Arizona is awash with lakes if you’ll forgive the awkward expression. Most offer exceptional getaways for those who love boating, swimming, and fishing. No wonder the choices on offer make it hard to decide precisely where to go.
Bear in mind that the winters can get cold in Arizona, especially in the high and mountainous areas, so seasonal travel is worth keeping in mind. Here are 23 lakes in Arizona worth considering for your next holiday.
The Best Lakes in Arizona to Visit
Table of Contents
- The Best Lakes in Arizona to Visit
- 1. Apache Lake
- 2. Canyon Lake
- 3. C.C. Cragin / Blue Ridge Reservoir
- 4. Lake Havasu
- 5. Martinez Lake
- 6. Lake Mead
- 7. Lake Mohave
- 8. Lake Pleasant
- 9. Lake Powell
- 10. Theodore Roosevelt Lake
- 11. Watson Lake
- 12. Willow Springs Lake
- 13. Lynx Lake
- 14. Saguaro Lake
- 15. Patagonia Lake
- 16. Hawley Lake
- 17. Bartlett Lake
- 18. Big Lake
- 19. Alamo Lake
- 20. Fool Hollow Lake
- 21. Tempe Town Lake
- 22. Rainbow Lake
- 23: Goldwater Lake
- Last Word on 23 Lakes in Arizona
So here’s a list of just 23 of the best lakes and reservoirs in the state. Perhaps this might help in choosing a destination for your next Arizona getaway, aside from the Grand Canyon National Park, the World Heritage Site it is most famous for.
Some lakes mentioned here are reservoirs, which may not have as much shoreline as conventional lakes. However, they all welcome visitors for boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, or all of the above.
Most make for great weekend getaways, with camping, RV sites, and accommodation.
Fun fact: There are 128 officially-recognized lakes in Arizona state. There are also five major rivers and their various tributaries feeding them. Of these, only two are natural lakes. The rest were formed mostly by damming rivers or artificially constructed reservoirs.
You may also now be wondering: Which state has the most lakes? That would be Alaska, with a respectable 3,197 recognized lakes. (It is estimated that the actual number of lakes in Alaska numbers in the millions).
1. Apache Lake
It may be relatively unknown compared to some of the other lakes on this list, but Apache Lake is a definite peach of a location. Few people visit here casually, so it’s quiet and serene compared to the more popular lakes on this list. A small resort accommodates visitors so that you can relax in style.
For an authentic experience, try the primitive beach camping option offered by the resort. Be advised that there is a single 116 km rough road leading to the lake and alternative, so bear this in mind if you rent a vehicle.
2. Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake is one of the smallest on this list that was created due to dam construction. It is a relatively small 348 hectares and is mainly visited by kayak and boat enthusiasts.
Several significant and famous lakes are nearby, like Theodore Roosevelt, Saguaro, and Apache lakes. But Canyon Lake offers its charms, primarily as a stop on the Dolly Steamboat, which features narrated histories of the region.
Aside from its beautiful red rock scenery, there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, especially on the eastern side of the lake. Scuba diving has also taken hold here.
Don’t miss my article on the Best Hot Springs in Arizona
3. C.C. Cragin / Blue Ridge Reservoir
At 28 hectares surface level, Blue Ridge is a little small. But it makes up for the lack of size with pure beauty and visual appeal. Surrounded by trees, it sits in the Mogollon Rim, a distinctive geographical feature running along the northern end of Arizona.
The reservoir goes by another name –- the CC Cragin Reservoir. The long shape of the lake makes it one of the best kayaking locations on this list. It winds around craggy shores and rock formations while tall, colorful trees jut up around the landscape. As a pure sightseeing experience, it’s hard to beat this mini-wonder.
Image by Eric Simon from Pixabay
4. Lake Havasu
What makes Havasu so attractive is its secondary attractions, which include the London Bridge. This was actually a bridge stretching across the Thames in London in the 1830s. It was purchased in 1968 and transferred brick by brick to where it stands today, here in Lake Havasu.
You’ll also find several lighthouses along the shore, which are functional replicas of famous American lighthouses from elsewhere. The ultimate swimmer’s paradise is the hole at Havasu Falls. You’ll need a permit and have to hike to get there, but spending a day swimming there is worth the effort.
Photo by Johannes Plenio:
5. Martinez Lake
Like Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Martinez has developed a reputation for great fishing, especially crappie, channel cats, and bass. It’s also sufficiently remote not to get too crowded.
The lake was formed (mostly) by the building of the Imperial Dam, which was officially completed in 1935. It offers a resort that is open all year. Facilities include a restaurant, store, boat docking, and accommodations and camping options. The area is still privately owned.
Photo by Carlin Harris:
6. Lake Mead
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the largest in the country and the first of its kind. It encompasses two lakes, of which Lake Mead is the largest (Lake Mohave is the other).
The lake, formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam, is known for its excellent bass fishing. As a result, it is regularly cited as the best freshwater lake in the US.
Tip: If you’re a SCUBA enthusiast, the lake offers some unique diving sites, like a sunken B-29 bomber.
Image: Stan Shebs
7. Lake Mohave
This wonderfully blue lake marks the border between Arizona and Nevada. It sits between two dams: The Hoover Dam and the Davis Dam. At its broadest, the lake is 6 km wide. In Arizona, two resorts are located on the lake: Katherine Landing and Willow Beach.
The site is known for its glamping, though. Lake Mojave has a reputation for being exceptionally warm throughout the year. However, there are skiing options available in the winter months.
Image by hntighe from Pixabay
8. Lake Pleasant
Divers and boaters join watersports enthusiasts here, especially in the summer, for hours of revelry in the Arizona sun.
Among the secondary advantages is the Lake Pleasant Regional Park’s proximity, which offers many organized activities through its nature center. What nature lover wants to miss a nighttime scorpion hunt? Those looking for romance can also join a dinner cruise on this nine km-long lake.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
9. Lake Powell
Lake Powell is known, at least partly, for its 3218 miles of shoreline and many canyons, 96 in all. The lake forms part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and offers many lake-related activities.
The Glen Canyon Dam formed the lake, which can also be toured as part of an exciting day excursion. Other highlights include the famous Antelope Canyon and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
Interesting fact: The Rainbow Bridge is the largest natural bridge in the world. Claims are in dispute, but the bridge is between 71 and 84m in height. At the top of its arch, it is 13 m thick. The bridge itself technically sits in Utah.
Image: Bureau of Reclamation / Wiki Commons
10. Theodore Roosevelt Lake
When he became president in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt established hundreds of conservation projects that impacted 93 million hectares of the American landscape. It is, therefore, appropriate that this lake project was named after him. At the time of its building, it was the largest artificial reservoir in the world.
The lake offers incredible fishing and is often the location for bass and buffalo fishing records. One of its most famous sites is the Tonto National Monument, a prehistoric cave dwelling that can be visited on foot.
The lake itself has a shoreline of 205km and a surface area of 8600 hectares, the largest in Arizona.
Image: Benjamin Cody / Wiki Commons
11. Watson Lake
The most well-known feature of Watson Lake is its collection of rippled boulders that sit alongside it. Their fantastic colour and topography reveal a lot to geographers, especially their age and the many hundreds of thousands of years of history of the region.
The best way to see them is by kayaking the lake. Watson Lake also offers trails to hike and bike and, of course, the required fishing options for any lake on this list.
Image: Richard N Horne / Wiki Commons
12. Willow Springs Lake
Willow Springs Lake is the best on this list for trout fishing. It has a huge population of them through the summer and fall.
For example, those limitations relate to boats’ sizes and engines. As a result, much of the fishing takes place from a relatively quiet lake shore, and that sense of relaxation is critical.
Even in the winter, the lake may sometimes open for some ice fishing. However, the lake may close for an extended period when the weather is too inclement.
Image by JGafford7 from Pixabay
13. Lynx Lake
Get out to where the pine trees grow. The tall trees here will offer an extra sense of serenity, a green feeling and cool shade, especially on hot summer days.
Here you can take a short 3km trail hike around the lake shore or try the water with a canoe or kayak. Fishing is present, offering largemouth bass and trout.
The main unique attraction, however, harks back to the settler days. At this lake, you can still opt to experience what it was like to pan for gold.
Note: There are some other locations within Arizona where gold prospecting is allowed. Many of these areas are privately owned, however.
Image by Calvin Tatum from Pixabay
14. Saguaro Lake
This pretty lake welcomes those looking for a great waterway to kayak. It lies along the Sale River, which is said to be a regular roaming ground for groups of wild horses. The lake is in the Sonoran Desert, which correlates with the famous saguaro cactus lining the shores.
Aside from those exquisite natural attractions, the lake is hugely popular with boaters. In fact, the lake is often at capacity during the summer months.
Image: ALAN SCHMIERER / Wiki Commons
15. Patagonia Lake
The Patagonia Lake State Park is located relatively close to the southern border with Mexico and is an excellent option for those looking to spend time camping. The lake is popular with birders, too, who come to spot the canyon towee, hummingbirds and Inca doves who live in the area.
Camping, RV sites, and boat-in camping sites are available. Once again, a lake ideal for boating, fishing, and swimming.
Image: Lucario298 / Wiki Commons
16. Hawley Lake
This lake sits on the White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands and is primarily known for fishing. The lake is open even during winter, when snow and ice may cover the surrounding lands. In warmer seasons, tall pine trees and aspen surround the lake.
Keep in mind that a fishing permit from the lake’s store is required, as a state fishing license does not apply on tribal lands. With that secured, you can try hooking various trout from the lake. Camping and accommodation are available year-round as well.
Image: Scotwriter21 / Wiki Commons
17. Bartlett Lake
Bartlett Lake was formed when the Verde River was dammed in 1939. It is named for surveyor Bill Bartlett.
In popular culture, Bartlett Lake attracted some attention for recording the catch of a record-sized catfish. The fish weighed a little over 36.5kg, measuring 134cm, and may still be the largest fish caught in the state.
Incidentally, the lake produced the most giant carp ever caught in Arizona, at 101 cm and just under 17 kg.
Image: United States Forest Service / Wiki Commons
18. Big Lake
Big Lake covers a surface area of 232 hectares. The prized fish to catch here are trout of the rainbow, cutthroat, Apache, and brook varieties. There are four camps to choose from if staying over, and there’s a local store and marina for boaters to take advantage of.
One exciting day trip is to Greer, about 30 km north of the lake. The town has just 58 people in residence but is the home of the largest ski park in the state. Greer also happens to be Arizona’s highest town in terms of elevation.
19. Alamo Lake
Many lakes on this list are considered superb lakes for bass fishing. Of them all, Alamo Lake is regarded as one of the best. However, one of the caveats of the lake is that its levels are subject to operations in the Bill Williams River, specifically the dam in the process there.
Most advisories prefer that visitors check the conditions and schedules before they arrive to avoid disappointment. This applies especially to boat enthusiasts who may find the size of the lake significantly lower than expected.
Image: By Arizona Game and Fish Department/Wiki Commons
20. Fool Hollow Lake
This small and somewhat remote lake lies in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Like many places in the US, Fool Hollow Lake gets its name from a local legend. The story goes that a farmer named Adair acquired the land around 1885 and sought to farm it. Unfortunately, the land was unsuitable for that, according to other locals. Naturally, Adair was considered a fool.
To his credit, he eventually succeeded. Some years later, Slow Creek was dammed. The resulting lake was named in honour of that spirit.
Image: Robertbody / Wiki Commons
21. Tempe Town Lake
The man-made reservoir is an artificial lake receiving water from the Colorado River. The main attractions here are hiking, biking, and boating. Kayaks are available for rent. The city also hosts several annual events here, providing a picturesque backdrop for activities of that nature.
However, swimming is not allowed. This is due to the historical and cultural significance of the location for the Hohokam people. The place was once used for human sacrifice, so swimming in these waters is believed to be disrespectful to the dead.
Side fact: The Hohokam culture is believed to have lived in Tempe between 300 and 1500 ADE. It is unclear why the Hohokam people left this area, though most theories cite the great drought of the mid-14th century.
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
22. Rainbow Lake
The name itself lends a fairytale-like atmosphere to its appeal before you even get there. The lake was created in 1903 with the damming of Walnut Creek. The land surrounding it is privately owned, so access to only a particular portion of the lake is allowed.
However, boats are allowed on the water. Boats are limited to electric or 10BHP engines. Camping is available a few hundred meters from the lake, towards the Highway. The Rainbow Lake Hideaway is also reasonably nearby.
Image: Benjamin Cody / Wiki Commons
23: Goldwater Lake
One of the smallest lakes on this list, Goldwater Lake is nonetheless a good fishing lake, with awesome kayaking options over its mere six hectares. What makes Goldwater a fun option is its abundance of facilities: restrooms, a playground, picnic tables, and even a volleyball court.
The setting makes it popular for weddings and other events; three ceremony locations are dotted around the lake. The picnic sites also offer mobility access, which many other parks do not because of their rough terrain.
That said, you can still opt to hike around the surrounding park during the daily operating hours, though no swimming is allowed.
Last Word on 23 Lakes in Arizona
As you may have concluded, there’s no shortage of fantastic lakes to experience in Arizona. Most offer fishing, boating and swimming, and several also provide superb hiking and biking trails.
Looking for more things to do in the Grand Canyon State?
Check out this list of the top Arizona Landmarks Not to Miss.
I covered all of the costs in involved in this post about Arizona lakes.