Four Great Destinations for Trailer Boats: Los Angeles Area

Let me start this travel piece with a word of caution. California and the West are in the midst of a serious drought. I cannot be held responsible if you show up to one of these lakes and there is no water in it. I’m kidding… sort of.

Having issued that caveat, let me add that there’s some great boating available to residents of Southern California — and lot of it is, ironically, in the middle of a desert. Southern Californians own a fair number of boats and the region is home to a contingent of small, custom boat builders. Unlike in Michigan, where you’re never far from a lake, in California you’re never really near one  — unless you happen to live on one’s shoreline. And even then it can take a long time to get there. Traffic, you know. But once you arrive, the boating can be spectacular.

pyramid-lake-250pxPyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake is located about 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles in the Los Padres National Forest. It’s easy to find. Just drive north on Interstate 5 till you’re nearly to the top of the Grapevine and look to your left. Exit at Smokey Bear Road and look for the Pyramid Lake Recreation Area.

Pyramid is so named because of the pyramid-shape cutout on the mountain face on the west side of the lake. This lake has it all: fishing, swimming, boating, waterskiing, picnicking, and camping. The lake’s shorelines are steep, so most of them are accessible only by boat. The beauty of the surrounding mountains and the crisp alpine air are a nice change most Angelenos look forward to. Because it’s nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, summer temperatures are usually manageable, unlike some of the desert boating spots around Southern California.

Be prepared for an early start. The lake has a capacity of typically 50 PWC and 150 boats, and when the capacities are met, you can’t get in till someone else leaves.

Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu is accessed via Lake Havasu City in Arizona, where there are plenty of launching ramps.  Created by yet another dam on the Colorado River, Lake Havasu is a big draw for boaters from Southern California. Why? Big parties and a more reliable flow of water from the north.

The area around the London Bridge gets the most press, and it’s a wild place to be on summer weekends. Havasu gets triple-digit hot in the summer, but a nice plunge into high 70- to low 80-degree water takes the edge off.

For remote party action, head north to “The Sandbar,” which is a low spot on a bend in the river where boaters of all stripes gather. The London Bridge area and The Sandbar can be described as R-rated sometimes. For something more pedestrian, keep heading north on the Colorado River till you get to Pirate Cove Resort, an RV, cabin, and boating resort on the Colorado River just south of Needles, Calif.

There are plenty of launching ramps on the shores of Lake Havasu. Photo courtesy of <a href=""></a>.

There are plenty of launching ramps on the shores of Lake Havasu. Photo courtesy of

Pirate Cove Resort  is popular among boaters, judging from the density of boats lining the shores on summer weekends, but it operates in a more relaxed, family-oriented way, according to Art Tate, who owns the resort with his wife Maureen.

“We are the busiest place on the lake and on the river,” Tate said. “On Saturdays in season, we’ll have 3,000 people or more up there. We don’t have problems. We’re not after the spring-break crowd. That’s just not our crowd.”

The resort boasts an award-winning restaurant and bar with a delightful Caribbean theme. Guests can stay in one of 14 cabins, each equipped with two bedrooms and two baths, a deck on the upper floor, and a covered porch overlooking the marina and river. Inside, the Caribbean theme continues, with potted palms, tropical furniture patterns, and palm-frond-bladed ceiling fans.

“We’re very proud of our cabins,” Tate said. “If somebody wants to come and really enjoy the resort, I would recommend they stay in a cabin.”

The marina at the BlueWater Resort and Casino on Parker Strip has 100 slips and free Wi-Fi.

The marina at the BlueWater Resort and Casino on Parker Strip has 100 slips and free Wi-Fi.

Parker Strip

Just south of Lake Havasu lies the 20-mile-long Parker Strip, also known as Lake Moovalaya. It is littered with public ramps on the Arizona side, and campgrounds and hotels on both sides of the river, California to the west, Arizona to the east.

The Parker Strip is more laid back, but it gets busy on the weekends, so be ready for that. Weekdays, it’s much more peaceful.

Along the shorelines, there are riverside eating and drinking establishments like Badenoch’s for breakfast and the Road Runner for cocktails. One longtime Parker Strip practice is “floating,” which amounts to shutting off your boat and floating with the gentle current. You will occasionally have to start the boat to reposition, but the practice is entirely acceptable, even to boaters who are motoring on by. The current gets stronger as the day increases the demand for electrical power, but floating down the Parker Strip is one of the little-known pleasures of boating on this body of water.

At the south end of the Parker Strip, the Blue Water Resort and Casino has huge docks for guests and gamers. Games include slots and table games, poker, and bingo. There’s also a high-limit room for any whales that visit Parker, Ariz.

Pacific Ocean

Let’s finish with the obvious. The Pacific offers a multitude of boating activities. It’s windy enough for sailing, yet in the South Bay area it’s protected enough for trailer boats, and the coast is dotted with launching ramps. There’s good halibut fishing on the bottom and lots of kelp beds and canyons for other angling.

The Cabrillo Beach launch ramp has plenty of parking and offers direct access to Los Angeles Harbor. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

The Cabrillo Beach launch ramp has plenty of parking and offers direct access to Los Angeles Harbor. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

There are launch ramps at Marina Del Rey, Redondo Beach, and a whole slew of them down in Long Beach, too.

For the truly adventurous, the coolest destination is Santa Catalina’s Avalon Harbor, where you can reserve a mooring buoy, call the water taxi, and head to shore for an island experience unlike any on the continental United States. Catalina is just 22 miles from the mainland, and is accessed most easily from Long Beach and San Pedro. Avalon Harbor has plenty of hotels, bars, and restaurants. What’s more, the water is usually calm and protected enough for you to sleep overnight on board. There are more places to anchor at Twin Harbors, farther north at the isthmus. There’s lots of good snorkeling and diving all around the island, too. Late August through October is best for calm sea conditions and warm weather.


Note: This post has been edited to remove information about Lake Arrowhead, which is a private lake.