Best Arizona Lakes

The best Arizona lakes are throughout this magical state! You'd maybe not imagine a desert state with fabulous lakes. But think again.

We love traveling all around our state of Arizona. Camping near lakes, sometimes swimming there, see how the fishing is doing, and enjoying wonderful scenery. We'll show you what we think are the best Arizona lakes to visit.

Maybe you'll agree, maybe you won't. Let's see!

a lake with palms and reeds at its shore and mountains in the backgroundA Gorgeous, Natural Tucson Lake

What are you looking for when thinking of your best Arizona lake? Maybe you want to peruse all kinds of the best?

To figure out which you'd like. They're all great places: the scenery, for relaxation. Just scroll on down.

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But if you have a specific type of lake recreation in mind, then...

CHOOSE YOUR FUN:


Best Lakes for Boating in AZ

  • Lake Pleasant, Phoenix8 - Surrounding mountains shelter fairly calm waters. Lots of people love this place! 
  1. Fabulous for all types of water sports. Do you prefer high powered speed boats? Or tamer outboards? It's for you! Skiing, jet-skis, canoes? Come on over! 
  2. The size (7500 acres) means plenty of room for all! Many no-wake side-arms allow even calmer areas for paddle-boarding & kayaking.
  3. Take I-17 Carefree Hwy. Exit West. Go right at N.Castle Hot Springs Rd.
lake surrounded by desert mountainsRoosevelt Lake
  • Roosevelt Lake - Officially Theodore Roosevelt Lake, dedicated by the president himself after the dam's completion in 1911. 
  1. Covering 21,493 acres, it's the Largest Lake entirely inside Arizona's borders.2 
  2. Many reasons it's one of the state's best. So much room for boating: 20 miles long!8 But also great fishing, year-round use, picnicking. 
  3. Several picks among National Forest camping, best Avoiding June for temps. No hook-ups, but water available. Dump site available. In nearby Tonto Basic several private campgrounds with hookups. We love Cholla CG best ourselves, but we saw people in every spot.
  4. Very scenic surroundings & the drive to get there too!
  5. From Scottsdale, Hwy. 87N, right onto Hwy.188.
  • Saguaro Lake - Created from penning in the Salt River. Nearby Phoenix suburbs, so very popular. Fantastic for all types of boating & fishing. But also for swimming beaches. Summer, especially weekends, arrive early or you'll chance being turned away. 
  1. Have your Tonto Pass for entry:
  2. Saguaro Del Norte - Shaded picnic tables & restrooms, but no water. There's a boat ramp for motorized boats. Caution for rocky areas when you set off. Accessed from N.Bush Hwy.5
  3. Butcher Jones - Shade-tree areas for picnicking. Non-motorized boats cast off from here. Restrooms, but no water. No pets on the beach. Take Hwy.87N, then right exit to Bush Highway/FR204S, to left on FR166.5

Best Arizona Lakes for Paddle Boarding

man paddle boarding on a lake at dusk
  • Horseshoe Lake - Pick your timing here! If you want to get away from crowds, it's your place! Check Opening/Water Levels, because of flood control usage. Could be 790, or up to 2700 surface acres! Depends on weather + water needs. No lakeside amenities. Day use only.
  • Lower Lake Mary10 - Another that timing may influence. Drought evaporates the water. Mostly you'll find enough water, but bring bug-repellant! Otherwise nice, because it's nonmotorized or 10hp only.
  1. If water's lacking, try Upper Lake Mary farther up the road. No motor restrictions there, though.
  2. Easily accessed following Lake Mary Rd. from I-17.
  • Patagonia Lake11 - Lots of room in this Southern AZ lake. We always enjoy our trips here. Off Rt.82, between Patagonia & Nogales. Their marina rents canoes, rowboats & pontoon boats. Even paddle-boats.
lake in the desert with a picnic table by the shoreEast Section of Patagonia Lake
  1. Rules there restrict watercraft that could be problematic interacting with paddle boarding. No power jet boating, jet-skis, or waterbikes. Water skiing only Oct.-April, & only weekdays the remaining months.
  2. East end is best because it's the no-wake zone. It's where the cordoned swimming beach is & camping areas. The western part has no limit for speed, but requires counter clockwise navigation.

Best Lakes in Arizona to Kayak

  • White Horse Lake - Summertime getaway in Kaibab National Forest. 7000' elevation. People love its fishing, even icy type in winter. But Camping Open May-Sept. Small boat ramp for non-motorized or up to 10hp electric. Ideal intermixing with kayaking. Plus no swimming allowed. 
  1. From Williams, take 4th St./FR173 south, becoming Perkinsville Road. Left on FR110, turn left onto FR109, to entrance roads to lake.
  • Arivaca Lake - Primitive launching & single electric motor requirement means easy conditions here. Not to mention the inlets that branch away to explore. (Just don't venture shore-side onto private property!). 90 surface acres.
  1. Not likely to be crowded. Latter part of the drive is unpaved/somewhat primitive. Lake's favored for fishing. 
  2. Not much to call conveniences. Restroom, but no water.
  3. From I-10 to I-19 South of Tucson, take Exit 46, follow Arivaca Rd. west. toward Arivaca. In town, turn left on S.Ruby Rd./Fragutta. (Be aware: easy to miss that turn in this small town.) About a mile turn left at fork staying on S.Ruby/FR39. About 5-mi. Left on S.Ranch, branching right to Arivaca Lake Rd.
  • Desert Breeze Lake - 6am-Sunset. Convenient urban lake with 4 surface acres. Only non-motorized craft, 14' max. (Canoes to 17' OK.) 
  1. South of Phoenix, from I-10 exit Ray Road Eastward, make right on Galaxy Dr., 1/2 mile right into parking.
sunset at a park lake with gazebos, ducks in the water & palms and other trees lining the shoreSunset is Here - Time to Gather Up the Catch & Head Out!

Best Arizona Lakes for Swimming

Since Arizona is a land-locked state, (The Pacific Ocean or Sea of Cortez a half-day drive away) people gravitate to lakes & rivers for water-related sports. Including lakes in Arizona with beaches for swimming.

AZ has some of the best Lakes for Swimming in the Southwest, we think! They're clean, calm, varied, and fun for kids. Recommend always have water shoes available for rocky shores/bottoms. (We'll tell you if they're sandy beaches.)

Here are some of the best Arizona lakes for swimming:

  • LAKE HAVASU - 19,300 acres, gets you miles of shoreline for excellent beach opportunities. 
  1. Lake Havasu State Park has wonderful swimming at white sand beaches. Windsor Beach for Day or Stay use. Or the campground's wide sandy beach. 699 London Bridge Rd.
  2. Sandy Horse CG, if you're staying, has a lengthy sandy beach with picnic ramadas. BUT pay ​$35 for day-park access, 8am – 8pm.
  3. Rotary Community Park's sandy swim area, buoyed for safety on Thompson Bay. Bring picnic gear, too. Plenty of park activities, playgrounds, etc. From Hwy.95, Smoketree or Park Ave.3
  4. London Bridge Beach! Did you hear they moved this iconic bridge from England? Pretty cool to see it! Swimming nearby. Beach park along Bridgewater Channel (nice walkway alongside), off Lake Havasu. Go over the bridge to the island & turn left to  parking.
  • LAKE MEAD - Normally having 158,080 surface acres, this huge lake borders Arizona & Nevada. Anyone who's seen it certainly noticed its "bathtub ring" from less water. Really, the best Lake Mead swimming in Arizona is from some type of water-craft.
    1. Many instead go about 60 miles south along Hwy. 95 to access Lake Mohave. That's what we usually do. That 28,260 acre lake's in Lake Mead National Recreation Area.2 Several nice swimming beaches there.
  • LAKE POWELL - Normally 161,390 surface acres, only southwestern section is in Arizona, near Page. Except for marina locales, swimming is allowed anywhere.4 Formed from Colorado River waters, currently struggling with sharing resources among the River's Watershed States.
    1. One wonderful method for swimming is a houseboat rental, very popular here. It's the way to legally "jump in" from an elevation! No cliff jumping!!4 Beautiful views though, of myriad cliffsides & canyons. 
    2. Some coves with beach areas can be discovered from a boat!
    3. Lone Rock Beach campground Day Use Area has a sandy beach. Nearby swimming at Wahweap Campground. If you like primitive camping, these have swimming waterfronts: Stanton Creek, Farley, Dirty Devil, Hite Campsites.

Best Arizona Lakes for Fishing

lake with pine tree in foregroundVintage Pic of Show Low Lake
  • Show Low Lake10 - Highly rated, in Arizona's White Mountains! The southern section of town, operated by the city's Recreation Resource Management. 100 surface acres, where trout, sunfish, bass & catfish are caught. But most famous for its walleye! A convenient campground is adjacent, with boat rentals.
  1. In Show Low, from 60/260 intersection, take 260S. Left on Scott Ranch Rd., right on Show Low Lake Rd. for 1) Large boat ramp on left. 2) Campground [928-537-4126] on right, parking spaces & docks opposite on lake. 3) Left entry into parking area.
  • Knoll Lake - Get away from crowds to fish from your small boat or 2-mile shoreline. Surrounded by stunning scenery on the Mogollon Rim. Accessed from Lake Mary Rd.
  • Chevelon Canyon Lake9,10 - Another scenic Rim lake, it's known for excellent trout fishing.  Camp, stay awhile to enjoy its beauty as there are specified dispersed sites. Only facilities: toilets, tables & fire-rings. No water. Free May-Oct.
  1. Normally doesn't get crowded, because motivation is needed: no vehicle access to lake. You take a 3/4 mile trail, a steady descent to the water. So either shore fishing, or small craft.
  2. From Payson, Hwy. 260, turn on FR300N. Go right on Rt.169, then right at 169B.
  • Rainbow Lake - Lakeside, in the White Mountains. Public access to the lake is adjacent to the dam with a parking area, boat ramp & pier. Otherwise there's lots of private property to be wary of. Worth a try if you're staying in the area awhile, for the 80 acres & convenience. 8hp motor limit. Rainbows well stocked in summer (seems logical?!). But you could hook browns, largemouth bass, channels or sunfish.
  1. From Pinetop-Lakeside, off Hwy.260, take Rainbow Lake Dr.

Best Bass Lakes in Arizona

  • Canyon Lake - Tonto Pass entry. This was our first Arizona favorite. Before we began further lake exploration.. Highly favored day use swimming at Acadia Beach.5 Marina has boat rentals. Ramps get yours in.
  1. But the FISHING?! Largemouth (1/3 of total fish-takes, up to 10+ pounds!) & yellow bass.9
  2. Don't forget about crappie, bluegills (about 40% of total catches) & other sunfish, channel cats & walleye!9 Trout Are Stocked.
  3. Scenic drive to arrive: Superstition Fwy./Hwy.60 to Rt.88N/Apache Trail. Winding road, finally sighting lake, crossing bridge, turn left at entrance.
  • Bartlett Lake9 - Tonto pass too! Both Large & Small Mouth Bass in these waters. Large tend to like coves & eastern shores. Until colder autumn days when they seek deep holes. Best time for smallmouth is winter, about the same areas.
  1. Meanwhile, there's also crappie, channel & flathead cats. Even northern pike!
  2. Damming waters of the Verde River create 2,815 acres of this exciting lake.6 Northeast of Phoenix. The crowds are less (except holiday weekends),7 the fun is more!
  3. Cave Creek Road to right at Bartlett Dam Rd. Left on FR459, right into site.

Best Camping Lakes in Arizona

three Arizona flags on flagpoles in the outdoorsArizona State Parks for A-1 Camping

Among the best Arizona lakes for camping are State Parks. That's where we go in-state, probably 70% of the time. Reasonable prices, excellent sites & facilities available.

Really nice lakes. For instance, Roper Lake, one of our favorites for sure. 

But we know other recommendations, too.

  • Luna Lake Campground10 - Another nice spot in the high country. Ponderosa pines & meadows surround 50 sites with access to water (no hook-ups), tables, grill/fire rings. The lake has excellent fishing & boat rental available there. Or bring your non-motorized craft.
  1. From Alpine, take Hwy.180E, make left (mm430) on FR570 to campground. 928-339-5000
vintage photograph shows a ranger surveying White Mountains area from mountain summit with Big Lake in viewVintage Pic: Ranger Locates Big Lake
  • Big Lake - In the broiling summertime, can't beat this, to get away from desert heat! 
  1. Choose any of many camping Sites that surround the lake. 
  2. Water, showers, dump station, ranger programs & more.
  3. Plus it's a fabulous White Mountains Fishing Lake!
  • Parker Canyon Lakeview Campground - 5400' elevation, open year-round. No hookups, but a nice place to put an RV or pitch a tent. Water, picnic tables, pit-fireplace/grills. Walking path along the lake. 10hp boating, rentals available.
  1. From I-10, south of Tucson, Exit Rt.83. Go all the way, through Sonoita & continue til ending at the lake/campground.

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