Inside: Millers Surplus in Tucson is part military surplus store/part museum. Chat with owner Don Sloane (a very active World War II veteran 😱) while you shop for fun stuff!

Shopping for military surplus or specialty camping gear can be hit-and-miss. After scouring tons of small shops and big box stores that carried what seemed like everything BUT what we were looking for, we were resigned that we’d have to shop online. Until we found a store that was in a class by itself.

Part surplus store, part museum, this place not only had what my husband wanted, the store came with its very own goodwill ambassador . . .

. . . and this guy totally made our day.

96-year old Don Sloane, owner of Millers Surplus in Tucson
Don Sloane, the owner and “good will ambassador” of Millers Surplus in Tucson

What is Millers Surplus in Tucson?

Established in 1951, Miller’s Surplus is not just a military surplus store; it’s a mini military museum and an integral part of Tucson’s history. Owned by Don Sloane, the business has been thriving for over seven decades, displaying the dedication and passion of its (cheerful) proprietor.

What started as a post-WW II shop selling military surplus has now transformed into an unmatched collection of military paraphernalia and all sorts of camping equipment.

Located in the Tucson’s Warehouse Arts District, Millers Surplus of Tucson is big, with an incredible selection. But that’s not all the store has.

What really sets it apart is its owner, Don Sloane. He’s a World War II veteran-and one of the happiest guys we’ve had the pleasure to meet. Just chatting with him brings a smile to your face 😊.

It’s like Millers Surplus has a secret weapon: it’s the military surplus store with a heart of gold 🤩.

History of Millers Surplus

To explore the history of Millers Surplus of Tucson, you need to consider the history of Don Sloane; the two are inextricably linked. So we need to go back a little . . .

Specifically, to 1945. World War II is in its waning days, but it’s not over yet. Spry young whippersnapper Don Sloane−all of 18 years old−joins the Army.

After training Don gets sent to Europe and spends 3 years there as an M.P., dealing with post-war issues. Even though the war was “officially” over, Don got shot . . . twice! 😱. (Proving that just because the treaties have been signed, life isn’t immediately hunky-dory.)

In 1948, with his military service completed, Don returns home to America. Don’s originally from Brooklyn, NY, so he attends New York University (NYU) on the G.I. Bill and studies business.

Collection of vintage military uniforms at Millers Surplus
Part of Don Sloane’s personal collection of military memorabilia.

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But, you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with Tucson?

The answer: asthma. (Not for Don himself, but for a family member.) The family moved out to Tucson for the warm, dry, and relatively pollen-free air.

So it’s 1951. Don Sloane, World War II Vet and NYU alum finds himself in Tucson, Arizona at the ripe old age of 24. What’s a guy to do?

Don looks around for a business to buy and settles on Miller’s Surplus. He understands business, and he KNOWS the military, so it’s a natural fit.

Military tactical gear and clothing at Millers Surplus in Tucson
Plenty of military surplus clothing tactical gear (vintage uniforms on display on wall).

Originally known as Miller’s Army Surplus Exchange, the business was located on Congress St. in downtown Tucson. In the early 50s the Army had a whole lotta surplus stuff. Fortunately, Don understood it all, so he was happy to meet his customers’ needs with military gear.

The company moved to it’s current location on 6th Ave. in 1966. (Fun fact: the building is a former car dealership that sold every GM brand except Chevrolet.)

And 70+ years later Don Sloane−and Millers Surplus−is still making customers happy.

What makes this Military Surplus Store unique?

In a word: Don Sloane. (well, okay, that’s 2 words.) But there are 3 reasons Don makes this store unique.

1. A Mini Military Museum

First, Don doesn’t only sell military clothing and gear, he collects it. And he has it on display in the store.

Walking around Miller’s Surplus is like being in a mini-museum. Vintage uniforms and military artifacts line the walls and shelves above the modern-day goods for sale.

Vintage motorcycle on display at Millers Surplus-Military Surplus store in Tucson
Be sure to look for the vintage motorcycle on display at Millers Surplus in Tucson

As you browse the store, be sure to look up (and in all the nooks and crannies). You’ll find a whole range of military relics, ranging from antique military patches, pins, and medals, to unique, vintage items like gas masks, military bags, and helmets. There’s even a vintage military motorcycle! 🏍️

2. A Vast−and Varied−Selection of Military Gear & Clothing (and more!)

A walk down the store’s aisles will reveal the store’s specialization in military items, stockpiling everything from authentic uniforms of the past and present to finely crafted insignia and hard-to-find military gear.

SeaBees shirts on display at Millers Surplus Tucson
Navy “SeaBees” shirt on display amid contemporary bucket hats and vintage flags

Don respects all branches of service, and carries supplies and goods related to some of the more unique military functions, such as the Navy’s Construction Battalion, familiarly known as the “SeaBees.” 🐝

My husband was looking for a US Coast Guard t-shirt, to honor his dad, who had been a veteran “Coastie.” Sure enough, Don had a collection of Coast Guard shirts available in all sizes.

Keeping pace with current trends, Don also stocks a wide variety of camping gear and accessories (including an awesome selection of enameled coffee pots that look like they’d be right at home on a Grand Canyon campout.)

3. Don Sloane, Proprietor & Good-Will Ambassador 😊

Don Sloane or Millers Surplus, working in the store

All of the above make a trip to Millers Surplus worthwhile, especially if you’re looking for military or camping gear.

But the most interesting−and happiest−reason to visit Miller’s Surplus in Tucson is for Don Sloane himself.

Where else will you have a chance to chat with a World War II veteran? (Not to mention one who still works every day!)

You’ll find Don walking around the store, chatting with customers, making sure they’re finding what they’re looking for.

And he’s always smiling 😊.

When we asked him about his happy disposition, he told us, “my mother told me, ‘every time you smile, you extend your life by the tiniest little bit.’ So I smile as often as I can. It keeps me active.”

It must be working . . . Don is 96-years . . . young.

The Military Surplus Store worth a Special Trip

Whether you’re an ardent military enthusiast, lover of antiques, or simply a curious visitor, a visit to Miller’s Surplus promises a journey back in time, an essence of the past encapsulated in the present.

It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson.

And, after meeting Don Sloane, I dare you not to smile yourself. 😊

Posing with Don Sloane, owner of Millers Surplus military surplus store
C’mon, doesn’t this guy make you smile?!

Pins to Bookmark for Later

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

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.


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

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)