When you think of Arizona, the first images that come to mind are always its sandstone cliffs, barren landscapes, and breathtaking canyons. Every year, millions of tourists visit this American state to see the Grand Canyon, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the U.S. However, not many know that Arizona is also home to other beautiful natural wonders, including mountains and lakes. In fact, the lakes in Arizona are some of the most beautiful ones in the country. These bodies of water prove that Arizona is wonderfully diverse and provides plenty of tourism opportunities.
Conveniently located near major cities and population centers, getting to and from these lakes is easy. Most lakes also have complete facilities like campgrounds, marinas, and boat rentals. So if you want to take a break from hiking through the deep canyons, sit back and relax at one of the lakes in Arizona!
Must-Visit Lakes in Arizona
1. Lake Mead
Lake Mead is one of the most popular lakes in the state. It also takes pride in being the largest reservoir in the country, providing water not only for Arizona, but also for California, Nevada, and some parts of Mexico. Its deep blue waters are surrounded by more than a million acres of valleys, canyons, and mountains, giving you postcard-perfect scenery. Because of its massive land area, visitors can enjoy various activities, including kayaking, sunbathing, scuba diving, fishing, and more. The nearby Lake Mohave is another beautiful lake part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Camping is also a must-do activity, although most of the developed campgrounds are in Nevada.
TouristSecrets Tip: Since Lake Mead straddles the borders of Arizona and Nevada, the state of Nevada recognizes and allows Arizona residents or non-residents to fish within the Nevada side of the lake as long as there is a valid fishing license or permit.
2. Theodore Roosevelt Lake
For fishing enthusiasts, visit one of the best lakes in Arizona for fishing, Theodore Roosevelt Lake! It is one of the largest lakes in the state with a surface area of more than 21,490 acres, giving you plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. Theodore Roosevelt Lake is popular for fishing and boating, and sailboats, houseboats, and other watercraft are common. From Theodore Roosevelt Lake’s marina, follow the Tonto National Monument trail to see incredible cliff dwellings surrounded by huge saguaro cacti. You can also catch breathtaking views of the lake from the cave dwellings.
TouristSecrets Tip: The U.S. National Park Pass only allows access to the lake’s picnicking sites. To visit the lake itself, visitors will have to purchase a Tonto National Forest Pass for 8 USD (daily pass) or 80 USD (annual pass) at ranger district offices, select retail outlets, or online. The Tonto Pass also allows visitors to camp, hike, boat, and fish (additional fishing license needed).
3. Lake Powell
Located along the border of Utah and Arizona is Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River. In addition, Lake Powell is also a popular destination, visited by almost 2 million people every year. After all, it offers acres of otherworldly canyons and gorges, which have been featured on films like The Planet of the Apes and shows like Dr. Who. Lake Powell is also the best playground for all adventure lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore the different lakes in Arizona. You can rent a houseboat or sail across the waters on a jet ski. Alternatively. go hiking or try fishing for smallmouth bass, walleye, and bluegill.
TouristSecrets Tip: From Page, Arizona, you can go on a multi-day excursion to explore Lake Powell. Start at Antelope Canyon, one of America’s best natural wonders, then head to Glen Canyon Dam. Take your time at Lake Powell before marveling at the beauty of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
4. Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu is a popular vacation spot in Arizona, especially during spring break. With its white-sand shores, blue skies, and tropical weather courtesy of Lake Havasu State Park, you wouldn’t think that you’re in Arizona! This popular destination offers over 26 miles of blue water for you to swim, fish, kayak, paddle, and explore. In summer, you can find numerous boats and jet skies zipping past the waters and wakeboarders enjoying the warm Arizona weather. As sunset approaches, hop on a boat and watch the breathtaking sunset. Complete your Lake Havasu trip and have a sumptuous dinner to complement the view.
TouristSecrets Tip: Lake Havasu State Park is one of the most visited attractions around Lake Havasu. It is situated near the shoreline and is where the best beaches in Arizona are found. From Lake Havasu City, the state park is only less than 10 minutes away.
5. Lake Pleasant
True to its name, Lake Pleasant is indeed pleasant. In a state full of cacti, deserts, and canyons, the lake is like a refreshing oasis. Its proximity from Phoenix also makes it a popular day trip among locals and tourists alike, only a 45-minute drive from the city. Visitors can enjoy biking, hiking, picnicking, and fishing around the lake. With an average of 70 feet, Lake Pleasant is also a perfect destination for divers, considered as an inland scuba diving hotspot in Arizona. At night, go stargazing or bring out your cameras and take photos of the night sky.
TouristSecrets Tip: For travelers staying overnight, Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers fun activities at night. Go on a romantic dinner cruise, join scorpion hunts, and fish for striped bass, white bass, and largemouth bass.
6. Canyon Lake
Despite being one of the smallest lakes in Arizona, Canyon Lake packs a lot of activities and sightseeing opportunities. This lake in Maricopa County is perfect for travelers who prefer less crowded and more secluded destinations. Marvel at the breathtaking red rock cliffs surrounding the lake as you cruise along with your boat or kayak. Aside from swimming, diving, and hiking, fishing is a popular activity in Canyon Lake. Discover different fish species like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, and more.
TouristSecrets Tip: Canyon Lake is only less than an hour away from downtown Phoenix. If you’re planning on going on a multi-day road trip from Phoenix to Sedona, stop by Canyon Lake for some relaxation.
7. Willow Springs Lake
Willow Springs Lake sits on top of the Mogollon Rim, so its temperatures are colder and milder as compared to other Arizona lakes. While most lakes in the state are surrounded by red rocks and canyons, pine, oak, and Douglas fir trees surround the lake. It was established in 1967 to provide water-based recreational activities for the locals and visitors. Boating and fishing are the most popular activities and you can find rainbow trout and tiger trout throughout spring and summer. There may be several closures from fall to winter, but you can also enjoy ice fishing and catch game fish during the cold winter months.
TouristSecrets Tip: There are about 26 campgrounds in Willow Springs Lake. The camping fee is 12 USD per car (subject to change). Take note that not all campgrounds have electricity and some campgrounds are open only on select months.
8. Watson Lake
Huge granite boulders and pristine waters make Watson Lake one of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona. It is also arguably the most famous tourist destination in Prescott, visited by thousands every year. The lake is a popular destination for kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding because of its views. Since the lake is a source of drinking water, swimming isn’t allowed. On the other hand, if you prefer land activities, follow the different hiking and mountain biking trails. An 18-hole disc golf course is also available for those who want to enjoy a game of golf overlooking the lake’s signature rock formations.
TouristSecrets Tip: From Watson Lake, you can also head to Goldwater Lake if you prefer somewhere more remote. The lake also offers similar activities like kayaking and canoeing.
9. Hawley Lake
Hawley Lake is a gorgeous Arizona lake surrounded by aspen, spruce, and pine trees. As it is part of the White Mountain Apache reservation, you don’t have to look far for an unforgettable nature excursion. Cast a line and get the chance to catch largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, and more. Go kayaking, canoeing, or sailing across its deep blue waters. For travelers staying overnight, Hawley Lake is one of the few lakes around the Fort Apache Indian Reservation that offers well-maintained campgrounds There are about a hundred campsites with picnic tables, potable water faucets, and vault toilets.
TouristSecrets Tip: If you plan on fishing at Hawley Lake, make sure to purchase a White Mountain Apache Tribal fishing permit. You can get the fishing permit at the lake store at a daily fee of 9 USD and an annual fee of 32 USD. The Arizona state license doesn’t include fishing on tribal lands.
10. Apache Lake
Less than three hours away from Canyon Lake is Apache Lake, an off-the-beaten-path Arizona lake. Getting to the lake requires a bit of effort through the Apache Trail, but the drive itself and the views of the lake is priceless. Add in the view of the Superstition Mountains and you get a postcard-worthy scenery at every turn. In addition, its location makes it the best lake to visit for travelers who want to avoid the summer crowd. That means that visitors can enjoy better water conditions for activities like wakeboarding, jet skiing, and fishing. When the days are cooler, strap on your hiking boots and go wildlife seeing in the breathtaking hiking trails.
TouristSecrets Tip: As compared to other lakes in Arizona, tourist services in Apache Lake are limited. However, the Apache Lake Marina & Resort offers overnight accommodation, camping and RV sites, and boat rentals.
11. Lynx Lake
Escape the Arizona heat and visit Lynx Lake! This 55-acre reservoir is less than two hours away from Sedona and only less than 15 minutes away from Prescott. However, like Watson Lake, swimming in Lynx Lake isn’t allowed. Instead, visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking, and other outdoor activities. It is also one of the few Arizona lakes which have hiking trails that are accessible for visitors with limited mobility. The lake also attracts plenty of bird species thanks to its fresh water and forest, perfect for birdwatching enthusiasts and wildlife photographers.
TouristSecrets Tip: Visitors can bring their own boats as long as it has an electric motor or less than 10 horsepower gas motor. Otherwise, there are boat rentals at the lake store where you can rent.
12. Lake Mary
Unlike most lakes in Arizona, Lake Mary is a collective name for two reservoirs, Upper Lake Mary and Lower Lake Mary. Upper Lake Mary, the star of Coconino National Forest, is long and narrow, dotted with beautiful ponderosa pine trees along the shore. The lake is stocked with crappie, sunfish, channel catfish, yellow, bass, and walleye, perfect for anglers. Lower Lake Mary on the other hand is smaller and tends to dry up. Because of that, Lower Lake Mary doesn’t have that many opportunities for water sports, however, visitors can still fish here. Elk, deer, as well as bird species like the great blue heron and bald eagle are a common sight. In summer, Lower Lake Mary is a popular hotspot for birdwatchers.
TouristSecrets Tip: Water levels in Lake Mary vary depending on the annual rainfall and other factors. Before visiting Lake Mary, it is highly recommended to call the ranger station to inquire about the water level.
13. Bartlett Lake
Bartlett Lake is the best Arizona lake for lovers of boating, kayaking, jet skiing, and other fun water sports. Like Apache Lake, Canyon Lake, and Saguaro Lake, it was formed by the Salt River Project from 1936 to 1939. It is a popular spot for sport fishing and visitors can get the chance to catch sunfish, flathead catfish, smallmouth bass, and crayfish. At Bartlett Lake, visitors can rent boats and other kinds of watercraft, purchase fishing licenses, and fishing equipment. Visitors can also enjoy picnicking, camping, and swimming, which is usually prohibited in other Arizona lakes.
TouristSecrets Tip: For boating access at Bartlett Lake, make sure to purchase a Tonto Daily Pass and Watercraft sticker or a Tonto Discovery Pass. Some campgrounds may also have a separate camping fee that isn’t covered by the Daily or Discovery Pass, so make sure to check with the ranger station in advance.
14. Patagonia Lake
Just a few hours away from the Sonoran Desert is another beautiful oasis, Patagonia Lake. The lake is teeming with fish species including largemouth bass, bluegill, and green sunfish. Also a great place for bird watching, a diverse variety of birds from great blue herons to vermilion flycatchers also frequent the lake. It offers more than a hundred campsites along the lake as well as boat-in campsites. Meanwhile, cabins are available for rent for visitors who prefer a more comfortable way of staying overnight. For those who want to take a break from nature activities, head to Sonoita and embark on a wine tour or join a wine tasting session at its wineries.
TouristSecrets Tip: For travelers bringing their own boats, they need to be aware of Arizona’s current boating and watercraft rules and regulations. Take note that personal watercraft, jet skis, jet boats, and water bikes are prohibited on Patagonia Lake.
15. Alamo Lake
Alamo Lake is one of the best lakes in Arizona for fishing. While it offers standard activities and sightseeing opportunities, the charm of Alamo Lake is in its fishing spots. The desert landscape provides a picturesque backdrop for your fishing adventure. Since largemouth bass is abundant in the lake, Alamo Lake State Park would host fishing tournaments. Want to take a break from fishing? There are different hiking trails near the state park that offer great views of the lake and a chance to get up close with the wildlife. Take note that while swimming is allowed, there are no designated swimming areas so it’s highly recommended to swim near the shore.
TouristSecrets Tip: Water levels at Alamo Lake may fluctuate dramatically depending on the weather and season. Before heading out, make sure to check the current Alamo Lake water conditions to ensure a safe trip.
16. Tempe Town Lake
If you want to visit lakes in Arizona without actually leaving the city, Tempe Town Lake is your best choice! The lake is only a short walk away from Arizona State University, perfect if you’re looking for a quick breather. Although activities are limited, there are still fun things to do in Tempe Town Lake! Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and cruise along its waters. Tempe Beach Park also offers cycling, jogging, and in-line skating paths for those who prefer a different kind of activity. And even if Tempe Town Lake is in the middle of the city, you may still catch trout, sunfish, and catfish!
TouristSecrets Tip: Tempe Town Lake has kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals available. If you plan on bringing your own watercraft to the lake, make sure to apply for a permit at the City of Tempe.
17. Fool Hollow Lake
One of the most famous lakes in Navajo County, Fool Hollow Lake is situated in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Surrounded by 100-year-old pine trees, it offers picturesque hiking trails and plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing. Best of all, camping, fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing can be enjoyed all-year-round so no matter what month you visit, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable adventure.
TouristSecrets Tip: Fool Hollow Lake has over a hundred campsites available throughout the year. All campsites have a picnic table, access to restrooms and showers, and a fire ring. Take note that weekends can get crowded so make sure to book in advance.
18. Saguaro Lake
Set in Maricopa County, Saguaro Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona. It is part of the Tonto National Forest and is surrounded by huge saguaro cacti. The picturesque lakes offer plenty of nature activities for everyone, including kayaking, boating, hiking, sailing, and more. Hop on the Desert Belle boat and go on a 90-minute cruise around the lake. The boat is also accessible for people with disabilities and limited mobility, so this is the perfect activity for visitors with elderly members. Only less than an hour away from Phoenix, visiting Saguaro Lake is one of the best day trips from the city.
TouristSecrets Tip: Near the lake is a marina with a restaurant, picnic tables, boat ramps, and restrooms. The nearby Butcher Jones Recreation Site is also a great place for picnicking and swimming.
19. Woods Canyon Lake
Woods Canyon Lake is located on the Mogollon Rim like Willow Springs Lake. Because of its location, the weather is relatively milder and cooler. Unlike most lakes in Arizona, it is smaller, but it has an average depth of 25 feet. This lake was created for recreational use so expect well-maintained campsites and facilities for recreational vehicles. As for its activities, fishing, camping, hiking, and biking are the most popular things to do in Woods Canyon Lake. Since the lake is at a higher elevation than most lakes, access in winter may be limited.
TouristSecrets Tip: Anglers looking to fish in Woods Canyon Lake must hold a valid Arizona Fishing License. A fishing license costs 37 USD for residents and 55 USD for non-residents.
20. Goldwater Lake
Just a few minutes away from Prescott is Goldwater Lake, another off-the-beaten-path Arizona lake. It’s a small lake with a surface area of only 25 hectares, so all activities are concentrated in one area. But despite its smaller land area, you can still enjoy the same activities at Goldwater Lake. Go fishing, picnicking, or enjoy a game of volleyball overlooking the beautiful lake. Since Goldwater Lake is part of the Prescott National Forest, the hiking trails are simply phenomenal. Don’t forget to bring your cameras and snap photos of the pristine scenery before you.
TouristSecrets Tip: Swimming is prohibited at Goldwater Lake and only electric motors are allowed in the lake. Do take note that there are different operating hours for the lake depending on the season.
21. Rose Canyon Lake
Rose Canyon Lake provides a small yet serene escape from the scorching hot Tucson weather. It sits on top of the Santa Catalina Mountains, only an hour away from Tucson. Its higher elevation has the advantage of cooler weather so it’s perfect for activities under the sun. Take advantage of the fact that it is the only lake in the area that permits recreational fishing and fish for rainbow trout and brown trout, although a valid fishing license is still required. Else, go kayaking and enjoy the view of the tall pine trees dotted across the shoreline along with rock formations.
TouristSecrets Tip: Access to the lake is via the Rose Canyon Campground with plenty of campsites, campfire pits, picnic areas, and hiking trails.
22. Big Lake
Located in the White Mountains, Big Lake is one of the best fishing lakes in Arizona. It is also an ideal escape in summer since it has cooler temperatures even during summer. The lake is home to hundreds of rainbow trout, brook trout, and the Apache trout. While fishing is the most popular activity in Big Lake, visitors can also enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch, rent a boat and go around the lake, or camp overnight. There is also a small convenience store that sells fishing supplies, food, and fishing licenses.
TouristSecrets Tip: Although the lake is open from April to December, the peak fishing season is between April and May. Fishing from a boat is also better than fishing from the shore as catch rates are better.
23. Bear Canyon Lake
Bear Canyon Lake is another Arizona lake nestled deep between rows and rows of towering pine trees. That being said, access to the lake is more difficult and you have to drive on rough dirt roads. But the lake itself is definitely worth the challenging trip. The lake is well-stocked with rainbow trout as it was built by the Arizona Game and Fish Department for recreational fishing. The pine forests surrounding the lake also paint picture-perfect scenery for boating, kayaking, or picnicking.
TouristSecrets Tip: There is no garbage service in Bear Canyon Lake, so visitors are advised to practice proper disposal of waste before leaving the campgrounds.
24. Lyman Lake
Lyman Lake is one of the biggest yet most secluded lakes in Arizona, located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Its massive land area gives its visitors plenty of opportunities for nature activities. Join guided hiking trails as you explore the area and learn about its history. You may also get the rare opportunity to cross paths with a mane waterfowl or even a coyote! Catch channel catfish or largemouth bass or go wakeboarding for a dose of adrenaline rush. On the other hand, if you prefer something relaxing, stay in the cabins or pitch a tent at the campsite for some needed rest.
TouristSecrets Tip: Unlike other Arizona lakes that close during winter, Lyman Lake is open all year round. Campground reservations are available online or by calling the reservation center. Additionally, there is a 5 USD reservation fee per site which is non-refundable.
25. Rainbow Lake
Rainbow Lake is a man-made lake in Arizona, created by Mormon settlers in 1903 by damming Walnut Creek. Its elevation of 6,700 feet gives refreshing and cool weather from spring to early fall. Fish species you can catch at the lake include rainbow trout, channel catfish, bluegill, green sunfish, and largemouth bass. The campground at Rainbow Lake includes vault toilets, potable water, and firewood for sale. Cabin rentals and boat rentals are also available.
TouristSecrets Tip: Most of the shoreline around Rainbow Lake is privately owned so it’s best to fish from a boar. Anglers 14 years old and above will need state fishing licenses with trout stamps. There is also a daily bag limit of six trout for licensed anglers and three trout for anglers 13 years old and below.
Discover the Beauty of the Lakes in Arizona
If you’re looking for another way to explore and spend time in Arizona, grab your fishing poles or camping gear and head to one of the Arizona lakes! They offer a much-needed escape from the heat of the Arizona sun and allow you to gain a deeper appreciation for this American state. Depending on which lake you visit, you can swim, fish, hike, and camp overnight. Like Tempe Town Lake, some lakes are also located within the city, so you don’t have to go too far. In addition, you can either enjoy the views of pine trees, lush forests, or desert-like landscapes, proof that Arizona isn’t just about sandstone canyons and huge cacti.
So if you’re planning a visit to Arizona and are looking for things to add to your itinerary, look no further and visit the lakes in Arizona!