Lake Mead National Recreation Area
By Noah Austin
Maybe you’re on your way to Las Vegas for the weekend and you’d like a little peace and quiet before you hit the casino floor. Or maybe you’re on your way back from a weekend in Vegas, your foolproof roulette strategy (“Put it all on 36; I’ve got a feeling about that number”) having left you without money for a hotel room, and you’re looking for a place to camp. Either way, you’ll find what you need on this drive, but it doesn’t have to be a Sin City side trip. As you’ll see, Cottonwood Road is a safe bet almost anytime.
To begin, reset your odometer when you turn onto Cottonwood Road from U.S. 93. The entire road is dirt, but the eastern half is smooth and well-traveled. Yuccas and other high-desert vegetation are the norm here, and this is farm country, so don’t be surprised to also see a herd of cows or goats (yes, goats) ambling across the road. Soon, on your right, you’ll pass Mount Perkins (5,456 feet), and then you’ll begin a gradual climb into the Black Mountains, which parallel Arizona’s western border with Nevada. The mountains might not look like much from the east, but ... well, just wait.
Around Mile 10, the terrain shifts abruptly and the road follows suit. It’s much more rough and washboard-like from here on in, and you’ll be glad you’ve got four-wheel-drive. After an initial uphill section, the road slopes downward as you descend toward Lake Mohave. Your first great view of the lake comes at Mile 13.
A half-mile from the lake, you’ll reach a fork. For the best view, go left to stay on Cottonwood Road. Before long, you’ll come to a lakeside clearing with restrooms and a few primitive campsites. The clearing is mostly surrounded by wetland vegetation, and don’t be surprised to see a turkey vulture or two hanging out in a nearby tree. Like all vultures, they’re mostly scavengers, so they’re probably waiting around to see whether you’re going to drop dead. Don’t take it personally.
If you don’t plan to spend the night, at least spend a few minutes taking in the scenery. To the west, on the Nevada side of Lake Mohave, are the Eldorado and Newberry mountains and Cottonwood Cove Marina. To the east — that is, behind you — the Black Mountains appear much more impressive from this lower vantage point. From its shores, it’s easy to see why Lake Mohave is a popular recreation spot. If you do plan to stay, there’s a 14-day camping limit. But that should be more than enough time to get over a rough weekend in Vegas.
PHOTO: Willow trees are reflected in the calm water of Lake Mohave, the payoff to a sometimes-rugged drive on Cottonwood Road. | Derek von Briesen
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 19 miles one way
Directions: From the intersection of Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 93 in Kingman, go north on U.S. 93 for 25.5 miles to Cottonwood Road. Turn left onto Cottonwood Road and continue 19 miles to Lake Mohave. Retrace your steps to return to Kingman, or continue north on U.S. 93 to reach Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.
Vehicle requirements: A four-wheel-drive vehicle is required. Cottonwood Road crosses several washes; don’t enter them when they’re flooded.
Information: Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 702-293-8906 or www.nps.gov/lake
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.