Landlocked Arizona isn’t devoid of beaches. In fact, the state boasts many amazing lakes and beautiful shorelines. Whether you want to jump in for a swim, spend the afternoon fishing, or take in the view from a kayak, lakes have much to offer and make for a fun vacation on the water.
Many people are opting to travel locally right now as restrictions continue to change because of the pandemic. A lake vacation is the perfect option for those who want to get away but be within driving distance of home. We researched the best lakes in Arizona to help make your trip planning a little easier.
1. Canyon Lake
Only an hour’s drive east of Phoenix, Canyon Lake is a great destination for a day trip. Towering cliffs surround this beautiful reservoir, which was formed by the damming of the Salt River in the early 1900s.
It covers 950 acres, giving visitors plenty of room for activities. It’s a popular destination for swimming, relaxing on the beach, and doing boat activities like water skiing and fishing. Those who cast a line may be lucky enough to catch walleye, yellow bass, rainbow trout, bluegill, channel catfish, or crappie.
2. Apache Lake
Not far from Canyon Lake, Apache Lake is one of the other reservoirs along the Salt River. The only way to access this lake is via the windy, unpaved Apache Trail. Although it requires much more effort to reach this lake, the drive is among the most scenic in Arizona. And the lake itself is very much worth the trip, too.
A thinner crowd means better waters for fishing, wake boarding, wake surfing and water skiing. During cooler weather, the surrounding hiking trails provide fantastic views and an opportunity to see different species of cactus and spot wildlife like the bighorn sheep.
3. Woods Canyon Lake
If you want that middle-of-the-woods, rustic lake trip, then Woods Canyon Lake is the perfect destination. This tranquil lake is surrounded by a dense forest of pine, fir, oak, and aspen trees. Although Arizona is known for hot summer days, the temperature is more tame at Woods Canyon Lake since it sits at an elevation of more than 7,500 feet.
At 55 acres, the lake’s small size is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, and boating. Fishermen can catch trout, bass, and catfish. Nature trails loop the lake, and hikers may spot wildlife like elk, deer, and even bears.
4. Bartlett Lake
Lovers of water sports will want to head to Bartlett Lake. Its boatable surface area of 2,815 acres gives visitors plenty of room for boat sports, jet skiing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Pick up fishing supplies at Bartlett Lake Marina to cast a line for largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill.
There are beaches on one side of the lake and mountains on the other. You could start your day off with a scenic hike, and then jump in the water to cool down!
5. Tempe Town Lake
In Tempe, you don’t need to leave the city to enjoy the water. Tempe Town Lake is adjacent to downtown Tempe and stretches for more than two miles. It’s an excellent option for those who want to spend a leisurely day in the sun, cruising on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Kids love pedaling around on the cute swan, duck, and dragon pedal boats.
You can also get some friends together and rent a boat for the afternoon. The lake is stocked with fish, so drop a line while you hang out to catch trout, bass, catfish, and sunfish.
6. Lynx Lake
Lynx Lake sits just a few miles east of Prescott in the Bradshaw Mountains. This serene lake is surrounded by the towering pines of Prescott National Forest. It’s a popular recreation area for hiking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, canoeing, boating, and fishing.
Three campgrounds and three RV sites allow visitors to sleep under the stars. There’s also a recreational gold panning area where you can try your hand at sifting. Those lucky enough will walk away with a nugget or two!
7. Alamo Lake
Catch a trophy bass in this beautiful mountain lake. It’s said to be one of the premier lakes for bass fishing in Arizona. The rugged terrain surrounding Alamo Lake makes for great hiking and wildlife spotting. You may even see a bald or golden eagle.
Alamo Lake is also a nice spot to spend the night. You can camp under the stars, rent a cozy air-conditioned cabin or hook up your RV. Campgrounds supply each site with a picnic table and a fire ring.
8. Big Lake
Named for its size, Big Lake is nestled in the White Mountains at an altitude of 9,000 feet. The surrounding countryside scenery is stunning. Stargazers will love camping in this remote spot with its dark skies.
Like Alamo Lake, visitors are drawn to Big Lake for its superb trout fishing. There are also exceptional hiking and mountain biking trails surrounding the lake, with many opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching.
9. Willow Springs Lake
Willow Springs Lake is set among a tall, dense forest atop the scenic Mogollon Rim. At an elevation of about 7,600 feet, temperatures are pleasant in the spring and summer—perfect for a scenic hike.
Boating and fishing are popular on this lake. Cast a line to catch rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. Ice fishing is common in the winter months when the lake freezes over.
10. Goldwater Lake
Just a 10-minute drive south of Prescott, this lovely small lake is open all year round. Although swimming isn’t allowed, canoeing, kayaking, and boating are. Plus, there are tons of amenities at Goldwater Lake. These include fishing docks, a playground area, picnic tables, a sand volleyball court, and horseshoe pits.
Since Goldwater Lake is situated in Prescott National Forest, there are also beautiful hiking trails just off the shore. Bring your camera—these hikes lead you to a great view of the dam and the surrounding area.
11. Rose Canyon Lake
This gem of a lake makes for a nice getaway from the Tucson heat. Rose Canyon Lake sits atop the Santa Catalina Mountains about an hour’s drive from the city. It’s a small lake at only 7 acres. But at 7,000 feet in elevation, the cool weather makes the area perfect for daytime activities in the sun.
Hiking, mountain biking, relaxing on the shore, and fishing for rainbow trout are popular things to do at Rose Canyon Lake. Boating, water sports, and swimming are forbidden here, giving the lake a more relaxed atmosphere.
Whether you drive to a lake in Arizona or go elsewhere in the US, travel responsibly. Many sites have implemented COVID-related guidelines and requirements. Before you leave home, check your destination’s government website to see if there’s anything you should be aware of. And, of course, don’t hit the road if you feel unwell.
Top 11 Best Lakes in Arizona
- Canyon Lake
- Apache Lake
- Woods Canyon Lake
- Bartlett Lake
- Tempe Town Lake
- Lynx Lake
- Alamo Lake
- Big Lake
- Willow Springs Lake
- Goldwater Lake
- Rose Canyon Lake
Lakes in Arizona FAQ
Arizona boasts thousands of lakes that are great for water sports. A great majority of these lakes are man-made. Only two in the state are natural lakes.
There are thousands of lakes in Arizona. In Phoenix alone, there are between 900 and 1400 artificial lakes. However, there are only two natural lakes in the state: Mormon Lake in Flagstaff and Stoneman Lake near Sedona.
Yes! Arizona has two natural lakes: Mormon Lake in Flagstaff and Stoneman Lake near Sedona.
Lake Mead crosses the Arizona/Nevada state line and has a depth of 589 feet. Roosevelt Lake is entirely in Arizona and drops to 349 feet at its deepest point.
Arizona doesn’t have any coastline along an ocean or sea. However, it does have shoreline along thousands of lakes. You can swim in some of these lakes, go fishing or boating, do water sports, or just relax on the shore.
Discover where you can go
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