Arizona is an iconic US southwestern state famous for its amazing natural sites including the Grand Canyon, ponderosa pine-covered mountains, and the Saguaro National Park in the Sonoran Desert landscape. Technically, it’s a landlocked state, but you can reach the Gulf of California from the southwestern border in half a day. But Arizonians have access to five major rivers and 128 lakes for water play, or even a little hiking.
The lakes in Arizona are some of the most unique in the country. You’ll find lakes in every part of the state ranging from desert reservoirs to high mountain gems. Opportunities for outdoor adventures abound and most have excellent facilities, marinas, and campgrounds. Here are 10 of the best lakes to visit in Arizona.
Lake Mead is one of Arizona’s largest and best-known lakes. Located along the Colorado River, the reservoir lake was created by the mighty Hoover Dam. It has a surface area of 247 square miles, is 112 miles long, and holds around three trillion gallons of water.
However, due to drought conditions, the lake hasn’t been at full capacity since 1983. But there’s still plenty of lakes to explore for everything from standup paddleboard to houseboat.
The lake is easy to access and serves as a gateway to Las Vegas coming from the east. The Strip is 24 miles away. The northern shore lies in Nevada and the southern shore is in Arizona, but the entire lake is within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It’s divided into several bodies called basins. Boulder Basin near the dam is the largest.
The shoreline is a maze of narrowing canyons leading to rare sights, secluded beaches, and secret fishing spots. The water is crystal clear and popular for scuba diving with intriguing geological formations, wall dives, and the wreckage of a B 52 Bomber plane.
Lake Mohave is located near the Nevada town of Laughlin just across from Bullhead City, Arizona. The lake was created by a widening of the Colorado River where it backs up at the Davis Dam about 67 miles downstream from Hoover Dam. The 250 miles of rugged coastline attracts adventurer’s looking to escape the boating crowds.
Narrow canyons characterize the upper 22 miles providing a place to explore nature. The water is cold in this part of the lake, an effect of the bottom layers of Lake Mead flowing through the Hoover Dam. The water is warmer down the lake near Laughlin with an average temperature between 70 and 80 degrees F.
Consequently, this part of the lake sees more action. Access is easy with marinas providing all the needed services for boating. The Nevada side is more secluded with only a few pleasant beaches.
A 45-minute drive from Phoenix, the 9,222- acre Lake Pleasant provides watersports recreation for Greater Phoenix residents. It was created in 1927 by the Waddell Dam to provide irrigation. The spectacular scenery around the lake is a draw for tourists.
It lies within the Lake Pleasant Regional Park which is well-appointed with a range of services. Two marinas offer boat rentals, storage and mooring, a restaurant, and a store.
The park around Lake Pleasant features county campgrounds with waterfront sites. Summer weekends stay busy, and reservations are recommended. The lake stays abuzz with all sorts of watercraft that can be rented at the marinas. For a quieter visit, head farther from the shoreline where sailboats are powered by the desert winds.
Theodore Roosevelt Lake, often referred to as Roosevelt Lake is the largest of three lakes along the Salt River and is the farthest from Phoenix. Created by the Roosevelt Dam, its the oldest of six reservoirs operated by the Salt River Project. The 17,315-acre lake was named in honor of the President, a naturalist, and conservationist, who attended the dedication himself in 1911.
Situated in a wide desert area, the lake is popular for fishing and boating. Anglers can expect to catch carp, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass. Marinas with boat rentals, campgrounds, and RV parks dot the shoreline. The water is quite warm in the summer with temps averaging in the mid to high 80s F inviting visitors to lounge on air mattresses and blow-up toys.
Cholla Bay and Bachelor Cove are popular places to visit out on the lake. For a more remote experience, boaters drop anchor along the north shore where road access is limited.
Picturesque Saguaro Lake is a reservoir along the Salt River within the Tonto National Forest in Maricopa County 41 miles from downtown Phoenix. Sitting at an elevation of 1,506 feet, it’s surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes and red and yellow cliff walls. The lake gets its name from the tree-like saguaro cactuses that grow in the desert.
Saguaro Lake is managed by a joint effort between the Salt River Project, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Tonto National Forest, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. It’s known for great fishing and is stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, yellow bass, crappie, and more. A marina, boat ramps, restrooms, picnic tables, and a restaurant service the 22-mile shoreline.
Bartlett Lake is a reservoir created by the Salt River Project in the late 1930s by damming the Verde River. It was the first one created on that particular river. It lies within the Tonto National Forest approximately 50 miles from Phoenix. The lake is 33 miles long, has a surface area of 2,830 acres, and an average depth of 100 feet.
The lake is most popular for sport fishing. Fish species inhabiting the lake include small and largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, crayfish and flathead catfish. It’s also visited for its scenic beauty, being surrounded by gentle hills, cactus, and a brilliant display of wildflowers in spring.
Bartlett Lake is also visited for swimming, waterskiing, and sailing, and picnicking on the shoreline. There are several campgrounds in the area, and the marina has rooms for rent.
Situated in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Willow Springs Lake is a cold water lake on top of the Mogollon Rim about 23 miles east of the city of Payson. It was created for the sole purpose of recreation in 1967 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. It has a surface area of 158 acres and is moderately deep at an average of 60 feet.
Fishing is the most popular activity at the lake. Anglers fish for bass, various trout, and sunfish. Ice fishing is offered in the winter months. Boaters are restricted to 10 hp gas motors or electric motors. Visitors also come to the lake to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding forest and canyons.
The shores of Willow Springs Lake feature 26 campsites, restrooms, picnic shelters, and boat ramps.
Situated in the Alamo Lake State Park, Alamo Lake was created in 1968 for flood control by the Alamo Dam. It’s situated along the Bill Williams River which is often dry, but extreme flooding can occur during heavy seasonal rains which help maintain the lake’s water level. Today, it’s a popular lake for fishing tournaments. Anglers often break state fishing records at Alamo Lake.
The lake is within the Alamo Lake State Park for more recreational opportunities. Visitors come to go swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, and camping. The tent campsites have picnic areas and fire pits. The park also has 19 full hook-up RV sites with picnic tables, showers, and restrooms. There are also cabins for rent, and the park has a visitors center and a store for supplies.
Lake Havasu is a reservoir created by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River. It’s located within the Lake Havasu city limits. The dam was built by the US Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938. It’s used to store water for pumping into two aqueducts and for recreation.
Located on the border between Arizona and California, the lake has some of the state’s best beaches. Stretches of soft sand are dotted along the 400-mile-long shoreline. In summer, the water is “bathtub water” warm at around 87 degrees F. Boating is also popular.
The lake has no speed limits, and high-performance boats are welcome. In the evenings, pleasure cruises and sunset cruises take visitors to waterfront restaurants for dining.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.