mud sometimes, and wending my way through the spooky forest of dead mesquite trees. Once on the west side I got into the active boat channel, and the water is deep there. My destination was a place called "The Glory Hole." I guess it is, or used to be, a favorite fishing spot. But no one was there. In fact, I saw only one other boat all morning, likely a duck hunter. The hunters will be out and about until the end of this month, but regulations say they have to stop hunting at noon every day.

    I took a break at the Glory Hole. A US Fish and Wildlife Service boat was sitting on a trailer there near the launch ramp. This ramp is closed to the public. I walked up onto the dirt road there to look things over and stretch my legs. I saw that the road is in really good condition for mountain biking. Sometimes they grade the roads and make them too soft and gravelly. So, if I want to get in a nice long ride I had better go soon before they mess it all up. This is also where I took the self portrait.

    When looking at my GPS route, or in planning a trip to the marsh, use satellite. Maps will not be accurate because the marsh has changed a lot since the maps were made. In planning your trip, note there are some back channels on the west side of the marsh. These are all navigable, and interesting. As for riding the roads, the same applies. You can get lost in there, so print out a map from the satellite.

    I saw a lot of big White Pelicans and a grebe (it dived before I could see if it was a Clark's or Western, and then never came up where I could see it.) Saw an osprey and a Northern Harrier hawk. Also saw some double-crested cormorants, a Great Egret, a couple of Great Blue Herons, some swallows (I think they were tree swallows, but will have to ask my birder friend), some coots and ducks. (I'm not sure what kind of ducks--they were flying by very fast southward, no doubt because there were hunters shooting at them to the north.) I have a hard time grabbing the camera out from its box, and then I am never happy with the results. I am not sure if it is the camera or its operator, but I suspect the latter...

    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    This section of the refuge is called Topock Marsh - North Dike. It's the northernmost of the three put-ins for the 10-mile-long marsh. I went for a short paddle there, after work on New Year's Day. I was feeling tired and a little depressed. I had worked all morning at the front desk where I live. Since I had gone for an early morning walk, I could convince myself I'd had my exercise for the day, and it was hard to get myself going. Even when I got to the put-in at North Dike, I almost talked myself out of going because it was a little windy. Not so windy to be unsafe, just maybe a little annoying.

    I got started anyway, after kicking myself several times for being lazy. I usually follow along the west side channel because it's free of those dead trees sticking up everywhere, but I decided to switch things up a bit and went over to the east side. There was an open channel that way, between the dead trees. I got over to an area where the white pelicans roost. There were four of them floating on the water. It was funny to see them simultaneously dip their heads down, and come up again, like a coordinated dance. Sometimes one or two of them would catch something in its bill. It would put its head back and flop its bill and swallow. I let the wind push me toward them, not paddling. I knew once they caught sight of me it would not be long before they'd fly away. I was able to get fairly close before they did take off. I didn't have my good camera with me, unfortunately, so the photos aren't that great. I'll bring it next time.

    I also saw one or two osprey (maybe saw the same one twice). I saw a couple of great blue herons, a snowy egret, a great egret, and numerous coots. I didn't see any cormorants, which I usually see.

    If anyone is visiting the area and wants to go kayaking, let me know. I may have time to paddle with you. I have a loaner boat, which is an Advanced Element Advanced Frame inflatable.

    The water level in the river and the marsh are both kind of low right now. The marsh is man-made, and its water level is regulated by a series of ditches and gates. You can NOT paddle directly from the marsh into the Colorado River. There is a place on the southwest end of the marsh lake where you can portage to a channel that leads to the river, but ONLY when the river is higher than it is right now. When it's low you will be paddling on the mudflats. (Been there, done that, got stuck!) Google Earth is very useful in figuring out the marsh. All of the maps are out of date and show water where there is no water. When looking at my GPS route, switch it to satellite.

    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Colorado River Beach epic bike ride
    Another absolutely stunning day in Needles, temperature about 80, with almost no wind. This has been the nicest fall I have ever experienced here. Usually it's a lot windier, and even kind of cold. This is my fourth year of snowbirding in my RV on the riverbank.

    This ride started north of the town of Needles, California. I headed downriver, starting from near where I live, first passing through the Aha Macav village (the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe), and then past the golf course (the Wrinkled Old Guy Tribe). Just before I got to Jack Smith city park, I took a dirt road which follows the railroad tracks south all the way to Park Moabi. At a certain point you can turn off this road (see GPS route) and ride the levee road for several miles. The tread is pretty good, not a lot of sand, just enough to keep you honest. Some of the side roads are VERY sandy, however. ATVers like those; I don't.

    There are quite a few beaches and overlooks a rider can choose to visit, but I stopped at only one of the beaches. My destination was Five Mile Lagoon. This pretty lagoon is about half a mile long, and is adjacent to the river, separated by a levee, so you can't boat into it from the river. At this point the levee road ends. I didn't want to make a lot of side stops to beaches on this ride because I knew I was going to rack up over 20 miles just to get to the lagoon and back, which seemed like enough mileage to me, since I've mostly been doing only 10 miles rides lately. This was my first 20+ ride on the mountain bike since last winter. I was pleased to find I was not totally exhausted at the end.

    Since this is directly across the river from the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge I am linking to that.
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    We launched at Catfish Paradise in Topock Marsh. I had posted this with a local group, and one guy showed up. He had one of those Hobie pedal kayaks, which was pretty unsuitable for the marsh, which is full of duckweed. The apparatus underneath his boat got clogged up, and he had to pull it up and paddle like a normal kayaker, poor guy! Despite all this we had fun.

    Incidentally, there is no way to boat from the marsh directly into the Colorado River without portaging over a levee. I get asked this a lot at the marsh: "How do you paddle to the river from here?" However, when the river is high, you can start at Topock 66 Marina (that drinking establishment on the Arizona side, by the I-40 bridge) and boat up into a part of the marsh that isn't walled off by the levees.

    I believe that the marsh is kind of sick right now. Duck weed is starting to take over. Channels are filling with it, and you can no longer easily explore them. I don't know if there are any plans to dredge it, but I think that's what it needs.

    Google Earth is the most helpful method to figuring out the back channels of the marsh. Maps are almost useless, because they show water where there are only cattails.

    We pedaled/paddled by the beaver lodge. We saw lots of birds, including a possible bald eagle, but it was kind of far away and kept flying further. Saw white pelicans, cormorants, herons, ducks, and of course, mud hens (aka coots). Stopped on a small beach for lunch and walked up a dune to get a view.

    As we paddled, several times very large fish would jump up in front of us. They were at least 2 feet long. I don't know if they were carp, bass, or what they were.

    Reminds me of that old tale about the man whose wallet fell into the pond, and the carp found it and started playing volley ball with it...That is, they were carp-to-carp walleting...
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    A moderate paddle in Topock Marsh. For quite a while, a couple years, I hadn't been leading many, (if any) activities for a local group. I decided to start doing it again. I'm glad I am, because it's fun. As I mentioned elsewhere, sometimes I just get tired of my own company. It's true that going solo you may see more. But today I don't think I would have seen the bald eagles that one of the other two gals spotted. Too far away for a photo, though. We also saw grebes, great egrets, great blue herons, and the ubiquitous coots. It's duck season, so of course we didn't see any ducks. Those guys are hiding! We saw duck hunters in kayaks!

    I had never before paddled through the large pipes into the intake/outlet canal. It was fun. It's not possible to do unless the water is exactly at the right level. It has to be deep enough to float a kayak, but not so deep you can't get through. The water doesn't rush through, so doesn't seem dangerous. Someone took a photo of me from the back as I went into the pipe.
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    This is in the Pintail Slough section of the refuge. I rode pretty much all the roads separating the fields and the swampy areas. It's flat, and most of the roads are hard-packed dirt. Some are a little sandy but not bad.


    A trumpeter swan (or tundra swan, not sure which) was swimming in one of the ponds, and flew away. Enormous bird! It's the largest of waterfowl, and has a 10 foot wingspan, according to the info online.

    Two coyotes, remarkable because they were kind of blasé about my presence. When I took a lunch break nearby they lay down in the sun on the road and rested, about 200 feet away. Since I made more than one loop through that area, I saw them several times.

    A turkey vulture on its meal, which was a freshly killed snow goose in the road. (It's hunting season, and maybe a hunter didn't find it.) The vulture flew away when I rode by. Vultures don't kill, they scavenge.

    A big flock of snow geese, which took off from a field, with much honking and bleating.

    Roadrunners, quail, various tweety birds, a woodpecker of some kind, and various ducks. I'm not a very good birder, am I?

    It turned out to be a really nice day, fairly warm and sunny, and almost no wind.
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Topock Marsh Big Loop
    I'm going to Baja California in April to go kayaking, and I've wanted to increase the miles I can paddle on flat water, without benefit of river current. To date, this 13 miles is the furthest I've paddled my boat on a lake. I was pretty tired the last three miles, but I had hidden a packet of "Gu" in my deck bag, and remembered it, with good effect.

    I started at Catfish Paradise and paddled up the main lake, dodging the dead trees, stopping at the only real beach, and then took a spin around the lagoon at Five Mile Landing. Then across the lake to find the first of the hidden channels. In and out of that one and into the next one. In the second (southern) set of channels I saw the beaver lodge, which I had not seen before.

    I have gotten better at bird IDs. I saw white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, osprey, bufflehead ducks, coots, great egrets, etc.

    I have pretty much figured out this marsh now, but there are a few more channels and hidden lakes to explore. Stay tuned! It's necessary to use satellite image, because maps are totally out-of-date. (See GPS route.)
    Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
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    Colorado River - Needles to Topock Marina
    This was the second time I'd paddled down this stretch of the Colorado River. Levees on both sides, but there are still some nice beaches and views. This time I did the trip solo, asking a friend to help me shuttle my vehicle to Topock Marina ahead of time, so it was there waiting for me at the take-out.

    Once you pass the outskirts of Needles the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge is on the left. On the right there is a railroad track but otherwise little development. It's fun to watch the trains go by.

    Taking out at Topock Marina you'd have the opportunity to sit at the bar at Topock 66 Resort, but I didn't do that this time. I paddled up the channel toward Topock Marsh but not very far.

    Permit $$
    Please carry your own pack. The pack animals have been seriously abused.

    All permits reported taken for the entire year within hours of becoming available on Feb 1st. The old walk-in policy of paying double is no longer honored.

    Pricing for 2018 is as follows and includes all necessary permits, fees, and taxes:
    One Person, 2 Days / 1 Night: $140.56
    One Person, 3 Days / 2 Nights: $171.11
    One Person, 4 Days / 3 Nights: $201.67

    Weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Holiday weekday nights (February 19, May 28, July 4, September 3, October 8), and Spring Break weekday nights (March 5-8 and 19-22) are an additional $18.33 per night.

    2019 Campground Reservation Pricing

    ALL campground reservations are 3 Nights / 4 Days.

    $100 per person per weekday night
    $125 per person per weekend night (Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights)

    These prices include all necessary permits, fees, and taxes.

    This means that a 3 Night / 4 Day stay will be a total of between $300 and $375 per person (depending upon how many weekend nights are included).

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To kayak trip
    From Phoenix, take Grand Avenue west to 60 West to 93 North to I-40 west to Exit 1, Topock. Turn right on Oatman-Topock Highway. Follow signs to Catfish Paradise (for Topock Marsh). For Topock Gorge, your canoeing outfitter will give you precise instructions.
    page created by azbackpackr on Dec 07 2014 8:25 am
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