National, state and local parks in Arizona, along with natural wonders contained in them.

INSIDE: We’ve found 40 lakes in Arizona to get out on the water-discover YOUR best lake in Arizona for swimming, fishing, boating and more!

“Skip a stone. Take a hike. Sit a spell. Listen. Daydream. Just breathe. This is lake living.”–Unknown

I might add: “Catch a fish. Paddle a bit. Take the PLUNGE!”

We all know hot summer days in Arizona can be, well, really HOT🥵! But luckily, there are refreshing lakes all over the state just waiting for you to dive into.

The Grand Canyon state is home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country, and these lakes look especially inviting when the temperatures are inching up.

From kayaking and paddle boarding, to fishing, boating, or just plain ol’ takin’ a jump in the lake, there are endless ways to enjoy these refreshing bodies of water. Whether you’re looking for a busy boaters paradise, or a sleepy little beach on a quiet cove, we’ve got you covered.

Read on for our list of 40 lakes in Arizona where you can cool off this summer. One of them is bound to be the BEST lake in Arizona . . . for YOU 😊.

(Note: to see an alphabetical listing of all Arizona Lakes, scroll down to the bottom of the page)

1-7: Arizona Lakes near Phoenix

1-Apache Lake AZ

Apache Lake, nestled between the Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness Areas, is a hidden gem of Arizona. Its secluded location provides visitors with a serene escape from the bustling city life.

The lake is over 17 miles long (essentially a dammed section of the Salt River) and boasts crystal-clear waters. It’s perfect for swimming or water sports. Visitors can rent a boat or kayak to explore the lake’s many coves and inlets.

The lake’s picturesque surroundings also offer visitors an opportunity to hike, bike, or simply relax on one of the lake’s many beaches. From the lake, visitors can see breathtaking views of the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest.

Apache Lake is a prime location for wildlife enthusiasts, as it is home to a variety of animals such as mule deer, coyotes, and even black bears !🐻

Visitors looking to spend a night or two can choose from a variety of camping options or rent a cabin in the nearby town of Roosevelt. The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 70 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Roosevelt (16 miles)

2-Bartlett Lake AZ

Bartlett Lake, located in the Tonto National Forest, is a serene escape from the summer heat.

Although not a huge lake (about 2 square miles), Bartlett still manages to offer plenty of space for visitors to engage in boating, fishing, and kayaking.

The surrounding desert landscape and mountain ranges offer a beautiful backdrop for picnicking or lounging on one of the many beaches or shaded areas.

Bartlett Lake may be the best lake in Arizona if wildlife is what you’re seeking: it’s known for including bald eagles 🦅 and bighorn sheep, providing a unique opportunity for nature enthusiasts.

Those seeking a weekend retreat can stay at one of the lake’s many campsites or rent a cabin in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 57 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Carefree (21 miles)

3-Canyon Lake Arizona

Located in the Tonto National Forest, Canyon Lake is a breathtaking oasis surrounded by rugged mountains and rocky cliffs. Made from damming the Salt River, Canyon Lake is just west of Apache Lake (see above).

The lake is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and camping, and many consider it the best lake in Arizona for the glass-like waters that are perfect for swimming and kayaking. If you’re looking for a place to relax and escape the heat, this is definitely the spot.

The lake is also home to several coves and beaches perfect for picnicking and soaking up the sun. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, Canyon Lake is a must-visit destination in Arizona.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 38 miles east of Mesa
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating, Camping, Swimming
  • Nearest town: Apache Junction (15 miles)

4-Horseshoe Lake AZ

Just a short drive from Phoenix, Horseshoe Lake (technically “Horseshoe Reservoir”)offers a cool escape from the Arizona heat. The lake is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, and kayaking, thanks to the dam at its southern end.

Visitors can also enjoy a picnic on the shore or hike one of the nearby trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains. But be warned: motorized boats are limited to 25hp. This adds to the peaceful ambiance of the area, making it the perfect spot for a relaxing day out in the sun.

For a more secluded experience, head to the lake during the week or early in the morning on weekends. This may be the best lake in Arizona for a quick escape.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 58 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Cave Creek (25 miles)

5-Pleasant Lake AZ (Lake Pleasant Regional Park)

Nestled in the Bradshaw Mountains, Pleasant Lake is a delight to find so close to Phoenix. The lake is surrounded by Sonoran Desert landscape that boasts its share of Saguaros, along with plenty of wildflowers in the spring.

Whether you prefer to relax on the shore or explore the lake, there’s plenty to do at Pleasant Lake. You can enjoy a peaceful day of fishing, paddle-boarding, or kayaking while taking in the breathtaking scenery. If you’re looking for a more active adventure, take a hike around the lake or sign up for a scorpion-hunting excursion 🦂 (better you than me 😳)

I’ll be with the crowd that packs a picnic to enjoy in the shade.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 45 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, hiking, camping,
  • Nearest town: Lake Pleasant Town Center (14 miles)
Best lake in Arizona for a day trip

6-Saguaro Lake AZ

Saguaro Lake is a serious contender for best lake in Arizona, and it’s no wonder: Just a short drive from Phoenix, the lake is nestled in the Sonoran Desert with canyon walls all around and activities galore. As you might expect, there are Saguaro cacti all over the place 🌵. (And the drive up there is GOR-geous!)

Boating and water skiing are super-popular; the lake and can often get crowded on weekends. For a little more seclusion, head eastward to the upper reaches of the lake.

Saguaro may be the only Arizona lake that offers tour-boat trips: if you want to hang out an let someone else do all the work (a concept we totally endorse!), contact the Desert Belle for more information.

Feel like viewing the lake on horseback? No problem! Book a trail ride at the adjacent Saguaro Lake Ranch Stable for some super desert-immersion. For a more upscale lake experience, book a cabin at the Saguaro Lake Ranch. We love the combination of lake-desert-ranch living!

  • Location: Central Arizona; 43 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Boating, fishing, waterskiing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming
  • Nearest town: Mesa & vicinity (~30 miles)

7-Tempe Town Lake AZ

Some days you’d just like to escape for a few hours, and you need someplace close and convenient. Tempe Town Lake to the rescue!

A section of the Salt River has been dammed up to create a fantastic public space right in the town of Tempe, adjacent to the ASU campus 🔱. (Apologies to my U of A buddies, but hey, it is what it is. 🤷‍♀️)

There are walks along the water’s edge, a boat basin and rentals of all sorts of (non-motorized) watercraft . . . even a beach on the north side and a pedestrian bridge spanning the lake.

After a few hours out on the water stop by one of the nearby restaurants, coffeeshops or brewpubs for a refreshing end to a great day on the water.

Tempe Town Lake is the best lake in Arizona for a super-quick lakefront getaway!

  • Location: Central Arizona ; 10 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, walking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: In town Tempe
Denis Tangney Jr, Getty Images

8-22: Best Lake in Arizona: Eastern Arizona

8-Bear Canyon Lake AZ

Bear Lake is a picturesque destination surrounded by pine trees and rugged landscape. The lake is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, offering a peaceful retreat from the scorching Arizona sun.

You can try your hand at fishing, paddleboarding, or kayaking across the tranquil waters. Go for a leisurely hike or picnic surrounded by the stunning nature of the area.

Keep in mind that Bear Lake is a no-wake lake, making it an ideal spot for a relaxing outing. If you’re looking for quiet, this may very well be the best lake in Arizona for you.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles northeast of Payson
  • Best for: Fishing, Camping, Swimming, Hiking, Paddling
  • Nearest town: Payson (45 miles west); Heber-Overgaard (40 miles east)

9-Becker Lake AZ

Becker Lake is just a short drive from the town of Springerville and is another gem in Arizona’s crown of refreshing lakes. This lake, amid the 622-acre Becker Wildlife Area, boasts crystal clear waters and unparalleled fishing opportunities.

In fact, this lake is known as one of the best fly-fishing spots in the entire state. With a variety of fish species like rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, it’s no surprise that Becker Lake is a favorite among anglers. (Although be aware that it’s catch-and-release . . . so a great place to practice your skills! 🐟)

But it’s not just the fishing that makes Becker Lake worth a visit. The surrounding scenery is equally breathtaking. The surrounding trails through the adjacent wildlife area offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, and simply enjoying the serenity of nature.

Becker Lake is only available for day use, however a few nearby RV parks make it a good destination for a longer stay.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles east of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling
  • Nearest town: Springerville (2 miles)
Best lake in Arizona to practice your skills?

10-Big Lake AZ

If you’re an avid angler or just looking for a serene spot to unwind, Big Lake is a must-visit destination in Arizona. The lake is nestled in the eastern edge of the White Mountains, surrounded by ponderosa pines and aspen groves that offer a cool respite from the sweltering heat.

It’s a prime location for fishing (making it a contender for best lake in Arizona), with a bountiful stock of trout, and you can rent a boat or kayak to explore the lake’s pristine waters.

But fishing isn’t the only activity at Big Lake- there are miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The trails wind through the lush forests and meadows, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. You can spot wildlife such as elk, deer, and turkey while you hike.

There are plenty of designated picnic areas where you can recharge with a snack or lunch. Later, settle down for a relaxing evening at one of the many campsites (both tent and RV) near the lake. You can stargaze under the clear night sky and drift off to sleep with the sound of the rustling leaves and chirping crickets.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 55 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Mountain Biking, Camping
  • Nearest town: Greer (38 miles)

11-Black Canyon Lake AZ

Black Canyon Lake, just a short drive from Luna Lake (see below), is another stunning destination for those seeking relief from the summer heat. The lake is a picturesque oasis nestled in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, surrounded by dense pine trees and an abundance of wildlife.

Visitors can fish for rainbow trout, paddle on the serene waters, or hike along the surrounding trails, taking in the scenic beauty of the area.

Camping is also available at the designated sites near the lake–although the lake area itself is restricted to day use. Be sure to reserve camping sites in advance as they can fill up quickly during peak season. In the evening, chill out and stargaze, enjoying the peacefulness of the outdoors.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles east of Payson
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Camping (nearby)
  • Nearest town: Heber-Overgaard (22 miles)
Is this the best lake in Arizona for paddling? Maybe.

12-Earl Park Lake AZ

Nestled in a canyon behind Hawley Lake (see below) on White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands, Earl Park Lake is small, relatively unknown . . . and calm.

Surrounded by a stunning combination of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and blue spruce, the lake is well protected from the winds that can whip many high country lakes into a frenzy. If you’re looking for a day(s) of super-chill catch-and-release fishing, this is YOUR best lake in Arizona! 🎣

Earl Park Lake is literally walking distance (0.6 miles) from Hawley Lake, with access to the same cabins and camping facilities.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 38 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (25 miles)

13-Fool Hollow Lake AZ

If you’re seeking a more secluded and tranquil spot to cool off, Fool Hollow Lake might be just what you need. Located near the town of Show Low, this picturesque lake offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With sun-dappled waters surrounded by tall trees, Fool Hollow Lake is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.

As a designated recreation area in the Arizona State Parks system, Fool Hollow Lake has excellent facilities, including campsites and hot showers.

Fool Hollow also has several trails that wind through the surrounding forests–perfect for hiking enthusiasts. The lake’s peaceful coves and beaches are perfect for a picnic or simply soaking up the sun.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 5 miles north of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Picnicking
  • Nearest town: Show Low (5 miles)
Possibly the best lake in Arizona for a family getaway

14-Hawley Lake AZ

Hawley Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona. Surrounded by tall trees and stunning mountain views, this lake is the perfect getaway from the desert heat.

Visitors can enjoy fishing and all sorts of paddling. For added variety, mosey over to adjacent Earl Park Lake (see above) for an even more secluded setting.

Hawley Lake also offers camping options for those who want to spend a night under the stars. The cool, crisp air and serene atmosphere make it a contender for best lake in Arizona for a family vacation or a romantic weekend retreat.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 38 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (25 miles)

15-Knoll Lake AZ

Knoll Lake is a hidden gem that’s well worth the drive. This picturesque lake tucked UP (elevation 7,400 feet!) in the Coconino National Forest is a stark contrast to the arid desert landscape nearby. The placid water reflects the towering ponderosa pines 🌲🌲 that surround it, creating an idyllic setting for fishing, boating, or simply taking in the tranquil scenery.

The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a popular spot for anglers looking for a peaceful day of fishing. Visitors can bring their own boats. There are also several picnic areas and a campground nearby, allowing visitors to spend the night and fully immerse themselves in the quiet surroundings.

If you love the cool air at high altitudes, this may be the best lake in Arizona for you.

PRO TIP: Knoll Lake is situated atop the Mogollon Rim–be sure to check out the Mogollon Rim Visitors Center during your stay!

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 145 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Payson (54 miles)

16-Lake of the Woods AZ

Lake of the Woods may be the best lake in Arizona if you like a little civilization mixed in with your love of nature. This picturesque lake is part of a private 25-acre resort, in the town of Lakeside amid Arizona’s White Mountains. It provides a serene and peaceful setting for anyone looking to escape the heat.

The resort provides cabin rentals, and stocks the lake with trout for fishing. You can spend hours exploring the lake, watching the wildlife, and simply taking in the beauty that surrounds you. If a lovely cabin by a quiet lake is your idea of paradise, put this on your shortlist for best lake in Arizona.

Note that swimming is not allowed in the lake.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 186 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Chillin’
  • Nearest town: In the town of Lakeside
Photo courtesy Lake of the Woods Resort

17-Luna Lake AZ

Ringed by wildflower meadows and ponderosa pines, Luna Lake is tucked away the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. A stay here offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Visitors can also enjoy boating (there are rentals on site), mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and fishing (the lake is regularly stocked with trout).

After a day of adventuring, park your RV or set up a cozy tent at one of the many campsites near the lake and unwind under the stars. Surrounded by the chirping sounds of crickets and the rustling of the leaves, you’ll sleep like a baby (assuming your baby sleeps 😉)

NOTE: Because the lake is used for irrigation during July & August, fishing is best from March through June.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 3 miles west of the New Mexico state line
  • Best for: Fishing, biking, hiking, horseback riding, camping
  • Nearest town: Alpine (3 miles)

18-Rainbow Lake AZ

Rainbow Lake in Pinetop-Lakeside captures the essence of Arizona’s natural beauty in a comfortable in-town setting. Across the road from Lake of the Woods (see above), the lake is surrounded by lush greenery and cozy cabins. The serene atmosphere is perfect for those seeking to spend some time in the cool mountain air.

Whether you are interested in fishing (the lake is well-stocked), kayaking, or just lounging on the shore, Rainbow Lake has something for everyone. Gas-powered boats must be 10 horsepower or less, and boat rentals are available at Rainbow’s End Resort near the lake.

Much of the lake is surrounded by private property, however many of the cabins surrounding the lake are available for rental, and there are a few small lakefront resorts. If a cabin on a peaceful lake with modern conveniences nearby is your type of vacation, Rainbow Lake might be the best lake in Arizona for you.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 186 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, paddling, cabin/home rentals
  • Nearest town: In town Lakeside
Photo courtesy Booking.com

19-Reservation Lake AZ

Reservation Lake would be the best lake in Arizona for you if you like things “back country style.” Located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (so the name totally makes sense), this lake in the White Mountains is worth the unpaved roads taken to reach it.

At an elevation of 7,200 feet, you can be assured of cool days and cozy nights even in the height of summer. (The lake is closed between November and April.)

You can fish for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. There is a general store about 20 miles away.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 240 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, boating, camping
  • Nearest town: Greer (25 miles)

20-Theodore Roosevelt Lake (aka Lake Roosevelt AZ)

This man-made lake is located in the Tonto National Forest and is the largest reservoir in Arizona, measuring approximately 22 miles long.

Because of it’s size, Roosevelt Lake is known for its excellent fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species such as bass, catfish, and crappie inhabiting its waters. So grab your fishing gear and get ready for some fun!

Aside from fishing, Roosevelt Lake also offers plenty of opportunities for water sports, such as boating, jet-skiing, and kayaking. And with that loooong lake, water skiers can really get zipping! You can also take a dip in the lake to cool off from the Arizona heat. There are multiple access points along the southern side of the lake, which include campgrounds.

The scenery surrounding the lake is breathtaking, and nearby Tonto National Monument is a worthwhile side excursion. The Arizona small town of Miami/Globe is also a fun day trip while in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 108 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Boating, water sports, camping, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Miami/Globe (27 miles)

21-Willow Springs Lake AZ

Willow Springs Lake is another beautiful option for those seeking a cool reprieve in Arizona’s White Mountains. The stunning setting of this boomerang-shaped lake at 7,600 ft elevation is sure to be refreshing even at the height of summer. It’s easy access off the Payson-Heber Highway makes it a great day destination if you’re staying in the area.

AZ Game and Fish created Willow Springs as a trout fishing lake, and it’s stocked regularly from spring through fall. Boating is allowed (limit 10hp motor), along with canoes, kayaks, etc.

For those wanting to stay longer, the Sinkhole campground is within walking distance. Taking a morning hike (or mountain bike through the nearby trails or simply enjoying a relaxing picnic by the lakeside.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 120 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping, hiking, mountain biking
  • Nearest town: Payson (32 miles)

22-Woodland Lake AZ

Tucked in at the edge of the town of Pinetop, Woodland Lake anchors the town’s Woodland Lake Park. Set amid towering pine trees (we are in Pinetop, after all 🌲) this small alpine lake has all the facilities for a pleasant day at the lake, while still being close to in-town amenities.

The lake is stocked with trout for fishing, and has a boat ramp and jetty to get out on the water. There are numerous hiking trails around the lake and through the park, along with picnic grounds, volleyball courts . . . even a play area for little ones.🛝

After enjoying park, stop off at one of Pinetop-Lakeside’s many restaurants to round out a perfect day in the White Mountains.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 190 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, hiking, playground for little ones
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (on site)

23-29: Best Lakes in Arizona near Flagstaff

23-Blue Ridge Reservoir (C.C. Cragin Reservoir)

If you’re searching for a peaceful getaway, Blue Ridge Reservoir should be on your list for best lake in Arizona. This stunning, serpentine lake is tucked away in the Coconino National Forest and offers visitors a serene atmosphere to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. The crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming, fishing, or kayaking.

For those who enjoy hiking, Blue Ridge Reservoir has several trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding forest. The trails vary in difficulty, so whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, you’ll find a route that suits your needs.

Camping is also available at the designated sites near the lake, but be sure to reserve in advance as they can fill up quickly during the (limited) open season. In the evening, gather around a campfire, enjoying the quiet forest and the stars above.

NOTE: The campgrounds and reservoir are closed in the winter months, only open from Memorial Day through mid-fall.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 63 miles south of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating (up to 10Hp), Camping, Swimming
  • Nearest town: Strawberry (30 miles)

24-Lake Mary AZ

Located near Flagstaff, Lake Mary is a popular destination for those seeking to escape the summer heat. This man-made reservoir is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Boaters & water skiers love Lake Mary: with no limit on motor size you can really zip along! But the lake is also popular with canoes, sailboats and . . . just about anything that floats!

The lake is stocked with multiple types of fish, making it a prime spot for the rod-n-reel set. Additionally, there are several picnic areas and hiking trails around the lake for those who want to explore the surrounding wilderness. Lake Mary may be the best lake in Arizona for anyone spending time exploring the area around Flagstaff during the summer.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 15 southeast of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, All motorized water sports
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (15 miles)

25-Long Lake AZ (+ the Soldier Lakes)

Long & the Soldier Lakes make up a sweet little spot for fishing at the northeastern edge of the Coconino National Forest. The lakes aren’t large, and water levels vary greatly with rainfall/snowmelt.

But despite their small size, the lakes offer variety. According to the US Forest Service, “each of these bodies of water is known for producing a different species of fish. Soldier Lake provides good fishing for bass and catfish. Soldier Annex Lake is better known for its catfish, although blue gill can also be caught here. Long Lake is the only one of the three that is stocked with trout but is also good for walleye and catfish.”

Camping here is primitive, but if you crave a totally down-to-earth setting with lots of fish, this trio of small lakes may win your vote for best lake in Arizona!

NOTE: Winslow is the nearest town . . . be sure to check out Standing on the Corner Park!

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 68 miles southeast of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, primitive camping
  • Nearest town: Winslow (43 miles)

PRO TIP: Consider these things to do in Winslow AZ, when you’re done fishing at Long Lake!

26-Mormon Lake AZ

Trick question: When is a lake not a lake? Answer: When it’s Mormon Lake . . . maybe. Allow me to explain.

This natural lake in the Coconino National Forest is fed by rainfall and snowmelt, and its water level can fluctuate significantly throughout the year . . . and from year to year. However, no matter how much water is here, it’s a terrific destination!

When the lake has water in it, it is still relatively shallow, with enough water to resemble a riparian marsh. Boating is allowed, but you probably wouldn’t want to put a motor in here. However, kayaks and canoes would happily float along 🛶 . Mormon lake is also a popular spot for windsurfing.

Visitors can bring their own water craft or rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards from the on-site concessionaire. There are also several scenic trails around the lake that for both hiking and horseback riding in the ponderosa pine forest.

And if there’s not much (or any) water? Don’t despair! The lake bed forms a gorgeous alpine meadow that is a popular feeding spot for wildlife . . . and abounds with wildflowers . . . which is a pretty great consolation prize. 🌼🦌 So a candidate for best lake in Arizona? Just maybe!

There are tent sites for camping, and the Mormon Lake Lodge offers cabins and motel rooms, along with RV sites (and a cozy restaurant!). It’s a great place to escape the crowds and experience the beauty of nature . . . water or not.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 135 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Windsurfing, paddling, wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, cabins
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (25 miles)
Best lake in arizona-with or without water (Credit: US Forest Service Coconino Nat’l Forest)

27-Odell Lake AZ

Odell Lake is a small man-made lake at the southern end of the community of Munds Park in northern Arizona. It’s a shallow lake, suitable for simple (non-motored) boats and novice fisherfolk (i.e. kids . . .or me!) Since its not very deep the lake dries out periodically.

However, the lake’s southern end abuts the Coconino National Forest and has access to hiking trails and beautiful scenery with pine trees, wildflowers, and all that you might expect of a northern Arizona wilderness.

The community of Munds Park has a golf course, restaurants and several vacation homes available for rent. Therefore, this may be the best lake in Arizona if you’re looking for a sweet little community to spend your summer holiday.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 125 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Hiking, wildlife viewing, Vacation home rentals
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (21 miles)

28-Potato Lake AZ

Okay, let’s admit it . . . don’t you just love a lake named “Potato”? Tucked up in the Coconino National Forest, our buddy Potato Lake is modest, and totally okay with that.

It’s not a large lake, but it sure is pretty–surrounded by a combination of ponderosa pines and aspens that are beautiful any time of the year. Imagine this color combo in the fall . . . definitely a contender for best lake in Arizona for fall foliage! 🌲🍂

The lake is stocked with trout, but it’s small size puts it more in the category suited to novice fishermen (or fisherkids).

Boats are limited to the non-motorized version, so bring your canoe or similar and settle in for a low-key day in a stellar setting. You’ll soon love a lake named “Potato”, too. 🥰

  • Location: North central Arizona; 128 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Novice Fishing, paddling, enjoying the scenery
  • Nearest town: Strawberry (15 miles)
Stunning foliage in the fall

29-Stoneman Lake AZ

Stoneman Lake may just be the best lake in Arizona for you. . . if you’re looking for a quiet spot for birdwatching and spotting other wildlife.

Like its companion, nearby Mormon Lake (see above), the lake fills naturally from rainwater and snowmelt, which means the water level varies from year to year.

Either way, Stoneman Lake is a lovely spot. Bring your hiking boots, binoculars, and a picnic lunch and you’ll have a terrific afternoon tucked away in nature.

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 117 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Wildlife and bird-watching, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Munds Park (26 miles)

PRO TIP: Stoneman Lake makes a nice stop before/after visiting Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

30-31: Lakes in Northern Arizona (near the Grand Canyon)

30-Lake Powell

Lake Powell boasts picturesque views that are sure to take your breath away. As one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, it offers plenty of options for water-based fun, including swimming, boating, water skiing, and fishing. The lake is also surrounded by beautiful red rock cliffs that create a stunning contrast against the sparkling blue water.

For those looking to explore the area a bit more, Lake Powell offers miles of hiking trails (including the marvelous Hanging Garden Trail) that provide a chance to take in the incredible beauty from a different perspective. You can also rent a houseboat or take a guided tour to further enhance your experience.

If you’re a history buff, a visit to the Glen Canyon Dam should be at the top of your list. Located just a few miles from Lake Powell, the dam offers a fascinating glimpse into the engineering feat that created the lake. And no stay Lake Powell would be complete without a visit to nearby Horseshoe Bend: it’s tops on what to do in Page AZ!

All in all, Lake Powell is arguably the best lake in Arizona if you’re looking for a destination with plenty of other attractions nearby.

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 280 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, hiking
  • Nearest town: Page (3 miles)
aerial view of lake powell with marina full of boats page arizona

31-Lake Mead

Located in the extreme northwest portion of the state, Lake Mead is a massive body of water that draws in thousands of visitors each year. The lake was formed by the Hoover Dam, which is a popular attraction for tourists to visit. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area spans over 1.5 million acres and offers a wide range of recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, and camping.

Visitors looking to spend a night or two can choose from a variety of camping options. The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings. The lake’s proximity to both Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon also makes it a good midpoint for seeing those two destinations.

NOTE: Lake Mead is HUGE, and forms the border between Arizona and Nevada. Temple Bar is the largest area on the Arizona side. Be sure to check camping destinations carefully or you might end up in the wrong state (and have to drive 100+ miles to get back 😱).

  • Location (Temple Bar): Northwest Arizona; 318 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Swimming, Camping
  • Nearest town: Kingman, AZ(79 miles); Boulder City, NV (51 miles)
Best lake in Arizona . . .close to Vegas? 🎲

32-34: Arizona Lakes near Prescott, AZ

32-Lynx Lake AZ

Lynx Lake is just a short drive away from the town of Prescott (one of our favorite Arizona Small Towns!) yet it manages to feel worlds away. Tucked into the Prescott National Forest, it offers a tranquil setting for those seeking a peaceful escape from the Arizona heat.

With plenty of space for fishing and water sports, Lynx Lake is popular destination for those looking to cool off in the water. (And the mile-high elevation certainly helps with that!)

One thing unique to Lynx Lake is gold panning (yep, you read that right: GOLD! 🏆) on nearby Lynx Creek. Access more information on the Lynx Lake website. Okay, now that makes it a serious contender for best lake in Arizona! 🥇

After enjoying some time on the lake, visitors can head back into downtown Prescott for a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants around its charming courthouse square.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 98 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, hiking, camping, gold-panning 🤩
  • Nearest town: Prescott (7 miles)

33-Watson Lake AZ (Lake Watson)

Located in Prescott, Watson Lake is a reservoir surrounded by stunning granite boulders–known as the “Granite Dells”-providing a picturesque setting for enjoying the lake.

Watson lake may be the best lake in Arizona for bouldering: hike the 4.8-mile Watson Lake Loop Trail, a series of interconnected trail segments which circles the lake and offers breathtaking views of the boulders at every turn. Segments of the trail are relatively easy, making it perfect for families with young children or novice hikers. The northern end is rockier and a bit more like bouldering–loads of fun!

Although swimming is prohibited, fishing, boating and all types of paddling are permitted, so get out onto the water and view those boulders from another perspective.

After a day of outdoor adventure, relax and enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic areas around the lake, or head into downtown Prescott for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 103 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Hiking, rock climbing, paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping (summer only)
  • Nearest town: Prescott (5 miles)

34-Willow Lake AZ

Prescott is lucky enough to have two spectacular lakes just a few miles from downtown. Willow Lake, which is just 1/2 mile from Watson Lake (see above) and has the same spectacular boulders around much of its edge.

At approximately 400 acres, Willow lake is larger than Watson Lake, and is also a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and bird-watching. Take a hike on one of the many trails ringing the lake and be sure to bring a picnic lunch!

Unique to Willow Lake: there is a small (and charming) zoo adjacent at its western end–the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. So even if you don’t see much wildlife on the trail, you might still spot a bear . . . or even a peacock! 🦚

  • Location: Central Arizona; 103 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping (summer only), zoo 🐻.
  • Nearest town: Prescott (5 miles)
The Granite Dells are unique among Arizona Lakes

35-37: Best Lake in Arizona: Southern Arizona

35-Parker Canyon Lake AZ

If you’re looking for a change of scenery from the lakes up north, Parker Canyon Lake is a great option. Located south of Tucson, this lake offers a serene setting surrounded by the rolling Canelo Hills west of the Huachuca Mountains.

Thanks to its high elevation (nearly 5,400 feet), summer temperatures avoid the scorching level and the lake keeps things refreshing.

Like to fish? Parker Canyon Lake offers several species: longmouth bass, rainbow trout, and channel catfish. You can fish from a boat, fishing pier, or along the shoreline. An onsite concessionaire provides fishing and watersports rentals and manages the tent and RV campsites.

  • Location: Southeastern Arizona; 80 miles southeast of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, birding, hiking, camping
  • Nearest town: Sonoita (29 miles)

Southern Arizona is bird watching country, and the five-mile trail around the lake’s shoreline will provide plenty of peeping places, making this the best lake in Arizona for folks with varied interests.

36-Patagonia Lake AZ

Patagonia Lake is a hidden gem located in the southern part of Arizona. Heck, this whole section of Arizona is a hidden gem!

Patagonia Lake State Park is surrounded by beautiful high desert scenery (it’s at 4,000 feet), including mountains and trees. The lake is fed by Sonoita Creek, a rare year-round creek that creates an amazing habitat for local wildlife–and one of the best birding areas in the US!

The lake’s water is perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing. Additionally, the surrounding area is home to 30 miles of hiking trails–including a birding trail with a lookout point, providing visitors with an opportunity to explore this beautiful part of Arizona’s Sky Islands.

The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings. This is undoubtedly the best lake in Arizona if you like wine-tasting: the wineries of Sonoita are just a few miles away!🍷

  • Location: Southern Arizona; 78 miles south of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, birding, hiking, camping, wine-tasting
  • Nearest town: Patagonia (12 miles)
sailboat and motor boat on patagonia lake az, with tree in front
the best lake in Arizona . . .for wine-tasting?

Read Next: Tips for Visiting Patagonia Lake AZ

37-Rose Canyon Lake AZ

Anyone who has spent a summer in Tucson 🥵 knows the allure of the cooling higher altitudes up near Mount Lemmon.

Rose Canyon Lake adds to that allure with the promise of sitting by cooling waters amid the towering pines Mile 17 of the Mount Lemmon highway. At 7,000 ft elevation the area stays refreshingly cool even in the midst of an Arizona summer, making it the best lake in Arizona near Tucson.

Visitors can enjoy stunning views of towering pines and aspens while hiking the nearby trails . . . and there are many, including one that climbs up to Mount Lemmon (with some stunning views of Tucson along the way!)

Fishing enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the lake is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a popular spot for whiling away a sunny afternoon . . . (or maybe catching dinner 😊)

Rose Canyon Lake is an easy day trip from Tucson, but it also makes a nice getaway. There are camping opportunities for those who want to extend their stay, or consider booking at cabin at the Mt. Lemmon Hotel for a comfy/rustic experience.

  • Location: Southern Arizona; 34 miles northeast of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Bear Canyon (23 miles)
Majestic wilderness so close to Tucson

38-40: Best Arizona Lakes in Western Arizona

38-Alamo Lake AZ

Located in the Bill Williams River Valley, Alamo Lake is a true oasis in the middle of the desert. This reservoir lake is perfect for fishing and boating, with an abundance of largemouth and striped bass, channel catfish, and crappie just waiting to be caught.

This may be your best lake in Arizona if you’re seeking solitude. Crowds tend to be much smaller than other popular lakes in the area due to its remote location.

Alamo Lake State Park offers a variety of campsites for those wishing to extend their stay and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area. The park also has picnic areas and restrooms, but it is important to bring all necessary supplies as there are no stores or restaurants nearby.

  • Location: West Central Arizona; 135 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping
  • Nearest town: Wenden (37miles)

39-Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu is another stunning lake in Arizona that is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day. Located on the Colorado River, this lake is known for its crystal-clear waters and picturesque views. The lake’s shoreline stretches over 450 miles, providing plenty of space for visitors to relax and soak in the sun.

The water at Lake Havasu is ideal for swimming, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and other water sports. Visitors can rent boats or take a guided tour to explore the lake’s hidden coves and scenic spots. History buffs can also visit London Bridge, which was dismantled in England and transported to Lake Havasu in the 1960s.

With its location right at Lake Havasu City, there are plenty of lodging options, ranging from tent camping to luxury hotels, and everything in-between.

  • Location: Northwest Arizona; 195 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, All motorized water sports
  • Nearest town: Lake Havasu City (right there!)
Lake Havasu: best lake in Arizona for bridge fanatics?

49-Martinez Lake AZ

Located just a short drive from Yuma, Martinez Lake sits alongside the Colorado River and is a popular destination for boating and fishing enthusiasts. If you like a lake with lots of “nooks and crannies,” among the reeds, this may be your best lake in Arizona. There are plenty of chances to find your own little spot.

With its calm waters and picturesque scenery, this oasis in the Sonoran Desert provides a refreshing escape from the scorching Arizona heat.

Looking to spend a few days? The Martinez Lake Resort rents bungalows and RV spots. Visitors can rent a boat, jet ski, or kayak the to explore the tranquil waters, or simply soak up the sun on the sandy shoreline.

  • Location: Southwest Arizona; 37 miles north of Yuma
  • Best for: Fishing, camping, boating, off-roading
  • Nearest town: Yuma (37 miles)

In the midst of a scorching Arizona summer, finding a way to cool off can seem like an impossible task. However, with this guide to the coolest lakes in the state, you can escape the heat and enjoy a refreshing retreat. From swimming and boating to fishing and hiking, there is something for everyone at these picturesque mountain lakes.

So, lather on some sunscreen, pack up your swimsuit or fishing gear, and take in the serene beauty of Arizona’s lakes. As the old saying goes, “life is better at the lake.”

Don’t wait, plan your trip today and experience the ultimate summer getaway.

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List of Arizona Lakes (Alphabetical)

  • Alamo Lake
  • Apache Lake
  • Bartlett Lake
  • Bear Canyon Lake
  • Becker Lake
  • Big Lake
  • Black Canyon Lake
  • Blue Ridge Reservoir (C. C. Craigin Reservoir)
  • Canyon Lake
  • Earl Park Lake
  • Fool Hollow Lake
  • Hawley Lake
  • Horseshoe Lake
  • Knoll Lake
  • Lake Havasu
  • Lake Mary
  • Lake Mead
  • Lake of the Woods
  • Lake Powell
  • Long Lake (& Soldier Lakes)
  • Luna Lake
  • Lynx Lake
  • Martinez Lake
  • Mormon Lake
  • Odell Lake
  • Parker Canyon Lake
  • Patagonia lake
  • Pleasant Lake (Lake Pleasant Regional Park)
  • Potato Lake
  • Rainbow Lake
  • Reservation Lake
  • Rose Canyon Lake
  • Saguaro Lake
  • Stoneman lake
  • Tempe Town Lake
  • Theodore Roosevelt Lake (aka Lake Roosevelt)
  • Watson Lake (Lake Watson, AZ)
  • Willow Lake
  • Willow Springs Lake
  • Woodland Lake

SUMMARY: How to find magnificent Organ Pipe Cactus out in the wild: take Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument-away from main roads!

Dear Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

Where are all the organ pipe cacti??? I only saw one at the entrance!

We arrived at the entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and dutifully took a photo of the sign . . . with its (natch) organ pipe cactus right alongside.

Eager to see the only place in the US where this cactus grows natively, we forged on 15 miles to the Visitor Center.

As we drove we saw . . . no Organ Pipes. Not. A. One. Plenty of Saguaros 🌵 and Arizona Wildflowers, which were lovely. But none of the cacti the national monument is named for.

What was going on here? Where were all the famous Organ Pipe cacti?

Spoiler Alert: we did find them eventually. The trick was taking the Ajo Mountain Drive . . .

What is the Ajo Mountain Drive?

Sign at the entrance of the Ajo Mountain Drive loop road
Get out onto the Ajo Mountain Drive to see the famous organ pipe cactus

Arguably the the best way to get a representative view of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile scenic drive into, you guessed it, the Ajo Mountains, located within the park’s boundaries.

Sometimes called the Ajo Mountain Loop Road, this drive takes visitors on a journey through rugged mountains while offering breathtaking views of the surrounding desert. And, yes, on this drive you’ll see plenty of Organ Pipe cacti!

The winding road is perfect for a leisurely drive, allowing you to take in the sights and sounds of the desert at your own pace. Along the way there are trailheads for those looking to hike a bit deeper into the desert, as well as a few designated picnic stops.

But before you forge ahead, we suggest you stop at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center first. After we did, we understood why we hadn’t seen any Organ Pipes . . . yet.

The main road through organ pipe national monument-with saguaros and wildflowers, but no organ pipe cactus
The main road through the monument–where are the organ pipes???

Kris Eggle Visitor Center

The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is located more or less in the center of the park’s boundaries, right along AZ State Route 85, in a valley between two mountain ranges (this will become significant in a moment!)

The Visitor Center provides a great introduction to the park–and to the unique Biosphere Reserve that the park encompasses. There’s a small (and accessible!) 0.1-mile walk planted with various cacti (including an organ pipe), wildflowers, and other plants you’ll see in the park.

A small exhibit area provides displays on the unique plant and animal life here at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We love these mini museums–it helps us get an idea of what we’re actually looking at when we’re out out there exploring!

Helpful park rangers are on hand to provide suggestions, based on your interests. This is how we learned about the Ajo Mountain Drive . . .

exhibits about the sonoran desert at Kris Eggle visitor center

. . . and how to find the Organ Pipe Cactus.

Read Next: 17 Things to do in Ajo AZ

Where to Find the Organ Pipe Cactus

The organ pipe cactus (Lemaireocereus) is one of the most unique cacti in the world. It’s native to the Sonoran Desert of the southwest Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The area around Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the ONLY place in the United States where you’ll see it growing naturally. That’s why this park is so special!

The organ pipe cactus has an impressive and distinctive look to it–as you can tell by the name, it looks like a giant pipe organ and a saguaro had a baby. 🌵👶🏻 And these things are BIG–they can grow to almost 30 feet tall!

But . . . the organ pipe cactus doesn’t really like cold weather, which is why you only find it in extreme southwestern Arizona. And even then, Arizona can have some chilly nights. So . . .

Organ pipe cactus like to grow on south-facing crags and hillsides, where the sun warms up the rocky soil during the day. That warmth is enough to keep the cacti cosy at night, kind of like a big ol’ desert blanket.

organ pipe cacti growing on a rocky hillside on the ajo mountain drive
Organ pipe cacti LOVE growing on south-facing rocky hillsides

Which means . . . its unlikely organ pipe cacti in valleys . . . like the one you drive through to reach the Visitor Center. AHA moment! 💡To see the famous organ pipe cactus, we’d need to get into the rocky hillsides.

Hence, the Ajo Mountain Drive.

map of organ pipe cactus national monument, with the ajo mountain drive circled in red
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Map, courtesy NPS

What to See and Do on the Ajo Mountain Drive

The drive offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife sightings, so keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and other desert animals. You’ll also encounter numerous pullouts along the way, allowing you to take in the stunning vistas and snap some memorable photos.

There are 2 picnic areas, but keep in mind that there is no water available on the drive, so you must bring your own (and bring plenty–it’s the desert after all!)

The drive also provides access to a few short/medium-length hikes, which is a great way to get a little deeper into the beautiful scenery.

Allow about 1.5-2 hours to complete the drive; longer if you plan to do any hiking and/or stop for a picnic lunch.

First, be sure to pick up an Ajo Mountain Drive Guide at the visitor center. (Or, if you have the NPS App, you can access it there.) There are 18 designated pull-outs along the drive, focused on nature. The guide lists the location of each one and provides descriptions for each of them.

PRO TIP: There are minimal placards along the Ajo Mountain Drive. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your experience, pick up an Ajo Mountain Drive Guide at the Visitor Center.

Some of the pull-outs are focused on specific sights you’ll see right there, while others are more general stops describing the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert.

We found some of the pull-outs more “stop-worthy” than others, but it really depends on your familiarity with the Sonoran Desert landscape. (Or just how much of a “completist” you are 😊.)

Highlights of the Ajo Mountain Drive

Ajo mountain drive-organ pipe cactus in foreground with suv on dirt road in background
One of the first organ pipe cacti you’ll see on the Ajo Mountain Drive

The 21-mile drive begins in the flat valley opposite the visitor center (so not many organ pipe cacti-yet). It gradually winds into the base of the Ajo mountains before looping back to the valley.

Here’s a list of what we found to be the most interesting stops along the drive. Designated stops are based on their distance from the pay-station kiosk at the beginning of the drive.

Stop 4: Mile 3.9

One of the first of the namesake organ pipe cactus you’ll see along the drive. (We’re still in the valley here.) But I was so excited to finally see one in the wild I naturally had to stop and take a gazillion photos. 🤦‍♀️

Stop 6: Mile 5.5

A stop with a picnic ramada along Diablo Wash. This wash is one of the many canyons within the park that was inhabited by people as far back as 12,000 years ago (!). The wash is dry most of the year, but fills up during the monsoon rains in August/September.

Stop 7: Mile 6.0

Saguaro and organ pipe cactus in the foothills of the ajo mountain drive

This spot is on a small ridge, just above the Diablo Wash. Great views to the west of the park, including Twin Peaks (so named because of its double summit). Also a panoramic view of Mexico’s Cubabi Mountains to the south.

There’s a picnic table here as well (although no ramada covering).

*At this point in the drive you’ll be getting into the foothills of the Ajo mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for some south- and west-facing rocky ridges: organ pipe cacti will start popping up sporadically.

**Also, as you look upward into the upcoming mountains you’ll see a cool rock arch up ahead. Resist the urge to try and photo it from here–you’ll have your chance in a moment.

Arch Canyon Trailhead: Mile 8.9

The Arch Canyon Trailhead isn’t listed as a pullout stop in the Ajo Mountain Drive Guide; it’s a landmark on its own. There’s a small parking area, along with a picnic tables (no ramadas). Placards explaining a bit about the geology of the area–including how arches are formed–are posted as well.

man standing at placard of arch canyon trailhead with stone arch high up in the background

This is a great spot to stop take photos. There are actually two arches, 600 feet up there at the top of the rock cliff. . . look closely to to see the second (smaller) one.

It’s hard to believe it from here, but that main arch is 90 feet wide!

For a short hike, the Arch Canyon Trail is short (about .6 mi each way), and takes you a bit closer to the base of the cliff beneath the arches. Be sure to take water if you decide to hike the trail! 💧💧

More intrepid hikers can continue on a short–but very steep–hike up to the Arch itself. This portion of the trail isn’t maintained by the monument, but is pretty well marked by fellow hikers.

The views are fantastic, but it’s a strenuous hike (and only recommended for experienced trekkers).

Estes Canyon: Mile 11.0

Estes Canyon is the midpoint of the Ajo Mountain Drive.

You can do 2 things at Estes Canyon: take a rest, or take a hike.

This canyon stop offers a serene and peaceful setting, perfect for a picnic lunch. Ramadas provide ample shade from the sun, making it a refreshing escape on a hot day. There are also (basic) restroom facilities here, which can come in handy.

If hiking is your thing, consider the Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture Trails. Combine these trails for a moderate-level loop (~3 miles) through the canyon.

Or, if you’re really into climbing, add on the strenuous trail spur to Bull Pasture. It climbs 800 feet in just 1/2 mile, but the views are magnificent.

One of the highlights of Estes Canyon is the many bird species that call it home. Keep an eye out for the colorful vermilion flycatcher or the striking black-throated sparrow. With over 300 bird species in the park, Estes Canyon is definitely a top spot for birdwatching.

After Estes Canyon you’ll begin looping back to the beginning of the trail. By this time you should be pretty adept at spotting organ pipe cactus!

You’ll be heading south, so you may have to pull over occasionally and look over your shoulder to see them on the south-facing hillsides. In the spring this area is chock-full of Arizona wildflowers.

field of yellow poppies amid cactus
Loads of wildflowers in Estes Canyon

Stop 15: Mile 13.1

At this stop you’ll see an nice sampling of something that is NOT a cactus: the ocatillo. These plants have a desert beauty all their own, looking like a giant bouquet of sticks (winter) or fluffy green-leafed plumes (summer). In late spring they sport lovely red flowers at the branch tips, which are popular with hummingbirds.

Stop 17: Mile 16.9

This area, known as “Teddy Bear Pass,” is a dense thicket of teddy bear cholla cactus. These cacti are beautiful with the sun shining through them-they look fluffy & cuddly (hence the name)!

Resist the temptation to give them a hug–they may look soft and fuzzy, but they are sharp!

teddy bear cholla cactus

Continue on the Drive back to the starting point.

Now you’ve completed the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive. Hopefully you’ve seen your fair share of organ pipe cacti . . .along with all sorts of other desert vegetation!

If you’re like me, this drive gave you a new appreciation for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument–and the organ pipe cactus! 🤩

PRO TIP: Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Ajo Mountain Drive can be part of a nice Southwest Arizona road trip. See our Arizona Roadtrip Planner for more information.

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Inside: Where to see Arizona wildflowers in the spring-we show you 24 spots to drive, walk or hike throughout the state to see these colorful beauties!

“You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm, you belong somewhere you feel free.” — Tom Petty

Springtime in the Arizona desert means wildflowers–lots and lots of wildflowers. Roadsides streaked with purple scorpionweed, vivid orange globemallow peeking out from rocky soil, mango-bright poppies snuggling with prickly cactus. I actually have a photo of that last one! (see below)

Heck, even the creosote bushes are covered with tiny yellow blooms!

Doesn’t that conjure up a pretty picture? Sort of like the opening scene of “The Sound of Music,” but with an Arizona vibe. 😉

If you’re like me, and love seeing Arizona wildflowers, I’ve put together a list of 24 great places to find them. I’ve included roadways, walks and hikes. So no matter how much time (or energy) you’ve got, there should be something that’s sure to please.

Because don’t we all belong among the wildflowers?

field of california poppies with a small cholla cactus in the middle-Arizona wildflowers
Poppies and cholla hugging it out

Wildflowers in Central Arizona

1-4: Wildflower Drives in Central Arizona

1-US Highway 60 east of Phoenix: Head east out of the Mesa/Gilbert area on Hwy 60 towards the Arizona small town of Globe. Soon the flat valley floor will give way to rolling foothills of the Pinal Mountains. Along the way you’ll see Arizona wildflowers in most of the hilly spots. Spend some time exploring the cute shops and eateries in Globe and nearby Miami. This makes a nice day trip or weekend getaway from Phoenix.

2-AZ Highway 79 north of Florence: Florence is small town that’s a pleasant day trip from Phoenix. While this is true anytime of the year, it’s especially nice in spring, when the drive down AZ Hwy 79 puts on a colorful show featuring globemallow and poppies.

There are sporadic pullouts for taking photos, and a small parking lot for hikers (or flower peepers 🌼 👀) at Cottonwood Canyon Road.

3-Interstate 17 northbound from Phoenix: Okay, admittedly this one’s a bit of a stretch. It’s not exactly a destination for a “meandering” Sunday drive.

However, as you climb out of the Valley of the Sun there are some gorgeous saguaro-studded hills, which will typically have wildflowers nearby. Keep an eye out for tinges of purple, yellow and orange. It’ll make that drive up to Prescott or Flagstaff a little more fun.

field of california poppies in arizona

4-AZ Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) near Saguaro Lake: This road that heads northeast out of Phoenix toward Payson sports some stunning scenery any time of year, as the desert floor gradually gives way to saguaro-studded hills and eventually the trees of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The area near Saguaro Lake sports a Sonoran Desert landscape that yields up plenty of Arizona wildflowers in the spring.

5-State Route 88 (Apache Trail) between Apache Junction & Tortilla Flat: This roughly 17-mile stretch of road winds into the base of the Superstition Mountains past Canyon Lake, with plenty of petal-peeping and viewpoints along the way.

Grab one of the famous burgers at Tortilla Flat Saloon to make it the perfect spring outing.

NOTE: If you’re itching for a bit more adventure, continue on another 23 miles to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. But, caution: the remaining distance is unpaved a few miles beyond Tortilla Flat, and pretty twisty. Consider your vehicle–and your appetite for adventure–and decide accordingly.

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

7-13: Central Arizona Wildflower Walks and Hikes

closeup of arizona wildflowers. yellow-orange california poppies
Pretty poppies–the color of the Arizona sun!

6-McDowell Sonoran Preserve: There is no shortage of terrific trails to explore in this fantastic (and vast!) park in Scottsdale. Fields of poppies, lupine and more intermingle with saguaro and prickly pear cactus in spring. More details are available at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve website.

Note: Anyone with mobility issues will enjoy the park’s Bajada Nature Trail, which is fully accessible.

7-Woods Canyon Lake: This is a great petal-peeping spot if you’re a bit of a procrastinator. (And who hasn’t been there at one time or another? 🤷‍♀️)

Because of its high altitude (7000′) along the Mongollon Rim, Arizona wildflowers bloom a bit later amid the Ponderosa Pines at Woods Canyon Lake. From late May (still spring!) through early October (definitely NOT spring!) you’ll see lupine and other floral delights along the 3.7-mile trail that circles the lake.

8-Desert Botanical Garden: If you’re looking for a “primer” on Arizona Wildflowers, the Desert Botanical Garden, just east of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, is a good place to start.

Amid many other displays, the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail, will show you what’s out in the, well, wild. The many helpful placards will give you a leg up on identifying those yellow and purple wonders you encounter on hikes and drives elsewhere.

Closeup of bright orange desert globemallow flower in arizona
Desert globemallow can be found along roadsides and flowering among the cacti

9. Lake Pleasant: This park straddles the Maricopa and Yavapai county line in northwest Phoenix with several nice hiking trails both along the lake and the hills surrounding it, which are filled with wildflowers in the spring.

Arizona wildflowers are especially nice along the trails above the lake; the Beardsley and Cottonwood trails are flatter and easier, while the Pipeline Canyon trail is more of a challenge.

10-Usery Mountain Regional Park: This Maricopa County park, just east of Mesa, offers up plenty of Sonoran Desert landscape just at the edge of Tonto National Forest. Springtime yields up acres of poppies, desert margold and more along the desert floor, while freshly-green ocatillo sport flame-red tips above.

ocatillo blooming at usery mountain park in arizona

11-Lost Dutchman State Park: Hike along the base of the fabulous rock formations at Lost Dutchman, where you’ll see acres of bright yellow brittlebush carpeting the spring hillsides.

NOTE: Lost Dutchman is along the Apache Trail on your way to Tortilla Flat (see “drives,” above) and makes a nice combined wildflower hike/drive combo for the day. Just sayin’ 😊.

Even scrubby creosote bushes become Arizona wildflowers in Spring!

12-Tonto National Monument: Get a lot of bang for your buck when visiting Tonto in the spring: in addition to a spectacular Native American cliff dwelling site, you’ll see plenty of beautiful flowers to boot.

Wildflowers at Tonto bloom in March and April, while the cacti put on a show in May and June.

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

Southern Arizona Wildflowers

13-17: Wildflower Drives in Southern Arizona

red arizona wildflowers

13-Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak: Okay, another option that’s not exactly a leisurely outing. But let’s face it folks, that drive on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson is boring! 🥱

Spotting the craggy top of Picacho Peak midway (sort-of) through that drive is one of the few interesting landmarks along the way.

In the spring, Picacho gives us another gift: a sea of yellow-orange poppies draping its base like a giant patchwork quilt. If you don’t have time to stop and smell the roses (I’m speaking metaphorically here), at least allow yourself a few glances for a brief respite from the relentless interstate.

14-State Route 86 west of Tucson: This drive passes directly through the Tohono O’Oldham nation, sports some of the most beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape out there–including a stand of the tallest, skinniest saguaros I’ve ever seen! 🌵

It is also almost 100 miles of non-stop wildflowers, including globemallow, scorpionweed and desert marigold. It’s an orange-purple-yellow extravaganza 🧡💜💛. And it makes the drive to Ajo or Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (or Rocky Point, Mexico) that much more enjoyable.

15-Mount Lemmon Highway: Mount Lemmon is famous for providing a diverse range of ecosystems as you climb 20–ish miles to its 9,000-foot peak. But you needn’t go that far to spot the Arizona wildflowers.

Pull into the Babad Do’ag scenic overlook about 2.7 miles up the mountain. There will be saguaros above and below you, with plenty of wildflowers sprinkled in among them.

NOTE: the more intrepid can hike the adjacent Babad Do’ag trail, although it gets steep fairly quickly.

16-Gates Pass: This road winds west from Tucson to carry you to the far side of the Tucson Mountains and to Saguaro National Park-West. Along the way you pass through some magnificent Sonoran Desert landscape, which in the spring pops with the color of wildflowers.

Stop at the Gates Pass Scenic Lookout, or spend more time hiking one of the trails in Tucson Mountain Park (see below).

organ pipe cactus with brittlebush at the base
Organ Pipe cactus and brittlebush living in harmony on the Ajo Mountain Loop drive

17-Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: You have two ways of seeing wildflowers while driving through Organ Pipe: fast or slow.

AZ State Highway 85 offers the “fast” option. This route slices through the park’s center, carrying travelers en route to the Mexican resort town of Rocky Point. The drive is straight, with some lovely views of purple and yellow wildflowers, along with plenty of cactus (although not really many Organ Pipes).

However, we recommend taking the slow option, the 21-mile Ajo Mountain loop, which takes you deeper into the Organ Pipe’s unique landscape. Multiple stopping points allow you to get up-close and personal with the eponymous cacti, as well as the poppies, brittlebush and more that burst forth in springtime.

18-23: Southern Arizona Wildflower Walks and Hikes

man standing in front of Organ pipe cactus and wildflowers

18-Saguaro National Park-East: The eastern portion of Saguaro National Park gets snowmelt from its location at the base of the Rincon Mountains, providing ample water for all those wildflowers to sprout up in between the cacti.

Check out some of our Favorite Tucson Hikes for more info, including an accessible nature trail suitable for everyone.

19-Saguaro National Park-West: After you’ve driven through the spectacular Gates Pass (see drives, above), continue on to the western section of this National Park.

arizona wildflowers-penstemon
Penstemon-a hummingbird favorite

Check with park rangers at the Visitor Center for the best trails for wildflower spotting during your visit. A perennial fave is the King Canyon Wash Trail, with the winter rains providing plenty of water for the wildflowers. (Rangers will alert you to any potential flooding dangers).

20-Picacho State Park: Although you can see the blanket of California poppies from I-10 (see “Drives” above), it’s worth it to just get off the darned Interstate already and see them up close.

closeup of arizona wildflowers. yellow-orange california poppies

To see the flowers up-close there’s no need to climb the steep trail to the peak. The easy 0.5-mile Calloway Trail will take you to lovely overlook. Memories of this beautiful hike will be enough to sustain you through a year’s worth of dull drives up and down I-10. (Did I say that out loud? 🤭)

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

21-Catalina State Park: There are plenty of opportunities for wildflower spotting in this large park north of Tucson on hikes suited to all abilities.

The 1.0-mile Birding Trail is a great place to start, since flowers attract birds . . . and you might see some hummingbirds too!

22-Tohono Chul Gardens: There is a wide range of different themed gardens at this Tohono Chul, including some where wildflowers native to the region have been planted especially to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

For a sense of a more natural setting for Arizona wildflowers, take a stroll through the South Loop and Saguaro Discovery trails. These Tucson Gardens provide a more native Sonoran Desert habitat. Ideally, you’ll see some wildflowers growing alongside their famous crested saguaro (that’s the one that looks like it’s sporting a pompadour on top)!

Crested saguaro cactus in desert landscape
No wildflowers in this shot, but I really get a kick out of this crested saguaro at Tohono Chul

23-Tucson Mountain Park: Trails abound in vast Tucson Mountain Park for wildflower viewing. It’s location immediately south of Saguaro National Park-West means you’ll see virtually identical plant life–including wildflowers.

Access points on both the east and west side of the park-the Brown Mountain Trail offers some great views without too much climbing, as well as seeing wildflowers close-up.

(NOTE: for a nice drive through this park, see “Gates Pass Drive,” above.)

24-Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area: The year-round stream flowing through Sabino Canyon provides a pretty good insurance policy for seeing wildflowers in the spring.

This is especially true along the main canyon drive that parallels the stream: it’s paved, and therefore fully accessible to anyone with mobility issues.

For a more birds-eye view, consider the Phoneline Trail, which parallels the stream along the mountainside before looping back to stream level.

As you can see, there is no shortage of places to view the beautiful wildflowers of Arizona! Where will you go to see them?

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Inside: Everything you need to know to visit Montezuma Well, a stunning pool of deep water with cliff dwellings nearby Montezuma Castle.

Imagine living in the desert 1,000 years ago and stumbling on this huge pool of water at the top of a hill . . . you’d probably gasp, right?

Spoiler alert: I actually gasped myself when I first saw it last year! Montezuma Well is truly a breathtaking sight.

What is Montezuma Well?

Montezuma Well is a deep pool of water that is actually a giant sinkhole perched high atop a hill. It’s one of several Arizona National Monuments dedicated to Native American culture.

View of montezuma well surrounded by limestone and fall foliage, with cliff dwellings in upper left
View of Montezuma Well from the water level. Note cliff dwellings on upper left

The “well” was created by the collapse of an underground cave thousands of years ago, and is replenished daily by underground streams. Montezuma well is about the size of a football field and maintains a steady water level year-round.

It’s like a giant pond nestled in a hilltop nest of limestone. Add in evidence of ancient peoples, such as cliff-dwellings and water-level cave rooms, and you’ve got a site that’s truly worth seeing.

And to top it all off, its absolutely FREE!

Take the Montezuma Well Hike

Follow the 1/2-mile trail, which will take you past all the discoveries at this magical place.

Ascend a gentle 80-yard rocky slope to reach the rim of the well. Roughly 100 feet below you’ll see the serene blue water snuggled amid reeds and mesquite trees in its limestone nest. Gasp! 😲 (told you!)

View 100 feet above montezuma well from edge-with iron railing
The unexpected well as you reach the top of the hill

You can walk along the edge to view the well from multiple angles. (Note: keep toddlers in check, the railings are sturdy, but they’d be easy for little ones to squirm through.)

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings and Caves

From your rim viewpoint search for clues of prior inhabitants.

Remains of rooms tucked into the stone cliffs overlooking the well (to your left) along the rim are evidence of the native peoples who have lived here. Experts believe the Sinagua, Hohokam, Hopi, Zuni and Yavapai all used the well at one time or another over the centuries. Because of their cliffside location, this is as close as you’ll be able to get.

close up view of cliff dwellings at montezuma well
Cliff dwellings: 1000-year old condo with a water view!

Keep looking. There are more clues . . .

A small sign points toward the “Swallet Ruins.” Hmmm, not sure what a “swallet” is, but “ruins” sounds promising. Looks like it goes right down to the water’s edge.

Descend a short trail of 112 stone steps. With each step the temperature drops, delivering a cooling respite from the Arizona heat. That coolness is welcome today; for indigenous peoples centuries ago (pre-A/C!) it would have been downright miraculous.

Soon you find yourself at some small rooms carved into the limestone wall right at the water’s edge. This is awesome! It’s like you’ve just discovered some centuries-old secret hideout!

You have. You’ve found the cliff dwellings down at the water’s edge. It feels pretty safe down here. These dwellings would have kept their inhabitants cool in the summer, and protected from storms in the winter.

And you’ve also found the beginning of the swallet: the point where the water leaves the well and goes out to the nearby creek.

Hang out for a bit in these cool (literally and figuratively 😎) spaces, envisioning one of the Sinagua grinding corn or washing clothes 900 years ago. There’s something serene about these simple domestic tasks in such a unique setting.

There’s one more historic surprise waiting down here, although the culture isn’t quite so ancient, and unfortunately it’s inconsiderate. See if you can spot the 200-year-old graffiti on one of the walls.

Avoid the temptation to add your “tag” here. As the nearby placard will warn, these are still sacred sites to the native peoples, and graffiti such as this is disrespectful. (Not to mention it’s now a National Monument, and you don’t want to be “that guy” who defaces federal property.)

Completing the Montezuma Well Hike

Return back to the rim of the well and continue on the path, which will take you down toward Beaver Creek before looping back to the parking lot.

You’ll be back in the high desert landscape of grasses, mesquite and prickly pear cactus.

Along the way you will see the remains of a few more stone dwellings, this time simply built out on the open grassy plain. Compared to what you’ve just seen, these remains might seem a little . . . mundane.

Man in front of Hilltop ruins on the montezuma well hike with fall foliage in background
These hilltop ruins at Montezuma Well only hint at the wonders nearby

But it’s these remains that provided an indication that there was, perhaps, a little more going on around here. Something that said, “look a little harder, explore a little more.”

Aren’t you glad you did?

If you like archaelology and Native American Culture, be sure to check out this post:

Details about visiting Montezuma Well

You can visit Montezuma Castle and Well on the same day. Montezuma Well National Monument is a short drive (roughly 10 miles) from Montezuma Castle.

  • Admission:Montezuma Well is free (unlike the Castle, which charges a small fee).
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 4:45pm, daily. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day) Picnic area closes at 4pm.
  • Services: Picnic Area with flush toilets, water refill station. Pit toilets on the trail.

Montezuma Castle National Monument was established in 1906 as the third National Monument devoted to Native American culture. Montezuma Well was added as an annex to the Monument in 1947.

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Inside: Montezuma Castle in AZ: one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in America. Plus TWO BONUS free ancient sites nearby. So. Very. Cool! 😎

Can you imagine living in a 5-story apartment building . . . built into a CLIFF? Oh, and it was built 900 years ago!

Thats Montezuma Castle. It’s the ruins of a five-story cliff dwelling of more than two dozen rooms burrowed into a limestone cliff in central Arizona by the Sinagua People centuries ago. Can you imagine having to climb ladders to get home? Talk about a 5-story walkup! 🪜😳

You can visit Montezuma Castle National Monument as a day-trip from Phoenix, or on your way to points north, such as Sedona or the Grand Canyon. There are SO MANY reasons to visit . . . including getting access to TWO bonus parks for your admission fee!

1. See INCREDIBLE Architecture at Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle in AZ-view of cliff dwellings as seen from a distance-high up in the cliff

What, exactly, is Montezuma Castle? THIS! 👆👆👆 Pretty cool, huh?

Montezuma Castle is a 5-story, 20-room structure, built with stone and mortar. Simple enough, right? But here’s the kicker: it’s built into a cliff, nearly 100 feet above the ground. Suddenly it’s not-so-simple 🧐.

In fact, it’s pretty dang astonishing.

So, what’s the story here?

2-4. Learn about Montezuma Castle: History & People

Visiting provides incredible insight into people that lived in a prior millennium.

I mean, you can read about this stuff until your eyeballs 👀 get scratchy. But sooner or later, you just gotta see it for yourself. (And hopefully reading this blog post will make you want to do just that! 😊)

You’ll see that while in some ways the culture was primitive, in others they were remarkably sophisticated.

View of Montezuma Castle looking up through trees with fall foliage

2. Discover Who Built Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle was built by the Sinagua people. They established their culture in Arizona from AD 600 through AD 1450.

Experts theorize that the Sinagua settled here to be near Beaver Creek, which flows alongside the cliff. Experts theorize that the “castle” was built so high into the cliff to protect it from periodic flooding from the creek. No leaky basements for these guys!

View of Montezuma Castle from a distance perched high on a cliff from a
Approaching Montezuma Castle in AZ

3. Learn who discovered Montezuma Castle in AZ

Spanish settlers who arrived in the area 1500s gave the name Sinagua to the people that had come before them. The name means “without water.”

The Spaniards marveled at the magnificent structure they had built into the cliff, and arid landscape in which they had thrived. The Spaniards must’ve been scratching their heads, just like we all do! 🤔

4. Understand the name “Montezuma Castle”

Since “Montezuma” is the name of an Aztec emperor, Montezuma Castle in AZ must be connected the Aztecs . . . right? But the words “Montezuma Arizona” don’t exactly go together . . .

Spoiler alert! There is NO connection to the Aztecs. Early Spanish settlers misnamed the site. They assumed something so grand had to be associated with a regal figure like the emperor Montezuma. I suppose in the 1500s that sort of made sense. But it was a big leap . . . and an incorrect one.

Okay, chalk that one up to one of history’s great misnomers! 🤷‍♀️

5-10: Things to do AT Montezuma Castle in AZ

Once you’ve got your head around the basic history, here are some things you can do while visiting Montezuma Castle:

5. Take the Montezuma Castle Hike

Taking the Montezuma Castle hike gives you access to all that the site has to offer.

There are multiple sun shelters along the way, so you’ve got plenty of protection from the strong Arizona sunshine.

Best of all, the path is paved, and fully-accessible for anyone with mobility concerns! So everyone can experience the magnificence of Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Cartoon map of the walking trail at Montezuma Castle National Monument in AZ, including icons for the Castle and Cavate sights

6. Observe the Cliff Dwelling from Multiple Viewpoints

Stop periodically along the hike to view Montezuma Castle from different angles.

The sun will cast shadows on different parts of the structure, depending on where you’re standing.

This will help you get a more accurate 3-D picture of how intricate and sophisticated the structure really is.

7. Walk through the low-level Cliff Dwellings (Cavates)

You can walk through some of the ruins at the base of the cliff.

These low-level rooms, or “cavates,” are located at the western end of the hike, just before it begins to turn toward the river.

No one knows exactly how these were used, but many experts theorize they may have been storage rooms for grains and other living staples.

8. Study the Architectural Model of Montezuma Castle

At roughly the midpoint of the hike, you’ll find a model of Montezuma Castle in AZ in a glass case.

The model shows a cut-away version of what the castle looked like inside, and how the Sinagua people lived there.

Press the button at the front of the model to hear a short narration about life inside Montezuma Castle.

9. Take in the nature that inspired this ideal building location

There’s a reason the Sinagua chose this location: the beautiful valley with the water of Beaver Creek flowing by.

Take a few moments to stop and observe the tranquil setting and imagine someone 900 years ago coming to collect water.

Man reading placard overlooking river with trees-Montezuma Castle

10. View ancient artifacts at the Visitor Center Museum

Be sure to take some time to explore the small museum in the Visitor Center.

It’s not very large–you can view the whole thing in 10 minutes (if you’re quick!). There are several large posters and some examples of artifacts.

Spending a few minutes here will give you a better understanding of the Sinagua people, and help you appreciate Montezuma Castle in AZ even more!

Display of artifacts and placards at Montezuma Castle Visitor Center

11-15: Things to do NEAR Montezuma Castle in AZ

11. Visit Monetzuma Well (BONUS PARK #1 !!!): 10miles, 15 minutes

This crater-like “pond” is a shocking sight in the middle of the desert and an awesome bonus. Admission here is free.

Walk around the rim, where you can see cliff dwellings, then down to see the cavate structures near the water’s edge. (It’s really cool–literally–the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler down there! 😎)

12. Explore Sedona and the Red Rocks: 25 miles, 40 minutes

Montezuma Castle to Sedona is an easy drive. The magnificent red rocks of Sedona are a short drive up the road.

There you can hike to your heart’s content, shop til you drop, or find your inner Zen at one of the many yoga retreats.

(If you’re staying in Sedona, Montezuma Castle makes an excellent day trip.)

13. Tuzigoot National Monument (BONUS Park #2!!!): 22 miles, 35 minutes

For a sort-of parallel universe view of the Sinagua people, check out Tuzigoot.

This hilltop pueblo was built around the same time as Montezuma Caste, but has a very different look: less ladders, more sprawling.

Just as awesome.

And, like Montezuma Well, admission is included in your ticket to Montezuma Castle–BONUS! 🎉

Stone Ruins of Tuzigoot pueblo on a rise, with mountain in background

14. See more cave dwellings at Walnut Canyon: 63 miles, 56 minutes

This part of Arizona could be described as “cave dwelling” central.

The dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monutment were also constructed by the Sinagua people around the same time as Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Take the 1-mile-long “Island Trail,” where you can explore inside the 25 dwellings built along the edge of the mountain.

View of pine trees viewed through opening of cliff dwelling at Walnut Canyon National Monument

15. Verde Valley Archaeology Center: 5 miles, 8 minutes

If you want to place the remarkable achievement of Montezuma Castle in AZ into context of the surrounding terrain, this is the museum for you!

Verde Valley Archaelogy Center & Museum has a series of exhibits that compare & contrast the many cultures that have inhabited the region over the millinnea.

Don’t miss the Space Rocks! display, showcasing meteorites that have fallen to earth in the vicinity. 🪐☄️

Visitor information for Montezuma Castle in AZ

Sign at the entrance to Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Where is Montezuma Castle located? Montezuma Castle is located right off Interstate 17, 94 miles north of Phoenix and 53 miles south of Flagstaff.
  • What does Montezuma Castle cost to visit? Admission to Montezuma Castle is $10 per adult, which is good for 7 days. Children aged 15 and under are free. ***This fee also covers admission to Tuzigoot National Monument.
  • When is Montezuma Castle open? Montezuma Castle is open every day from 8:00am to 4:45pm. (Note: closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Park closes at 1:45pm on Christmas Eve.)
  • When is the best time to visit Montezuma Castle? The best time to visit is spring and fall, when the weather is mild.
  • Can you go inside Montezuma Castle? No, you cannot go inside Montezuma Castle, but you can go inside the cavates at the base of the cliff, below the castle.
  • Is Monetzuma Castle worth visiting? I certainly hope you agree that the answer is YES! 👍

Want to learn more about the archaeology at Montezuma Castle? Check out this video from Arizona Project Archaeology (a state-approved educational organization). Go on . . . geek out! 🤓🤩

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INSIDE: These 8 gardens in Tucson showcase the beauty of the desert landscape. Discover vivid flowers, trees, and even a cactus with a pompadour! We’ll show you how you can find these natural wonders.

On my first visit to Tucson I expected to see lots of sand and no vegetation. But I was wrong. The landscape is oveflowing with vivid flowers, lacy shade trees, even a rare cactus that sports a pompadour! The beauty is all around you . . . if you know where to look.

Tucson sits smack-dab in the middle of a special place: The Sonoran Desert.

The word “desert” evokes images of sand–lots of sand. And nothing else. But that’s not true–plenty of stuff grows here.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the oldest cultivated areas in North America. (Seriously, people have been living here for over 4,000 years!).

It’s the home of the saguaro cactus, the most iconic symbol of the American southwest. Even the cactus emoji is a saguaro 🌵.

You’ll find stunning flowers, lacy shade trees, and a rare version of the saguaro with a frilly hairdo that would be right at home in a 50’s Do-Wop group. The “crested saguaro” is a mutation that occurs once in every 10,000 saguaros.

And it can only be found in the Sonoran Desert.

So let’s get going and explore that beautiful desert landscape. Here are 8 of our favorite gardens in Tucson that showcase the unique plant life in the Sonoran Desert . . .

. . . and we’ll even share 3 places where that rare cactus with a pompadour is hiding!

Girl with sunglasses posing in front of large cactus at gardens in tucson

1. Tucson Botanical Gardens: A former nursery grows up

Tucson Botanical Gardens has its roots (seems fitting!) in a nursery. It’s a pleasure to stroll the paths of what was once Desert Gardens Nursery. For nearly 40 years, founders Rutger and Bernice Porter taught locals to cultivate their own gardens with southwestern plants.

Bernice Porter donated the property to the city in 1968, which became Tucson Botanical Gardens a few years later.

Today Tucson Botanical Gardens is an oasis of desert beauty in the city. I love the 17 different specialty gardens which highlight native plants.

  • What we love: Succulent Garden & Butterfly Pavilion
  • Highlights: Christmas lights display; art exhibits in the old Porter House
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shop
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 5 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Tucson Botanical Gardens

2. Tohono Chul Gardens: a blend of art and nature

Okay, full disclosure here: I went to Tohono Chul because I knew they had a Crestate Saguaro somewhere on the property.

That’s right, the cactus with the Pompadour!

I did eventually find it (more on that in a minute), but I was astonished by how many other gorgeous gardens are on display here: a Spanish Colonial courtyard, a cultivators garden featuring native plants, even an area featuring the cutest little mini cacti! (Just don’t touch them–they may look cute & fuzzy, but they’re still sharp!)

Beautiful sculptures complement the plantings, and several art galleries with rotating exhibits delight your eyes.

But after all those tended gardens, head out to the South Loop Trail into native desert landscape. Here you’ll find lots (and lots!) of cacti . . . including the quirky Crested Saguaro–yep the guy with the pompadour! This one even has two bird’s nests in it, which look like a set of eyes 👀!

  • What we love: The mixture of wild and tame landscapes
  • Highlights: Crested Saguaro; rotating art exhibits
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shops (2), nursery selling native plants
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 9 miles north of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Tohono Chul
Crested saguaro cactus in desert landscape

3. Yume Japanese Gardens: serenity among gardens in Tucson

If all seeing all those cacti have you feeling a little, well, prickly, head over to Yume Japanese Gardens for a soothing change of pace.

Eight different garden settings display minimalist serenity, combining a balance of natural and man-made beauty.

I’m amazed at how these minimalist settings can still invoke communion with nature. Get your Zen on with trickling fountains, bamboo groves, and even a river of smooth stones–no water necessary!

Afterward, explore the mini-museum, with its stunning display of ceremonial Japanese kimonos.

And don’t forget to pick up some Japanese snacks in the gift shop 🍡.

  • What we love: The total Zen vibe
  • Highlights: Dry River garden, Tea Ceremony garden, kimono display
  • Amenities: Gift shop/Bookstore
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 9 miles northeast of downtown Tucson (2 blocks south of Tucson Botanical Gardens)
  • Website: Yume Japanese Gardens
garden scene at Yume Japanese gardens tucson

4. Agua Caliente Regional Park: a real live Desert Oasis!

There’s something so exotic about a desert oasis. And Agua Caliente Park fits the definition!

The park is named for a warm spring and pond that creates this unexpectedly lush spot in the desert. (“Agua Caliente” means hot water.)

Visiting this county park feels like stepping onto the grounds of a fancy resort–for free! Loads of palm trees ring a large pond, with a bridge (and even a few ducks–rare for Tucson 🦆).

It’s a really nice place for a picnic. The pretty setting is also popular with wedding parties-on our last visit we saw a ceremony taking place (so romantic! 💕). Hohokam peoples lived here 900 years ago; archaeologists also found evidence of human occupants from 5,500 years ago. This oasis has been around a long time! 🌴

  • What we love: Seeing naturally occurring water in the middle of the desert.
  • Highlights: Different types of palm trees, lots of shade
  • Amenities: Visitor center; rotating art exhibits
  • Admission fee: None
  • Location: 18 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Agua Caliente Park
Pond with palm trees reflected at Agua Caliente oasis in Tucson
Little girl examining mini cactus at gardens in Tucson

5. University of Arizona Arboretum: beauty is all around you

If you want to learn more about the desert landscape . . . go to school.

You don’t have to “enroll,” just go to the campus. The University of Arizona main campus Arboretum houses a truly unique collection of plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world.

Before it gets too confusing, let me give you a tip: the Arboretum is all around you, not in some fenced-off section of campus. (Full disclosure, I had a hard time finding it the first time I went 🤦‍♀️.) Because it sprawls all over campus, it’s one of the more spectacular gardens in Tucson.

The “U of A” has a terrific interactive map on their website, which describes the various plantings you’ll find around campus. There are even 8 different walking tours with different themes, such as “Edible Landscapes” and “Arboretum History.”

But my favorite? None other than that pompadour-sporting Crested Saguaro . . . right near the Old Main building. Weird, wonky & utterly wonderful!

Bonus Sighting: try to find the true-to-scale outline of the battleship USS Arizona on the campus grounds. It’s a moving memorial to those who perished in the Pearl Harbor attacks.

  • What we love: The ENTIRE campus is an arboretum!
  • Highlights: Crested saguaro; multiple themed walking tours
  • Amenities: Several cafes, restaurants and shops adjacent to campus
  • Admission fee: None
  • Location: 1.5 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: University of Arizona Arboretum
Crested saguaro cactus at Univ. of Arizona

6. The Mission Garden: celebrating 4,000 years of food

If you love to grow vegetables, or even if you just love to eat, you’ll love the Mission Garden. This garden is all about food. It is a celebration of the kitchen garden, and Tucson’s diverse agricultural heritage.

Tucson has a rich food history–people have been living here for 4,000 years! All due to, you guessed it, growing food.

This garden in Tucson is a living agricultural museum of Sonoran Desert-adapted heritage fruit trees, traditional local heirloom crops and edible native plants. I love strolling through to see the different crops people have cultivated over the centuries (well, okay, millenia). Corn, squash and beans planted by the native peoples, fruit trees and wheat brought by colonial Spaniards, and even winter melon and long beans brought by the Chinese. (I told you it was diverse!)

Perhaps the coolest part of the Mission Garden is its location: just west of downtown Tucson, at the site of a Native American village sacred to the Tohono O’odham people. The name of the village? S-cuk Son (pronounced “Chuk Shon”), which is where modern-day Tucson got its name. That’s some gardening props! 👩‍🌾

  • What we love: Discovering all the heritage crops
  • Highlights: Hohokam native garden, Spanish Colonial orchard
  • Amenities: Gift shop
  • Admission fee: No (but $5 donation suggested)
  • Website: Mission Garden
Spanish vegetable garden at Mission Garden Tucson

7. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: the desert from every angle

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum definitely gives you a lot of value: there are 5 museums at this one location. And there’s a crested saguaro in the parking lot!

The 98-acre property looks at the Sonoran Desert from multiple angles. So while exploring you’ll see botanical gardens mixed in with natural history, local art, and even desert critters (like tarantulas and coatimundi).

There are 2 miles of trails connecting the exhibits . . . with 1,200 different types of plants on display. Whoever said the desert is just sand is totally wrong!

My favorite plant/animal combo is the hummingbird habitat: you could spend an hour looking at gorgeous desert flowers while these iridescent little fliers zip by your head!

  • What we love: Seeing how desert plants make up part of the whole ecosystem
  • Highlights: Hummingbird Haven, Desert Grasslands habitat, Crested Saguaro
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shop
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Website: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Close up of plants at Tucson botanical gardens

PRO TIP: Check out the crested saguaro at the entrance of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (just off the parking lot). You don’t even have to enter the museum to see it!

8. Bonus Pick: Saguaro National Park: Cactus, cactus & more cactus

two pug dogs wearing saguaro cactus costumes
I told you there were a LOT of cacti!

If you prefer plant life in a native setting, you can’t get much more local than Saguaro National Park. Obviously, the park celebrates the Saguaro cactus (remember the emoji? 🌵), but also all the other desert life you find in this ecosystem.

The park is divided into 2 sections: one just east of Tucson, the other just west. This makes it an easy visit when you’re staying in the area. Each section has an (accessible) interpretive trail which provides a great primer on the plants you’ll see while exploring the park.

Farther afield are networks of trails throughout the park for walkers and hikers of all abilities. I particularly like the trails in the East section, which take you into the Rincon Mountains.

(See our guide to Tucson Hikes for more info about trails in this park and beyond.)

  • What we love: Immersing ourselves in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Highlights: Interpretive trails, hikes through the Rincon Mountains
  • Amenities: Visitor Center, Gift shop (Western section only)
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Website: Saguaro National Park

I am still determined to find that Crestate Saguaro Cactus somewhere in the wild. But for now I’m content to know that there are at least 3 places right in Tucson where I can see one whenever I want. 🌵

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There’s something soooo relaxing about being at a lake. Especially one surrounded by high desert.

Enjoy the waters and the wilderness at Patagonia Lake AZ, where you can hike, fish, camp, swim and go boating at this state park in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona. Here are our favorite things to do at Patagonia Lake State Park.

In addition to a 256-acre lake, the park encompasses more than 2,600 acres, making it a fabulous spot for wildlife and hiking trails. The park is surrounded by the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, offering an additional 7,000+ acres of wilderness. All told, a stay at Patagonia Lake provides access to nearly 10,000 acres of high desert wilderness.

History of Patagonia Lake AZ

Patagonia Lake AZ is a man-made lake that was formed by damming up the Sonoita creek, south of the town of Patagonia. The Sonoita Creek is one of the few year-round creeks in the state of Arizona, making it a popular spot for wildlife. Iate 1960s a group of local citizens formed the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association, Inc. (LPRA) with the intent of creating a lake and recreation area. In 1968 a dam was built on the Sonoita creek west of the Circle Z Guest Ranch, creating 256-acre Patagonia Lake.

sailboat and motor boat on patagonia lake az, with tree in front
Soothing Patagonia Lake amid the desert landscape (Getty Images via Canva)

Over the next several years the state authorities worked to acquire land surrounding the lake, which at the time was owned by oil company Conoco. Eventually the State of Arizona also secured title to Patagonia Lake itself and established Patagonia Lake State Park in 1975.  Roughly 5,000 acres of wilderness was acquired by the state just east of the lake and opened as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (SCSNA) in 2000. Additional acquisitions of nearby land increased the protected area, eventually connecting it to Patagonia Lake State Park. All told, between the two facilities, there are nearly 10,000 acres to explore.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Today Patagonia Lake State Park offers a campground, beach for swimming, a creek trail and picnic areas. For boaters there’s a marina and boat ramps. Patagonia Lake AZ is tucked away in the hills, about 2 miles off highway 82, providing a quiet escape. Because of its remote location, coupled with year-round water, it’s one of the few places in Arizona where you’ll find of whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline.

Things to do at Patagonia Lake AZ

The combination of Patagonia Lake State Park and the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area provides a combination of potential activities to satisfy many interests. Water lovers can enjoy boating and fishing (and swimming in the warmer months), while the adjacent wilderness offers plenty of opportunity for hiking, wildlife spotting and backcountry camping.

Things you can do when visiting Patagonia Lake AZ:

  1. Swimming
  2. Hiking
  3. Horseback Riding
  4. Birdwatching
  5. Wildlife Viewing
  6. Picnicking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Canoeing
  9. Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
  10. Motor Boating
  11. Boat Rental
  12. Water Skiing
  13. Fishing
  14. Cabin Camping
  15. Tent Camping

1: Can you swim in Patagonia Lake AZ?

Families playing on the beach and in the water at Patgonia Lake AZ
Boulder Beach swimming area at Patagonia Lake AZ (photo courtesy AZ State Parks)

Patagonia Lake allows swimming in designated areas that are in the no-wake zone of the lake, away from boat launches. The lake is considered to be “wild water” and swimmers swim at their own risk. Boulder Beach (near the campground) has a roped-off swim area, which is great for families. NOTE: Be advised that swimming at Patagonia Lake AZ is at your own risk. There are no lifeguards on duty, so be sure to use life vests with kids and novice swimmers.

child swimming in lake wearing a life vest
No lifeguards at Patagonia Lake-be sure kids have life vests! (photo by Getty Images via Canva)

2: Hiking at Patagonia Lake and Sonoita Creek Natural Area

Hikers can use Patagonia Lake State Park as a basis for hiking through the nearly 10,000 acres of the combined state park and Sonoita Creek Natural Area. Near the lake there is a 1/2-mile hiking trail that leads to Sonoita Creek. This is a popular birding area.

Pedestrian bridge over lake inlet at Patagonia Lake State Park
A pedestrian bridge over one section of the lake offers a great viewpoint to watch the boats (Getty Images via Canva)

Those looking for a bit more of a challenge will find longer and more rugged trails in the  Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. There are 20 miles of trails (some shared with equestrians). Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail, with a minimum elevation change of 300′.

For a short hike with a terrific view, check out the “Overlook Trail.” This moderate difficulty 1.5-mile trail is adjacent to Patagonia Lake State Park and offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding scenery. Spectacular!

PRO TIP: Hike the “Overlook Trail” at Patagonia Lake AZ for a 360-degree view of spectacular scenery. This 1.5 mile trail is moderately difficult and not far from the visitor center.

3: Patagonia Lake Az Horseback Riding

For those who have their own horses, the area around Patagonia Lake offers some excellent riding opportunities. (NOTE: there are no horses for rent at the park.) The majority of equestrian trails are in the Sonoita Creek Natural Area, although you park and unload the horses near the Visitor Center at Patagonia Lake State Park. Follow the Horse Corral Trail, which heads west into the Natural Area. Shortly you’ll reach the Sonoita Creek, and the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad trail, which follows the creek westward for about 5 miles.

creek winding through treed area with late spring green colors. horse hoofprints on beach in foreground
The trail along Sonoita Creek makes an ideal equestrian trail near Patagonia Lake, AZ (photo Getty Images via Canva)

The year-round Sonoita Creek is edged by trees, making this a lovely shaded ride during summer. The trail also offers opportunities for creek crossings at three points (provided the water level isn’t too high), which is a refreshing transit for the horses. (NOTE: be sure to check at the Visitor Center before setting out for any high water warnings.)

4 & 5: Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing at Patgonia Lake Az

a pair of coatimundi in trees, with striped tails hanging down
The not-quite-a-raccoon coatimundi (or “coati”)

Thanks to the year-round flowing Sonoita Creek, which feeds Patagonia Lake, there is an abundance of native Southern Arizona wildlife in the park. The park’s trails all pass through a variety of prime habitats for a large variety of reptiles, birds and mammals. Observant hikers might spot javelina, coues whitetail deer, coatimundi (also known as coati), bobcats and coyote.

In addition to seeing wildlife out on the trails, there is a designated wildlife viewing area perched on a small hill at the eastern end of the lake. This is a popular spot for birders: in 2007 the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area partnered with the Arizona Audubon Society to have the area named an Important Bird Area. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the elusive Elegant Trogon, with its signature red chest and white banding.

Remember, this is NOT a petting zoo, all animals here are wild. Give them plenty of space so they don’t feel threatened, and don’t try to feed them. Treat any wildlife viewing as nature’s gift: a window on a unique habitat.

Below is video supplied by Arizona State Parks of some javelina that you might encounter at Patagonia Lake AZ:

7-12: Patagonia Lake Boat Rental & Watersports

Patagonia Lake AZ is divided into two sections to allow for different types on boats and watersports. A marina is located at the midpoint between the two sections. This is where Patagonia Lake boat rental facilities are located.

Paddlers will enjoy the eastern end of Patagonia Lake, which is a “no wake zone” (Getty Images via Canva)

The eastern end of the lake is designated a “no wake zone,” making it ideal for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboards. This end is also where the designated swimming beach is located. Motorized boats can enter this part of the lake, but they must travel at very slow (no wake) speed.)

Waterskiing and motor boating are done on the western portion of Patagonia Lake Az. (Getty Images via Canva)

The western end of the lake has no speed limits, therefore it’s more suited to motor craft and water skiing. Note that all boats must travel in a counter-clockwise direction. Water-skiing is permitted, however timing differs, depending on the time of year. Following is a breakdown of permitted water-skiing days.

  • Winter months (Oct 1 through Apr 30): water skiing allowed on both weekdays and weekends
  • Summer months (May 1 through Sept 30): The lake is more congested at this time of year, so water skiing is allowed on weekdays only. Prohibited on weekends and legal holidays.

NOTE: The following type of motorized water craft are prohibited at all times:

  • Personal water craft (PWCs)
  • Jet-skis
  • Waterbikes
  • Above-water exhaust boats
  • V-8 jet boats

Patagonia Lake Boat Rentals & Ramps

Spending time on the water is a great way to explore the scenery from a totally different viewpoint. Patagonia Lake State Park allows you to bring your own watercraft (be sure to check above for a list of those that are prohibited). Additionally you can also rent boats on a daily basis at Patagonia Lake Marina for paddling, water skiing or fishing. Motorized pontoon boats are available for rent, in addition to “no-wake” craft: canoes, rowboats and paddle. Patagonia Lake Marina will have updated prices: (520) 287-2804.

Those that bring their own boats can access the 2 boat ramps at Patagonia Lake. Boat launching is included in the camping or day-use permit fees paid upon entry to the park. Ramps are made of cement and are suitable for most size boats, provided the water is at normal levels. Boat owners must remember to register their own watercraft with Arizona’s state Game and Fish Department.

PRO TIP: Bringing your own boat to Patagonia Lake? Remember to register your craft with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A boat allows you to get into some of Patagonia Lake’s secluded nooks and crannies. Perfect for fishing . . . or just solitude. (Getty Images via Canva)

13: Patagonia Lake Fishing

Fishing is a popular pastime year-round at Patagonia Lake State Park. Anglers can find largemouth bass, catfish (both channel and flathead varieties), sunfish and crappie. Additionally, From November through March the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. There are plenty of opportunities for success when fishing at Patagonia Lake, whether by boat or from the shoreline.

Because of its unique location in a high mountain valley, some portions of the lake are over 100 feet deep (imagine canyons underwater). These depths provide ideal dwelling opportunities for flathead catfish, and over the years the lake has yielded up some whoppers: the current record is a mind-bending 56.2 pounds! (That’s a LOTTA catfish!)

Check out this link for tips on bait-setting techniques for each type of fish. And remember to purchase a fishing license from AZ Fish & Game for any angler 10 years or older.

14 & 15: Camping at Patagonia Lake Arizona

Patagonia Lake State Park offers a variety of camping options. There are cabins, as well as campsites for tents and RVs, all available on a nightly rental basis. There are even boat-in options for those who bring their own boats (or choose to to rent them). Services available depend on the type of site you are renting. The busiest months are from May until November. Patagonia Lake AZ is not the spot for a rowdy late-night crowd. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. – 8 a.m.

Patagonia Lake Cabins

Camping cabins are available on the eastern end of Patagonia Lake AZ (which is the quieter, “no-wake” section of the lake). In total, there are seven cabins, of either 2 or 3 rooms each. The cabins are slightly elevated above the RV/tent sights, and as such have beautiful views of the lake. All cabins are fully wheelchair friendly and accessible.

Cabins sleep up to six people, with a queen-sized bed and two sets of bunks (byo linens). There is a mini-fridge & microwave, along with a outdoor barbecue and picnic table. Cabins have electricity, overhead lighting/ceiling fan and even heating and air-conditioning! Family-style shower facilities are a short walk away. 

Reservations are easy to make for Patagonia Lake Cabins by using the AZ State Park online system.

Gorgeous evening views from a Patagonia Lake cabin, photos courtesy AZ State Parks

Patagonia Lake Camping: RV & Tent Sites

If you enjoy camping in a tent or RV, Patagonia Lake AZ is a terrific spot for you. The park has 105 developed campsites located in two different sections: East and West. Both sections are located on the “no-wake” section of the lake, however the East section is a bit farther away from all the boating activity, so this might be a better choice for those seeking a quieter location.

Campsites have a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles, along with 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. (Some sites also have a ramada). Most campsites can accommodate any size RV. There are also two non-electric campsites, which can accommodate 22ft. campers/trailers.

Patagonia Lake State Park attracts a laid-back crowd. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. – 8 a.m. Book a campsite by accessing the State Parks’ Patagonia Lake Reservations site.

Most campsites can accommodate either tents or RVs and are equipped with electrical hookups. (Photos courtesy AZ State Parks)

Patagonia Lake Camping: Boat-in Campsites

Patagonia Lake AZ has 12 boat-in campsites available by reservation. The sites give you your own designated bit of shoreline, away from the land-based campsites. Boat-in campsites are only accessible by boat, strung along the northwestern portion of the lake (in the wake zone). Each campsite has its own fire ring and picnic table. Some sites have portable restrooms. Boats are available for rent from Patagonia Marina and Boat Rental. Access the Patagonia Lake Reservations site to reserve your boat-in campsite.

Your own private shoreline space with one of Patagonia Lake State Park’s boat-in campsites (photos courtesy AZ State Parks)

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With so many mountains surrounding Tucson, it can be a challenge to pick the right hike.

Tucson is a fantastic destination for hiking. The city is ringed by mountains, with the fabulous Sonoran Desert providing endless Tucson hiking opportunities for all physical abilities. It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson. Here we share our favorite Tucson day hikes throughout the area.

Tucson hikes in Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a recreation area that is part of Coronado National Forest, just northeast of Tucson. It’s at the base of the Catalina Mountains, with excellent opportunities for exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape. One of the things I really like about Sabino Canyon is that there is something for everyone: there are trails for all fitness levels and accessibilities, making it an ideal destinations for families. There is a visitor center, which has exhibits about the local flora and fauna, along with a gift shop that sells an excellent selection of books and detailed maps of local trails. Restrooms and fresh water are also available.

Information: Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area

Hours: Recreation area always open; Visitor Center open daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm

Admission: $8/vehicle/day; $10/vehicle/week; $40/vehicle/year; National Park Passes accepted

PRO TIP: Sabino Canyon is a popular spot. There is a huge parking area, along with an overflow lot, which can fill up in the fall & spring and during holiday weekends.

pond with saguaro cactus reflected on tucson hikes

1: Sabino Tram Road (Walking Path): Accessible/Flat

This paved wide path begins near the visitor center and follows Sabino Creek for about 3.8 miles up into the canyon, with several bridges traversing the creek along the way. You can hike the entire 7.6-mile out-and-back length, or turn around whenever you’ve had enough. It’s one of the few Tucson hikes with water year-round; and there are plenty of trees that provide greenery in spring/summer and pretty foliage through the fall (and most of the winter). The path is a gradual incline, rising about 700 feet over the entire distance (so gentle that you barely notice you are climbing!). There are restrooms and picnic areas along the route.

As the route name implies, there is also a tram, called the Sabino Canyon Crawler that goes up the path (roughly every hour), with stops along the way. It’s popular to ride to the tram and hike the 3.8-mile path back as it slopes gently downward toward the visitor center. This is a lovely hike in mid-late afternoon; you can often see deer and other wildlife taking a sip in the creek.

Michael with deer at sunset in Sabino Canyon
A late afternoon encounter on the Sabino Tram Road

2: Phoneline Trail: Easy to Moderate

I like trails that offer a loop, so I don’t feel like I’m retracing my steps. The Phoneline Trail is one of the Tucson trails that offers a few different options depending on how much time (and energy) you have. As the name implies, the trail follows the historic phoneline that was once the only means of communication between the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon (which rises about 6,500 feet above you) and the rest of the world.

The trail climbs about 500 feet, hugging the side of the canyon and offering magnificent views of Saguaro cactus, the creek below–and of the city of Tucson in the distance. After about 2 miles, you have option of returning via a trail that descends toward the creek and back toward the visitor center. Or you can continue along the canyon ridge for an additional 3-ish miles, where it meets up with the Tram Road at its end. From there you can stroll the paved path back, or take the tram if you’re feeling particularly tired.

3: Seven Falls (via Bear Canyon Trail): Moderate

This 7.8-mile out-and-back hike along Bear Creek, which is in Bear Canyon, just east of Sabino. As the name implies, there are waterfalls along this trail, which vary throughout the year, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Unlike the paved Sabino Tram route, this is one of the Tucson hiking trails where you actually cross through the creek as you climb. Along the way you’ll climb about 700 feet, getting stunning views of the saguaros and the Rincon Mountains to the southeast.

NOTE: It’s important to check the hiking conditions at the visitor center before you set out (and be sure to wear shoes that can handle a little water and/or mud!). While this is one of the best Tucson hikes after rain, occasionally flash flooding can make this hike dangerous.

Take a Saguaro National Park Hike

standing amid saguaro cactus on tucson hikes
There are plenty of great Tucson hikes in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park flanks the city of Tucson with two distinct sections: The Rincon Mountain District to the east of town, and the Tucson Mountain District to the west. Both sections offer an abundance of trails through desert terrain, with plenty of opportunities to view the magnificent cacti up close for hikers of all levels. The eastern section is larger, and has some longer trails that go high into the Rincon mountains, for those looking for more challenging Tucson hikes.

Information: Saguaro National Park

Hours: Vehicles, Saguaro East-5:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer, 5:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter; Saguaro West-sunrise to sunset, year-round. Park is open to hikers and cyclists 24 hours/day.

Admission: All passes are good for 1 week: Vehicle-$25.00; Motorcycle-$20.00; Individual-$15.00. National Park Passes are accepted.

4: Desert Ecology Trail & Mica Trail (Saguaro East): Accessible/Flat

There are two trails in Saguaro East that are great for those looking for flat Tucson hikes; these trails also provide access for those using wheelchairs. The 1/4 mile paved Desert Ecology trail has exhibits about the plants and animals that are found in the Sonoran Desert. Resting benches are spaced along the trail. Separately, a 0.7 mile portion of the Mica View Trail is graded to ADA standards and surfaced with a natural material that supports all types of wheelchairs. Park at Mica View Picnic Area or the Broadway Trail head.

5: Freeman Homestead Trail (Saguaro East): Easy

This 1.1 mile “balloon” trail is a one of our favorite short Tucson hikes for families. The trail is meanders through a wonderfully dense grove of saguaros and past the site of an old homestead foundation, which provides a real sense of discovery. There are interpretive signs and featuring exploration activities for little ones, making this more than just a “walk to see some cactus.” Although fairly flat, the trail has some steps and is rocky in places. Therefore strollers & other wheeled vehicles are not recommended.

back of woman in blue shirt on tucson hiking trail with cholla cactus
Many tucson hiking trails are flat and suitable for families

6: Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls (Saguaro East): Moderate

This 5.8-mile out-and-back hike to Bridal Wreath Falls is popular with birders. The seasonal falls (most likely after summer monsoons or winter snowmelt) are a hit with the feathered set. Regardless of the time of year, this is one of the Tucson hikes that climbs into the Rincon Mountains and offers good views of the city of Tucson and the Catalina Mountains to the north, along with plenty of saguaros and other cactus. You might also spot a group of riders heading out from the luxury Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.

7: Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (Saguaro East): Moderate to Difficult

This trail up to Tanque Verde Peak is not for the faint of heart. With a 2,000 foot climb over 8 miles, it’s certainly one of the more challenging hikes in greater Tucson. The good news is that this is an out-and-back route, so you can turn around at any point, making the hike as long (or short) as you like.

After a fairly steep 3/4 miles, you are already up on the ridge, so views to the west and south over the Tucson basin are spectacular, and just keep getting better the higher you climb. (Be sure to take in the Boneyard, where more than 4,000 military planes are stored in the desert sun.) A good shorter hike goal is at the 2.5-mile mark, where you’ll see an example of the rare (1 in 10,000!) crested saguaro cactus. If you’re planning to hike the 8.7 miles to Tanque Verde Peak, consider camping at the Juniper Basin Campground, at the 6.9-mile mark.


8: Desert Discovery Trail (Saguaro West): Accessible/Flat

Those seeking flat terrain with interpretive signs will find it on this 1/2 mile paved trail in Saguaro West. The trail features shade ramadas with resting benches scattered along the textured pavement trail. Trail guides in braille may be obtained at the visitor center. This is also a great trail for photo ops: the views of saguaros at sunset are fabulous.

9: King Canyon/Gould Mine Trail (Saguaro National Park West): Easy to Moderate

This is one of the Tucson hikes that offers a little bit of everything: a climb up a dry wash, lots saguaros, scenic views . . . and the remains of an abandoned copper mine. All this in a 2.5-mile loop! Begin the hike scaling the King Canyon Wash bottom, which is sandy with several rocky stair-step ways to climb as you go.

After a mile or so, the trail connects to the Gould Mine trail, which passes by piles colorful copper residue piles, along with the remains of a stone cabin and a few mine shaft entrances. Although this trail is within the national park boundaries, the entrance to trail is accessible from a small parking lot in Tucson Mountain Park, which is free.

PRO TIP: The King Canyon Trail straddles Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Saguaro National Park charges a fee, however if you park at the Tucson Mountain Park trailhead, you can access this trail for free.

10: Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak (Saguaro West): Moderate to Difficult

At 4,369 feet, Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains west of the city. You’ll climb roughly 2,000 feet over the roughly 4.5 miles to reach the peak on this out-and-back hike. But the views once you reach Wasson Peak are totally worth it: a 360-degree panorama of the entire Tucson basin.

Along the way you’ll see plenty of saguaros (natch!), plus ocotillo, barrel cactus and prickly pear. There’s also the remains of an abandoned mining shack, which is a fun (and shady) diversion. Remember to sign the log book at the top of Wasson Peak . . . if you make it this far, you certainly deserve the credit!

Hiking trails in Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park is one of the largest municipally-managed natural resource areas in the U.S. There are more than 60 miles of shared-use trails in the park’s roughly 20,000 acres, so there are an almost endless combination of trails you can take here. The park is located just south of Saguaro National Park’s Western section. As a result the scenery (i.e. Saguaros everywhere!) is very similar. And best of all, the park is FREE.

11: Hidden Canyon Bowen Loop Trail: Easy to Moderate

This 2-mile trail gives visitors a terrific snapshot of Tucson saguaros in a fairly compact loop. The trail begins and ends just behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, making it a great option if you’re staying at that hotel. Begin on the more southerly (and flatter) Bowen Trail, then turn off to the Hidden Canyon Trail after about 0.3 miles.

The trail will climb about 300 feet via some switchbacks, and is rocky in spots. But you’ll be rewarded with a quiet canyon full of saguaros, ocotillos, and other cacti. This trail is particularly lovely in spring, when the cactus flowers are in bloom. If you’re looking for a rich Tucson hiking experience that doesn’t take too long, this is highly recommended.

12: Rock Wren/Yetman/Bowen Trail Loop: Easy to Moderate

This is a pleasant 5-mile loop that we created ourselves by using the excellent trail map of Tucson Mountain Park. It involves a little gentle climbing on saguaro-strewn hills, plus a hike through a sandy wash that leads past the stone remains of the Bowen homestead. (Always cool to find ruins while hiking!)

Begin at the Richard Genser Trail Head and eventually exit the park behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort. From here, the last mile-ish is an easy amble through the Starr Pass neighborhood back to the parking lot. We like to stop at the Marriott for a coffee (on chilly days) or a refreshing cool drink (when the weather is hot), enjoying the view from their patio before heading back to our car. It’s a fun indulgence at the end of an enjoyable hike.

13: Brown Mountain Trail: Moderate

woman in blue shirt hiking in tucson on Brown Mountain
Views for miles as you hike the ridge of Brown Mountain

It’s fun to be able to climb a (not too high) mountain and walk along its ridge as you take in the surrounding views. Brown Mountain offers that in this 4.5 mile loop trail in the western part of the park. All told you climb ascend about 500 feet over the course of about a mile to reach the ridge, then enjoy a few dips and bumps as you skirt along the top. After descending at the opposite end of the ridge, the return portion of the loop is along the valley floor, amid lots of cactus of all varieties. There are also restrooms and picnic tables here.

This is one of the Tucson hikes that passes along a ridge, offering great views of the valley below, including Old Tucson Studios off to the south. It’s easy to imagine you’re in some old Western movie, perched on a lookout point, a “pardner” scouting for cattle rustlers 🤠.

Catalina Foothills Hikes

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the western end of Santa Catalina Mountains and is adjacent to Coronado National Forest. The park includes some great Tucson hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and equestrian trails in 5,500 acres of desert landscape, (which includes almost 5,000 saguaros!).

Information: Catalina State Park

Open: 5am to 10pm Daily; check website for holiday hours.

Admission: $7.00/vehicle; $3.00/individuals, cyclists

14: Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail (Catalina State Park): Easy

Michael standing at stone ruins on romero ruins trail


This is a fun little loop trail (3/4 mile) for those of you who like a little archaeology on your Tucson hikes. In addition to some stone remnants of the Romero homestead, this site also includes remains from a Hohokam village that’s about 1500 years old! (Wow!) There are interpretive signs along the trail explaining the the archaeology and Hohokam culture.

NOTE: Although the trail through the ruins is flat, you must climb about 80 steps to reach it, making it unsuitable for wheeled vehicles.

15: Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools & Romero Pass(Catalina State Park): Difficult to Strenuous

Romero Canyon offers Tucson hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how far you choose to go on this out-and-back trail. The roughly 3 mile hike to the (seasonal) Romero Pools is relatively flat for the first mile, then turns into a steep and rocky climb for the rest of the hike. Views of the canyon are magnificent, and the pools are a refreshing sight.

Those looking for more of a challenge can continue an additional 4 miles to Romero Pass at an elevation of 6,000 feet. In total you’ll scale an elevation gain of 3,300 feet, with a hike that takes about 5 hours one-way. To continue to Romero Pass, follow the trail to your right as it ascends out of the streambed. The trail then slowly climbs up-canyon to the Pass.

16: Linda Vista Trail Loop: Easy

Linda Vista is a family-friendly hike (with free access) on the western slope of the Catalinas. The 3-mile loop has just enough short climbs up and down for kids to feel like they’re on “nature’s playgym,” but never so much that it becomes a slog. Access this trail via a small parking lot behind the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy off of Oracle Road. Although adjacent to a neighborhood of upscale homes, you quickly reach a small valley where you feel you’re in the middle of the saguaro wilderness.

There are some spectacular saguaros here, including one that has over 20 arms! There are also spots with lacy green palo verde trees (the Arizona state tree), providing a dappled shade, which can be welcome on Tucson hikes. The trail is narrow at many spots, so alert young hikers to avoid “sticky” encounters with the cacti on the trail.

Tucson hikes within the city of Tucson

17: Sentinal Peak (“A Mountain”): Easy

man atop Sentinel peak with city of tucson in the distance
Standing alongside the giant “A” with a terrific view of Tucson in the distance

This is one of most popular hikes in Tucson–and it’s free to access. It’s hard to miss the huge “A” that adorns the side of a small mountain southwest of downtown Tucson. Sentinel Peak served as a sentry point to alert Tucson of impending danger during the Civil War. But after a University of Arizona football victory in 1915, students claimed it as their own by constructing a massive basalt “A” (160 feet high x 70 feet wide!) on the mountain’s face and whitewashing it for all to see.

Today there is a paved drive up to the top, with picnic tables and benches on the western side of the mountain. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, park at the trailhead lot partway up, and hike the trail that brings you across the saddle and up to the top. You pass through some lovely saguaro and cholla cactus before reaching the Big A, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of downtown Tucson (and the U of A campus in the distance). Go Wildcats! 😊

18: Rillito River Park Path: Accessible

The Rillito River Park Path is a 10-mile paved path (with free access) that follows along the Rillito River/Wash northeast of Tucson. The Park is part of the 136-mile Chuck Huckleberry Loop that is popular with cyclists. The path is flat and crosses the River periodically via dedicated bridges. There are parks and stopping points along the way, making this a nice option among Tucson hikes if you’d like to take a more leisurely stroll as well.

The Rillito River Path is accessible to everyone, photo courtesy Visit Tucson

The path is popular with cyclists as well as hikers/walkers (and the occasional horse!), so everyone should be mindful of others using the path.

PRO TIP: Take the Rillito Park Path on a Sunday morning and stop in at the Heirloom Farmer’s market. It’s a lively event with dozens of food and craft vendors, as well as some terrific food trucks offering yummy breakfast treats.

Tucson Hiking: Cienega Creek Natural Preserve

19: AZT loop via Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead: Easy

This 2-mile loop, which is (a short) part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) is one of the more unique hikes in Tucson. Pass through serene Davidson Canyon, a riparian habitat in the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve that is free to use. Pass under shady cottonwood trees as you hike along the sand creek bed (dry in all but the summer monsoon months). Cross under an active Union Pacific Railroad bridge before climbing back up to a ridge and the return portion of the trail (which parallels a second railroad bridge). Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one freight train passing through during your hike, reminiscent of a scene in a Breaking Bad episode.

SPECIAL NOTE: This trailhead commemorates Gabe Zimmerman , a US congressional aide who was killed in 2011. He loved this portion of the Arizona Trail. Read more about him on the Arizona Trail website.

A poignant sign commemorating Gabe Zimmerman at the trailhead bearing his name

Want more Tucson hiking recommendations?

If you’re looking for more hikes in and around Tucson, we suggest picking up a copy of Five Star Trails: Tucson by Rob Rachowiecki. The author lives in Tucson and provides lots of detail about the area and the many hikes you can take there. As you can see from the photo, our copy is pretty dog-eared because we use it so much. Highly recommended! It’s available on Amazon.

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Why was this (free) overlook near Horseshoe Bend practically deserted? It was fabulous!

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a must-see stop if you’re exploring this area in northern Arizona. Many people miss it because they’re racing to see the more famous Horseshoe Bend, or Glen Canyon Dam itself. But it’s worth taking a short detour to this well-maintained overlook for spectacular views and great photo ops. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Page AZ.

What is the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook?

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a designated spot perched 1,000 feet over a bend in the Colorado River about 3/4 mile south of Glen Canyon Dam itself. It’s important to note that this is an official vista point created by the National Park Service to provide visitors a scenic–and SAFE–way to see the Dam, the Colorado River and Glen Canyon itself.

View of glen canyon dam with bridge in front, taken 3/4 mile away at glen canyon overlook
A spectacular view of Glen Canyon Dam from the Overlook. Note the bridge just in front of the dam.

Five reasons to visit Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

  1. Terrific views of Glen Canyon Dam, plus Glen Canyon Bridge
  2. Wonderful views of the Colorado River slicing through Glen Canyon
  3. The overlook is easily accessible via a short (900-foot) hike
  4. Similar views to Horseshoe Bend, with less people
  5. Access is free

What can you see at this overlook?

The views at this “overlooked” overlook are stunning. Glen Canyon Dam Overlook provides a combination of views, ranging from natural to man-made wonders. The dam overlook is about 3.5 miles north of Horseshoe Bend, with much of the same natural scenery (only without the big hairpin turn in the river . . . or the crowds).

Looking to the north, you’ll be able to see the massive concrete engineering marvel of Glen Canyon Dam wedged into the red rocks of Glen Canyon. It’s the only place you can see the dam with the Glen Canyon Bridge superimposed over the front of it–it’s a very cool sight!

If natural scenery is more your thing, all you have to do is look south . . . or down. Looking down you’ll see the Colorado River flowing placidly over 1,000 below you. (If you’re lucky you might see either a motor boat or kayakers making their way down the river.)

Horizontal view of colorado river flowing through the vertical rocks of glen canyon
A view of the Colorado River above 1000-foot cliffs, looking south from Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

The view to the south gives you a terrific vantage point of the river splitting the red sandstone to create Glen Canyon. Since it curves off into the distance you’ll have some idea of what Horseshoe Bend looks like. One of the fascinating things to see is the greenery growing along the edge of the river. The vivid green against the red sandstone makes a nice color contrast, but it’s also soothing to the eye amidst all the reds and browns of this high desert landscape.

man with cowboy hat standing at overlook viewing glen canyon dam
Plenty of railings, plus space and shade to enjoy the view

There are railings all along the overlook, as well as a covered viewing area facing north toward the dam. As you can see from the pictures here, there are plenty of great photo ops, so there’s no need to do anything crazy (or irresponsible), such as climbing out beyond the railings. (DON’T do that!)

How to access the Glen Canyon Overlook

sign at the beginning of the glen canyon dam overlook trail
Sign at the trailhead, note the railings, and a glimpse of Glen Canyon Dam in the upper right

There is a short trail leading to the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, accessed via the Dam Overlook Trailhead. The trail is only about 950 feet long, but you must descend a series of natural (but irregular) steps carved out of the sandstone. (Therefore, the trail is not suitable for those with mobility issues.) It’s a roughly 80-foot descent to the overlook, but the trail has railings all along the way. This comes in handy, as trying to balance a camera and water bottle as you’re scrambling down slightly angled steps of varying heights can get a little tricky.


To reach the trailhead, turn off of US Highway 89 onto Scenic View Road (which is a pretty appropriate name!), then turn west onto an unmarked, (but well-paved) road opposite the back entrances of the Baymont and Home2Suites Hotels. You’ll see Glen Canyon Dam in the distance, and the road will slope down slightly to a small parking lot (which, unlike parking at Horseshoe Dam, is free). From there you can access the trailhead.

man standing on red rocks above Glen Canyon admiring the view.
Take time to savor the views

How much time is required to see the overlook?

Visiting this little-known sight doesn’t take very long. It’s about 5 minutes each way to get from the parking lot to the Glen Canyon Dam overlook, and back again. If you’re really quick, another 5 minutes for photos and in just 15 minutes . . . BAM! you’re outta there.

But I encourage you to take a bit more time. The scenery is truly magnificent, and you’re likely to have the place almost to yourself. It’s a great place to slow down for a few minutes and absorb the beauty in front of you. Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a pleasant surprise, and, like the Hanging Gardens Arizona, well-worth the short detour.

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I’ve always had a dream of finding a hidden oasis in the desert. And now I have!

Hanging gardens Arizona is a delightful surprise amid the seemingly endless rocky landscape surrounding Glen Canyon. Less than a mile from the famous Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ lies a sheltered cove where greenery flourishes. Take a short, relatively easy (and free!) hike along the Hanging Garden Trail to find this marvel of nature.

It’s hard to believe this desert oasis is hiding just off the road in an area where tourists flock daily to see sights like Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Yet this beautiful display of greenery gets very few visitors. Follow our tips to find some solitude and lushness amidst this otherwise stark landscape.

Ferns clinging to a red cliff face outside Page Arizona
Panoramic shot of Hanging Gardens

What is a hanging garden?

Hanging gardens form when a continuous water source, such as a spring, emerges along the vertical wall of a cliff. Winter precipitation seeps into the porous sandstone, eventually reaching a less permeable layer of rock. At this point the water can no longer travel downward, so it begins to move sideways along the rock.

Eventually the water reaches the wall of a canyon, seeping out of the stone and flowing down the side of a cliff. If there is enough of an overhang to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly (also keeping the temperature from getting to hot), the moist stone creates a rich environment for plants to grow. These alcoves or “glens” then become a hanging garden, where plants grow both along the cliff face and on the ground directly below where the water seeps.

What grows in the Hanging Gardens Arizona?

The springs that feed the hanging gardens Arizona in Glen Canyon nourish maidenhair ferns and wild orchids. Both plants are a capable of growing on a rocky surface. They are a deep, rich green, which creates a striking contrast to the red sandstone that forms the base for these thirsty plants. The maidenhair ferns are especially fluffy, an unusual sight in a desert climate more known for water-conserving plants with spiky configurations, such as cactus and scrub pines.

You’d expect to find ferns growing in the lush, moist climates, such as the ferns at of the Pacific Northwest, such as the ferns at North Cascades National Park in Washington State. But to see these delicate bits of greenery at the hanging gardens Arizona is truly something special.

The Hanging Garden Trail

The Hanging Garden Trail is contained within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, one of the many National Parks and Monuments in Arizona. The trail is approximately 1.5 miles, round trip, over mostly flat rocky terrain. There is a small amount of scrambling up rocks to reach the hanging garden itself, about 100 feet in front of it.

The trail suitable for hikers of any level, including children. (However keep in mind that this is not classified as an “accessible” trail). On our last visit a we saw a family of four enjoying this hike. The two kids, who were aged about 4 & 6, exclaimed that it was more fun than climbing the play gym at home. (Chalk one up for getting out and showing young people real world experiences!).

Access the Hanging Garden Trail from a turnoff on the northeast side US highway 89, about 2/3 of a mile east of the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center and 2 miles northwest of the center of the town of Page, AZ. It’s well-marked by a brown and white sign. After about 1,000 feet you will come to a small gravel parking lot with some signage indicating the trailhead.

The Hanging Garden Trail itself is easy to follow: small stones have been laid across the flat plain indicating the path. To your left you will see the power lines of Glen Canyon Dam in the distance, in front of you will be the flat plain leading to Lake Powell. After about 1/2 mile you’ll begin to round a red sandstone butte to your right. A sign will point toward the Hanging Garden. Follow the stone pathway and in a few hundred feet you’ll see a hollow in the stone butte to your right, along with some black streaks on the red stone. This is a clue that there is moisture nearby.

At this point you’ll need to scramble up the rocks a bit to reach the Hanging Gardens Arizona. (It’s not difficult–if you can climb stairs you can climb this.) The small stones lead you up the left side of the hollow, which is a gradual climb. And then you’ve reach the Trail End . . . there it is!

Looking at the sign for the end of the Hanging Garden Trail, it’s hard to believe what’s right behind you

What to expect at the Hanging Gardens Arizona

The Hanging Gardens Arizona is a wall of greenery clinging to the red rock cliff face. The garden is in a curved hollow of the rock, about 50 feet long, and about 15 feet high. When you arrive you immediately feel the drop in temperature-it’s about 10 degrees cooler. Although there is no water running (unless there have been recent rains, which is rare), you can feel a higher level of humidity here.

In this photo, you see a nice bit of greenery in the desert rock . . .
Standing in front of ferns at the Hanging Garden Trail in Arizona
But seeing someone standing next to them makes the Hanging Gardens Arizona really impressive!

The cliff wall is filled with fluffy, dark green maidenhair ferns. Occasionally along the wall you’ll see the waxy leaves of wild orchids peeking through. There’s something very soothing about seeing all this green in the middle of all this reddish clay soil. And, unlike nearby Horseshoe Bend, you’ll have the place virtually to yourself.


Accessing the Hanging Garden Trail

How to access the Hanging Garden Trail from Glen Canyon Dam:

Proceed east on US Hwy 89 for 2/3 mile from the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center (crossing the bridge). The entrance to the trailhead will be on your left.

How to access the Hanging Garden Trail from Page, AZ:

From central Page (which Google Maps considers the intersection of Lake Powell Blvd. & S. Navajo Drive–near Big John’s Texas Barbecue), proceed north on Lake Powell Blvd for about 1.3 miles until it intersects with US Hwy 89. Turn right on Hwy 89 and proceed for about 1/2 mile. The entrance to the trailhead will be on your right.

Leave No Trace

When taking the Hanging Garden Trail, be sure to “Leave No Trace,” ensuring the Hanging Gardens Arizona remain intact and pristine for those who come after you. For more details, check the National Park System’s Leave No Trace Policy.

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