The author Betty Hurd wakeboarding in one of the best lakes in Arizona

17 Best Lakes in Arizona for 2023 (By a Local)

I’m an Arizona local here to reveal the best of the best lakes in Arizona. From the southern border with Mexico to the forested region up north, the Grand Canyon State is home to a variety of incredible lakes. 

In this guide, I overview fun outdoor adventures and relaxing getaways. I also share lakes that are conveniently located near other major Arizona destinations

Grab your swimmies and let’s dive into Arizona lakes!

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17 Best Arizona Lakes

Lake Powell

Camp on the beach at the most gorgeous lake in Arizona  

A tent near the water of Lake Powell during sunrise
Wake up to the sunrise reflecting on the water at Lake Powell

📍 Google Maps | Lake Powell Website | 🅿️ Parking: $30 per vehicle, good for one week | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Baymont by Wyndham Page Lake Powell

Camp beneath the stars on the Arizona-Utah border next to the pristine shorelines at this beloved site. Lake Powell is not only beautiful, but it’s also ideally located next to some of Arizona’s greatest gems. Tour Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend when visiting, as both are within 15 minutes of this sprawling body of water.

My favorite thing about Lake Powell is the ability to camp right at the water’s edge. Lone Rock Beach Campground (on the Southern Utah side) has the best views. If you have a sturdy off-roading vehicle, rock crawl to Alstrom Point, my favorite campsite ever.

Canyon Lake

A beautiful body of water surrounded by high rock walls and mountain views  

Canyons around the turquoise blue water of Canyon Lake
Explore the narrow canyons around beautiful Canyon Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Canyon Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Best Western Apache Junction Inn

Spend the day doing any water sport imaginable in this gorgeous setting. With the Superstition Mountains casting shadows in the background, this is easily one of the prettiest lakes in Arizona. 

Rent a boat from the marina for a day exploring the slot canyons that branch out around the lake. No boat? No problem. Kayak, paddleboard, fish, or even scuba dive. The opportunities are endless at Canyon Lake.

🐐 Pro Tip: Check out the east end of Canyon Lake for the best chances of seeing bighorn sheep, javelinas, mule deer, and other desert wildlife.

Lake Pleasant

The ideal Arizona lake for watersports and speed-boating  

The author Betty Hurd wakeboarding in the waters of Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Rent a boat and spend the day water skiing or wakeboarding at Lake Pleasant Regional Park

📍 Google Maps | Lake Pleasant Website | 🅿️ Parking: $7 per vehicle day pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Hampton Inn Phoenix/Anthem

Lake Pleasant Regional Park is just north of Phoenix, so it’s easy to get to if you’re craving reprieve from the big city. This is my favorite place to have a beach party with my friends and family. 

There are plenty of spots around the lake to set up camp and barbecue the day away at picnic tables. Check out boat rentals at the marina, then try your hand at wakeboarding, water skiing, or tubing. Paddleboarding tours are another lovely way to spend an afternoon. 

You can also fish for smallmouth bass and largemouth bass here, along with catfish and trout. Go below the surface by taking a scuba diving excursion. 

Keep an eye out for wild burros around Lake Pleasant – they’re all over the park! For the best recreational opportunities, Lake Pleasant is easily one of the best lakes in Arizona.

Patagonia Lake

A tranquil lake set among the rolling hills of Southern Arizona

Scenic mountain reflected on the waters of Patagonia Lake
Camp under the stars or spend a calm day on the water at Patagonia Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Patagonia Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: $15 per vehicle on weekdays, $20 on weekends | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Spirit Tree Inn B&B

Patagonia Lake is one of the most lowkey lakes in Arizona. It’s smaller than most, drawing quieter crowds than the massive recreational lakes farther north. Located south of Tucson on the way to Nogales, it’s surrounded by rolling hills, Sonoran Desert greenery, and mountain views.

The campsite at the main entrance is a great place to grill and camp with the whole family. Enjoy the cooler weather in this elevated landscape, and soak in the peaceful environment that makes Patagonia Lake State Park so special. This is where you want to go if you seek a relaxing getaway.

👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring a canopy tent to keep from getting sunburnt!

Watson Lake

Bouldered banks, hiking trails, fishing holes, and more abound  

Scenic view of the sunset at Granite Dells in Watson Lake
Watson Lake boasts some of the prettiest sunsets in Arizona 

📍 Google Maps | Watson Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: $3 per vehicle day pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Hilton Garden Inn Prescott

Just north of Prescott, Watson Lake is a cool escape from the desert heat. It’s one of the best day trips from Phoenix and offers a truly stunning sight. Granite boulders make up most of the shoreline, a unique change of scenery compared to the banks of the southern lakes. 

This rocky area boasts plenty of trails and bike paths. With options to enjoy the lake and the land surrounding it, you can get your fill of outdoor activities in this rugged landscape.

Pets are allowed, so you can enjoy the day with the whole family (including the fur babies)! Note that swimming is prohibited at Watson Lake. It’s no big loss, though, since the brisk temperatures up north will surely give you a chill. I wouldn’t recommend taking a dip anyway!

Lake Havasu

Party central doubles as your relaxation destination in the off-season  

Hot air balloons flying above the London Bridge at Lake Havasu
Hot air balloons lifting off over the historic London Bridge at Lake Havasu 

📍 Google Maps | Lake Havasu State Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $15 per vehicle on weekdays, $20 on weekends | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Island Suites

Lake Havasu is a popular destination for parts of the year, but a relaxing escape at other times. If you visit during spring break, expect to see a lot of college kids wreaking havoc on Lake Havasu City. You’ll undoubtedly have a blast at this lake if you like to party.

But if you prefer a more mellow vibe, visit during the off-season (basically any time classes are in session). You can bask in the city lights reflecting on the water at night and then stroll on London Bridge. 

Lake Havasu offers a range of recreational activities for couples, families, and anyone who enjoys time on the water. Planning an all-out adventure with a group of your best friends? Rent a houseboat for one of the most unique vacations of your life.

👉 Pro Tip: Visit the Lake Havasu Museum of History to learn about the city’s intriguing past.

Tempe Town Lake

A calming oasis in the middle of the big city  

A recreational park with scenic view of the bridge at Tempe Town Lake
Have a picnic by the beach or float on the water in a pedal boat 

📍 Google Maps | Tempe Town Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Azure Hotel

Located on the edge of downtown Tempe, Tempe Town Lake is one of the most special lakes in Arizona. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, even though it’s in the heart of it. Thousands of families, students, couples, and tourists enjoy beach days at Tempe Town Lake all year round, as it’s one of the best things to do in Phoenix

You can rent paddle boards, pedal boats, and other relaxing water toys at the lake’s marina. Or if you’d prefer to admire the shimmering water from the shore, have lunch at one of the picnic tables on the grass at Tempe Beach Park. No matter how you spend your time at Tempe Town Lake, you’ll enjoy a breath of fresh air at this beloved city gem.

📚 Related Reading: Where to Stay in Phoenix

Parker Canyon Lake

A remote fishing destination away from civilization  

A small boardwalk on the calm waters of Parker Canyon Lake
Grab a paddle board and spend a day on the calm waters of Parker Canyon Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Parker Canyon Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Sierra Suites Boutique Hotel

Parker Canyon Lake is one of my favorite lakes in Arizona. I used to drive down here from Tucson with my dad and brother on slow weekends. We’d rent a boat and spend the day fishing for rainbow trout. 

Depending on the time of year, Parker Canyon Lake is typically very quiet. When you crave some peace, this is the most remote lake on the list. It’s my ideal pick for a break from the crowds and one of the best day trips from Tucson

Saguaro Lake

Spend the day floating by the beach surrounded by desert cacti 

People enjoying a ball game near the waters of Saguaro Lake
Enjoy beach time with a game of football at Saguaro Lake

📍 Google Maps | Saguaro Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: $25 daily vehicle pass, recommended to purchase ahead of time | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Saguaro Lake Ranch

Saguaro Lake is one of the four reservoirs along the Salt River near Phoenix. This is one of my favorite Arizona lakes because it offers every exhilarating lake activity. Kayaking tours and stand-up paddleboarding tours are just two of the countless ways to spend an afternoon. If you want to go bass fishing, Saguaro Lake is stocked with smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. 

You’ll also find several secluded coves here, which are perfect places to chill out and relax. To feel like you have your own private beach, park your boat at a sandy spot surrounded by high canyon walls.

If you seek to explore the land surrounding Saguaro Lake on foot, you’ll encounter plenty of flora and fauna without running into other humans. I recommend taking a hike through the beautiful desert scenery, then cooling off with a dip in the lake.

👉 Pro Tip: Take a cruise on the Desert Belle for an educational tour of this central Arizona gem.

Theodore Roosevelt Lake

The largest lake located entirely in Arizona, just alongside the Salt River  

Scenic and landscape view of Theodore Roosevelt Lake
The land surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Lake is picturesque 

📍 Google Maps | Theodore Roosevelt Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Roosevelt Resort Park

As you might expect from the largest reservoir in Arizona, you can do just about any recreational water activity at Theodore Roosevelt Lake. From fishing to camping to scuba diving, you will never get bored at this massive Arizona attraction. If you visit from Phoenix via the partly unpaved Apache Trail, you’ll get a great view of the mighty Theodore Roosevelt Dam.

Theodore Roosevelt Lake is slightly farther from the other popular reservoirs surrounding Phoenix, but it is worth the drive. The gorgeous desert scenery against the deep blue water is a sight to behold. I recommend taking a day to explore this Arizona lake.

👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring a cooler for your lunch and drinks when you’re out on the water.

Lake Mead

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the US just minutes from Las Vegas 

Breathtaking view of Hoover Dam at Lake Mead during sunrise
The Hoover Dam at Lake Mead is quite lovely at sunrise 

📍 Google Maps | Lake Mead Website | 🅿️ Parking: $25 daily vehicle pass, one week | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Cabins at Grand Canyon West

Formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, Lake Mead is one of the most popular attractions in northwest Arizona. It’s only about 30 minutes from Las Vegas

I love this lake because it offers something for everyone. You can get in on the action at the marina by jet skiing, pontooning, speed boating, fishing, guided kayaking, you name it. Or you can disappear into the peaceful wilderness surrounding the lake, away from all the tourists. Lake Mead truly has it all.

👉 Pro Tip: Check out Lake Mohave along the Colorado River on your way north to Lake Mead.

Mormon Lake

A beautiful getaway near the mountain towns of Flagstaff and Sedona  

The author Betty Hurd watching the sunset near the water of Mormon Lake
This is my favorite spot to watch the sunset when I visit Flagstaff

📍 Google Maps | Mormon Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Sonesta ES Suites Flagstaff

This is one of the largest natural lakes in Arizona. After poor monsoon seasons, it can be bone dry, but it’s a gorgeous site after heavy rains. But even when dry, the basin is typically filled with brilliant yellow flowers and mountain wildlife. 

Excellent campsites and hiking trails abound just outside of Sedona and the college town of Flagstaff. After a day of exploring this beautiful area of the Coconino National Forest, chow down with a hearty steak at Mormon Lake Lodge.

Woods Canyon Lake

A small lake perfect for camping, kayaking, and escaping reality  

Calm Woods Canyon Lake within Apache National Forest
This is a hidden gem within the Apache National Forest 

📍 Google Maps | Woods Canyon Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Quality Inn Payson

Woods Canyon Lake is the most accessible of the Rim Lakes, a collection of small bodies of water along the scenic Mogollon Rim. Located near the small mountain town of Payson in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, the lake is surrounded by dense pines and aspens. 

If you’re an avid hiker, don’t skip the Rim Lakes Vista Trail, which offers sweeping views of the wooded Mogollon Rim. Stay overnight by tent camping at one of the six campgrounds nearby, including some of the best campgrounds in Arizona.

Woods Canyon Lake is mainly stocked with rainbow trout, but a few brown trout remain from years ago. You’ll likely have a successful day of fishing if you cast your line on the quiet shores of this beautiful little lake.

Bartlett Lake

The second-largest lake in the Tonto National Forest area

Cacti in the desert and mountain view surrounding Bartlett Lake
Spend a relaxing day in the gorgeous desert oasis that is Bartlett Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Bartlett Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: $6 per vehicle day pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Hyatt Place Scottsdale – North

Less than an hour from Tempe Town Lake, Bartlett Lake offers a more natural feel close to the big city. This reservoir was formed by the damming of the Verde River. It may be the best fishing lake in the state, boasting several record-setting catches over the years. There are abundant fish species here, including bass, flathead catfish, carp, and crappies.

While the Bartlett Lake landscape is similar to the Salt River reservoirs, many claim it is the most scenic of the close-to-Phoenix lakes. I can never decide which is most beautiful, but I will say that the wildflowers at Bartlett Lakes seem more vivid than any other in the springtime.

👉 Pro Tip: Consider arriving early on busy summer weekends to beat the traffic.

Big Lake

Catch rainbow trout surrounded by pines in the heart of the White Mountains  

Green forest and meadow surrounding Big Lake
The most peaceful fishing spot in Northern Arizona 

📍 Google Maps | Big Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: WorldMark Pinetop

Big Lake is my favorite lake in the White Mountains. The drive there from either Pinetop or Greer is stunning, especially in the fall when the shimmering aspens burst with shades of crimson and gold. Expect to see deer and elk prancing on the land around the lake. You might even spot a black bear!

Big Lake is a great spot to go fishing for trout on a boat or from the shore. I used to go here with my dad as a little kid, and we always seemed to have the best luck at Big Lake compared to the other White Mountain locations. And if you want to go mountain biking or hike during your visit, Mt. Baldy is just down the road in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest.

Apache Lake

Escape the crowds at this serene reservoir along the Salt River  

Enchanting view of the rocky mountains in Apache Lake
Apache Lake is an enchanting getaway from civilization 

📍 Google Maps | Apache Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: $5 per vehicle day pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Residence Inn by Marriott Phoenix Mesa East

Apache Lake is one of the four main reservoirs built along the Salt River outside of Phoenix. You can do all the usual lake activities here that are common at the other major lakes. 

The only difference is that Apache Lake is much less crowded than the three other Salt River reservoirs. This makes it the ideal lake for those who aren’t thrilled about crowds staying in the Phoenix area.

👉 Pro Tip: A portion of the path to Apache Lake Marina is on a dirt road, so make sure you take the proper vehicle there. If you need a rental, Discover Cars is a great tool to compare agencies and rates. 

Hawley Lake

Catfish and trout flourish in this blue mountain lake 

A man standing in the water of Hawley Lake with a scenic view of the mountains
Hawley Lake is one of the best fishing lakes in Arizona 

📍 Google Maps | Hawley Lake Website | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Buck Springs Resort

Located in the White Mountains in northeastern Arizona, Hawley Lake is a serene spot to enjoy a laid-back day on the Fort Apache Reservation. If you’re staying at a cabin in Pinetop or Greer, it only takes a short drive through the aspens and pines to get there. 

Teeming with an array of trout, this forested lake is the best place to visit if you long to fish. You can even go ice fishing here in the winter when conditions allow it!

FAQs About Lakes in Arizona

What is the most beautiful lake in Arizona?

Lake Powell is the most beautiful lake in Arizona, in my opinion. The incredible red rock formations and the sparkling blue water make for a stunning combination. Roosevelt Lake in central Arizona is also high on my list. These Arizona lakes will take your breath away!

Are there any swimmable lakes in Arizona?

There are many swimmable lakes in Arizona. Most lakes in the state’s southern half are swimmable, while swimming is not recommended in some of the colder, rockier ones up north. However, you should check a lake’s official website to confirm if you can swim there or not.

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Now you’re ready to explore the best lakes in Arizona! Whether you plan to boat, swim, do water sports, or simply lounge on the beach, you’ll surely enjoy your time on the water in Arizona.

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2 Comments

  1. Great pictures and comments for the Arizona lakes from a young lady who was born and raise here in our beautiful state, I will read all her stories. Thank you Betty.

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