12 Best Lakes in Arizona for Every Traveler

by Jem
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Dreaming of a refreshing escape amidst nature? Arizona might be renowned for its sprawling deserts and sun-kissed landscapes, but it’s the shimmering Arizona lakes that offer a serene oasis for travelers. From hidden gems tucked away in pine forests to expansive waters reflecting the hues of the setting sun, the best lakes in Arizona showcase the state’s diverse beauty. Dive into this guide to discover the most scenic, exhilarating, and unique experiences these AZ lakes have to offer.

Arizona, often celebrated for its vast deserts, iconic canyons, and sun-kissed landscapes, holds a secret that many travelers overlook: its breathtaking lakes. These shimmering bodies of water, nestled amidst rugged terrains and sunburnt rocks, offer a refreshing contrast to the arid expanses.

Each lake tells a story of geological wonders, ancient cultures, and the relentless spirit of nature. From the tranquil shores of Lake Havasu to the serene beauty of Canyon Lake, Arizona’s lakes invite adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and dreamers alike.

Imagine setting up camp by the water’s edge, the crimson hues of the setting sun reflecting off the calm waters, or embarking on a kayaking journey, with towering cliffs and verdant forests as your backdrop. These lakes are not mere water bodies; they are gateways to unique adventures, moments of solitude, and unparalleled natural beauty. They serve as a testament to Arizona’s beautiful places and diverse landscapes, offering a haven for wildlife and a playground for outdoor aficionados.

From fishing and boating to hiking and bird-watching, the possibilities are endless. Dive in as we embark on a journey to explore the top 12 lakes of Arizona, each promising an experience that lingers in memory long after the journey ends.

The top lakes to visit in Arizona right now
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Best Lakes in Arizona

Eager to dive into the aquatic wonders of the Grand Canyon State? While Arizona’s deserts and canyons often steal the limelight, it’s the Arizona lakes that offer a refreshing counterpoint to the sun-baked landscapes. These shimmering oases, from secluded hideaways to vast expanses, are some of the best lakes in Arizona and they beckon with a myriad of experiences.

Are you in the mood for thrilling water sports or perhaps a serene boat ride amidst scenic vistas? Or maybe you’re envisioning a peaceful lakeside picnic, with the gentle sounds of nature as your backdrop? Dive in as we unveil the top lake attractions in this Southwestern gem that promise both adventure and tranquility.

1. Lake Powell

Nestled amidst the rugged beauty of Glen Canyon, Lake Powell stands as a testament to nature’s wonders and human ingenuity. Its shimmering blue waters stretch over vast expanses, creating a mesmerizing contrast against the red sandstone cliffs. As you navigate its intricate shoreline, you’ll discover hidden coves, ancient rock formations, and breathtaking vistas that beckon photographers and nature lovers alike.

One of the coolest activities at Arizona lakes is houseboating, and Lake Powell is the ultimate destination for this unique experience. Imagine waking up to the gentle lapping of waves against your boat, with the first rays of the sun illuminating the canyon walls. Spend your days exploring the lake’s myriad waterways, diving into its cool depths, or simply lounging on the deck, soaking in the panoramic views.

For those seeking a bit more adrenaline, Lake Powell offers a plethora of water sports. From kayaking and jet skiing to fishing and hiking, there’s no shortage of adventures awaiting you. As the sun sets, casting a golden hue over the landscape, gather around a campfire on the shore, and let the tranquil ambiance of Lake Powell wash over you.

A a symbol of both the grandeur of nature and the inventiveness of people.
A a symbol of both the grandeur of nature and the inventiveness of people.

2. Lake Mead

Lake Mead, the jewel of the Mojave Desert, stretches across the horizon, its vast waters reflecting the azure skies. As the nation’s first and largest national recreation area, it holds a special place in the hearts of nature enthusiasts and adventurers. The lake’s sprawling expanse, surrounded by rugged mountains and colorful rock formations, offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

In the heart of this natural paradise, visitors are spoilt for choice with a plethora of Arizona lake activities. Boating enthusiasts can navigate the lake’s vast waters, discovering hidden coves and secluded beaches along the way. For those who prefer a more relaxed pace, the gentle waves are perfect for kayaking or paddleboarding. Dive beneath the surface, and you’ll find a vibrant underwater world, making Lake Mead a favorite among scuba divers.

For those visiting Arizona lakes, Lake Mead stands out not just for its recreational offerings but also for its rich history and ecological significance. The surrounding area is dotted with ancient petroglyphs, remnants of cultures that once thrived here. As you hike along its trails, keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that calls this region home. From bighorn sheep to migratory birds, nature’s bounty is on full display.

Aerial view of the Mojave Desert's crown jewel, Lake Mead.
Aerial view of the Mojave Desert’s crown jewel, Lake Mead.

3. Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu, renowned for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant atmosphere, is a favorite among both locals and tourists. This desert oasis, situated along Arizona’s northwest border with California, offers a plethora of activities at Arizona lakes. From thrilling water sports to serene boat rides, Lake Havasu promises unique things to do for an experience like no other.

The lake’s shores are dotted with sandy beaches, perfect for a day of relaxation or picnicking. For the adventurous, the lake’s calm waters are ideal for jet skiing, wakeboarding, and parasailing. Anglers will find Lake Havasu teeming with fish, making it a prime spot for fishing tournaments and casual outings alike.

Considered the best lake in Arizona for plenty of travelers, Lake Havasu is also home to a unique historical attraction: the London Bridge. Transported brick by brick from England, this bridge stands as a testament to the area’s rich history and diverse cultural influences. As you stroll along the bridge, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the lake and its surroundings.

Beyond the water, the city of Lake Havasu offers a vibrant nightlife, with numerous restaurants, bars, and events that keep the spirit alive even after the sun sets. From annual boat races to music festivals, there’s always something happening in this lively lakeside city.

Both locals and visitors will fall in love with Lake Havasu's charm.
Both locals and visitors will fall in love with Lake Havasu’s charm.

4. Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake stands as the largest lake entirely within the state of Arizona. Its vast waters stretch across the horizon, bordered by rolling hills and desert vegetation. The lake’s history is as expansive as its waters, with the Roosevelt Dam being a testament to early 20th-century engineering marvels.

For those seeking the coolest activities at Arizona lakes, Roosevelt Lake doesn’t disappoint. Boating is a favorite pastime here, with the lake’s size allowing for long, uninterrupted rides. The numerous coves and inlets are perfect for fishing, with species like crappie, catfish, and bass populating the waters. Campgrounds dot the shoreline, providing visitors with prime spots to set up tents, light campfires, and gaze at the starry skies.

The Tonto National Monument, overlooking the lake, offers a glimpse into the lives of the Salado people who once inhabited the region. Hiking trails lead to ancient cliff dwellings, providing both historical insights and panoramic views. Every visit to Roosevelt Lake promises a mix of nature, history, and adventure.

Aerial view of the Roosevelt Lake located in the borders of Arizona.
Aerial view of the Roosevelt Lake located on the borders of Arizona.

5. Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant, one of the most beautiful places in Phoenix, is more than a body of water; it’s a hub of excitement and relaxation combined. Its proximity to the city makes it a favorite getaway for locals and tourists alike, eager to experience various luxury retreats, the tranquility and adventure it offers.

For those who thrive on adrenaline, Lake Pleasant presents a myriad of top lake attractions in Arizona. Its vast waters are perfect for sailing, with the gentle breeze carrying boats across shimmering waves. Kayaking and paddleboarding enthusiasts find the lake’s calm corners ideal for a peaceful glide, while scuba divers plunge into its depths, exploring underwater wonders.

The surrounding regional park amplifies the range of activities in Arizona lakes. Hiking trails snake through the desert landscape, revealing panoramic views of the water and the distant mountains. The Lake Pleasant Nature Center provides insights into the region’s ecology, making it a must-visit for nature lovers. It also offers a wide variety of areas to stay for an unforgettable escapade.

Evenings at Lake Pleasant have their own charm. Dinner cruises set sail, offering gourmet meals with a side of breathtaking sunsets. For those who prefer a more rustic experience, moonlit scorpion hunts promise a unique adventure, blending thrill and education.

A magnificent view of Lake Pleasant, just a short distance from Phoenix.
A magnificent view of Lake Pleasant, just a short distance from Phoenix.

6. Watson Lake

Watson Lake, with its distinctive granite boulders, offers a landscape that’s both surreal and captivating. The lake’s rocky outcrops, juxtaposed against clear blue waters, create a visual spectacle that draws photographers and nature enthusiasts from far and wide. Its location in Prescott ensures a pleasant climate, making it a year-round destination for those eager to explore its unique beauty.

The lake’s shores are dotted with picnic spots, providing an idyllic setting for families and friends to gather. Trails wind through the granite formations, offering hikers varying levels of challenge and panoramic views at every turn. Birdwatchers find the area particularly rewarding, with numerous species making their home here.

For travelers wondering about unique activities at Arizona lakes, Watson Lake stands out. Kayakers and canoers often navigate its waters, maneuvering around the boulders and discovering hidden nooks. The lake also boasts an 18-hole disc golf course, adding a modern twist to its recreational offerings. Indeed, Watson Lake is considered the best lake in Arizona for a blend of natural beauty and diverse activities.

With its peculiar granite boulders, Watson Lake’s charm will leave travelers speechless.

7. Mormon Lake

Mormon Lake, nestled just south of Flagstaff, is a marvel of nature’s unpredictability. Its character, defined by the seasonal rains, can transform from a vast aquatic expanse to a lush, marshy meadow in a matter of months. This dynamic nature has earned it a spot among the coolest Arizona lake destinations. When the monsoon showers grace the region, the lake brims with water, teeming with various fish species, making it an angler’s paradise.

The verdant surroundings of Mormon Lake are a testament to Arizona’s diverse ecosystems. Majestic elk, graceful deer, and swift pronghorns are frequently seen grazing in the vast meadows, their silhouettes adding to the lake’s picturesque setting. For bird enthusiasts, the lake is nothing short of a treasure trove. From the soaring bald eagles to the melodious songbirds, the avian diversity is astounding.

Beyond its natural allure, Mormon Lake offers a range of recreational activities. Horseback riding trails weave through the pine forests, and camping sites provide a rustic experience under the starlit sky. The local village, with its coolest cabin rentals, and eateries, adds a touch of warmth and hospitality.

Located not far from Flagstaff, here's Mormon Lake on a gloomy day.
Located not far from Flagstaff, here’s Mormon Lake on a gloomy day.

8. Canyon Lake

Nestled within the rugged terrain of the Superstition Mountains, Canyon Lake offers a refreshing escape from the arid Arizona landscape. Its shimmering blue waters, set against a backdrop of towering cliffs and canyons, create a mesmerizing tableau that captivates visitors at first glance. The lake’s intricate waterways, dotted with secluded coves and inlets, beckon explorers and nature lovers alike.

For travelers looking for a unique lake in Arizona, Canyon Lake presents a treasure trove of experiences. The renowned Dolly Steamboat gracefully cruises the lake’s expanse, offering passengers panoramic views and opportunities to spot native wildlife. Bighorn sheep, perched on rocky outcrops, and soaring bald eagles are common sights, adding to the lake’s allure.

Recognized as one of the best lakes in Arizona, its offerings extend beyond serene boat rides. Anglers find the waters rich with catfish, bass, and bluegill, making it a prime spot for fishing. The thrill-seekers aren’t left out either; the lake’s calm waters are perfect for kayaking, jet skiing, and paddleboarding.

On the shores, the Apache Trail weaves its way through the desert, providing a scenic drive with breathtaking views of the lake and its surroundings. Picnic spots are aplenty, allowing visitors to relax and soak in the beauty. With its diverse activities and natural splendor, Canyon Lake promises an unforgettable Arizona experience.

Canyon Lake provides a welcome respite from the parched desert of Arizona.
Canyon Lake provides a welcome respite from the parched desert of Arizona.

9. Saguaro Lake

Situated amidst the Tonto National Forest, Saguaro Lake is a testament to the wonders of the Arizona desert. The lake, named after the iconic Saguaro cactus dotting its shores, offers a refreshing oasis amidst the arid surroundings. Its sparkling waters, surrounded by majestic mountains and canyons, provide a picturesque setting that’s perfect for relaxation and adventure.

For visitors pondering where to go for lake adventures in Arizona, Saguaro Lake is a top contender. The lake is a hub for water sports, with jet skiing, wakeboarding, and sailing being popular choices. Families flock to its shores for picnics, while anglers are drawn to its abundant fish populations, including rainbow trout and largemouth bass.

On land, the Desert Belle Tour Boat offers narrated cruises, providing insights into the lake’s history and ecology. For the more adventurous, hiking trails lead to vantage points, offering panoramic views of the lake and its surroundings. Every corner of Saguaro Lake promises a new discovery, making it a must-visit destination.

Saguaro Lake, which is a tribute to the marvels of the Arizona desert, is located within the Tonto National Forest.
Saguaro Lake, which is a tribute to the marvels of the Arizona desert, is located within the Tonto National Forest.

10. Lake Mohave

Lake Mohave, stretching along the Colorado River, is a reservoir that boasts a unique blend of scenic beauty and underwater marvels. Its clear blue waters, flanked by rugged cliffs and colorful rock formations, offer a serene escape from the bustling world. The lake’s elongated shape, with numerous coves and inlets, provides ample opportunities for exploration and solitude.

For families seeking unique activities at Arizona lakes, Lake Mohave stands out with its underwater attractions. The lake is home to several submerged sites, including old mining structures and a plane wreck, making it a diver’s paradise. Snorkelers and scuba divers can explore these sites, coming face-to-face with a variety of fish species and the occasional turtle.

Recognized as the best lake in Arizona by many travelers, Lake Mohave’s appeal extends beyond its underwater treasures. The shores are dotted with sandy beaches, perfect for sunbathing and picnics. Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular activities, allowing visitors to navigate the calm waters and discover hidden coves.

For the more adventurous, the surrounding Black Canyon offers hiking trails that lead to hot springs and ancient petroglyphs. These trails provide a glimpse into the region’s rich history and geothermal wonders. With its diverse offerings, both above and below the water, Lake Mohave promises an experience that’s both refreshing and enlightening.

The place for water activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding.
Lake Mohave offers water activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding.

11. Apache Lake

Tucked away between the Superstition Wilderness and the Three Bar Wildlife Area, Apache Lake is a hidden gem in Arizona’s lake landscape. Its serene waters, surrounded by layered rock formations and steep canyon walls, offer a tranquil setting that feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The lake’s winding shoreline, dotted with secluded coves, beckons explorers and those seeking a peaceful retreat.

For visitors eager to experience the beauty of the Arizona wilderness, Apache Lake provides a pristine backdrop for camping. The starlit nights, accompanied by the gentle lapping of waves, create a magical atmosphere. Campgrounds along the shore cater to both tent campers and RV enthusiasts, ensuring a comfortable stay amidst nature.

Those wondering about the coolest lakeside activities in Arizona will find Apache Lake to be a delightful destination. Boating is a popular activity, with the calm waters being ideal for both motorized and non-motorized vessels. Anglers can look forward to a rewarding fishing experience, with the lake being home to species like walleye, carp, and catfish.

One of the best things to do at Arizona lakes is to immerse oneself in the natural beauty, and Apache Lake offers plenty of opportunities for that. Hiking trails in the vicinity lead to vantage points that offer breathtaking views of the lake and its surroundings. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of birds and animals, adding to the lake’s allure.

A picturesque view of Apache Lake and its greeneries.
A picturesque view of Apache Lake and its greeneries.

12. Lynx Lake

Nestled in the cool pines of Prescott National Forest, Lynx Lake offers a refreshing contrast to Arizona’s desert landscapes. This 55-acre reservoir, with its shimmering waters reflecting the surrounding pine trees, provides a picturesque setting that’s perfect for relaxation and recreation. Its accessibility, just a few miles off Highway 69, makes it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

The lake’s clear waters are a haven for anglers. Stocked regularly with trout, the lake also boasts populations of largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish. For those who prefer to stay on the surface, canoeing and kayaking are popular choices, allowing visitors to explore the lake’s nooks and crannies at their own pace.

For visitors compiling a list of must-see lakes in Arizona, Lynx Lake is a noteworthy addition. The lakeside recreation area is equipped with picnic spots, making it ideal for family outings. A gentle, 2-mile trail circles the lake, providing opportunities for leisurely walks and wildlife spotting. Birdwatchers can look forward to sightings of ospreys, bald eagles, and a variety of waterfowl.

Beyond its aquatic allure, the area surrounding Lynx Lake offers additional adventures. The Gold Pan Day Use Area is a nod to the region’s gold panning history, and visitors can try their luck at finding some shimmering specks. Truly, Lynx Lake stands out as one of the best lakes in Arizona, offering a combination of history, nature, and recreation.

Aerial view of Lynx Lake on a perfect weather.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Lakes in Arizona

Looking for more content on the best lakes in Arizona? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Grand Canyon State.

What is the nicest lake in Arizona?

Arizona is home to several beautiful lakes, each offering its own unique charm and attractions. Here are some of the most popular and scenic lakes in Arizona:

  1. Lake Powell: Located on the Arizona-Utah border, Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River. It’s known for its stunning red rock canyons, clear blue waters, and numerous recreational activities. The lake is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and houseboating.
  2. Saguaro Lake: Just a short drive from Phoenix, Saguaro Lake offers a desert oasis surrounded by cacti-covered mountains. The lake is popular for boating, fishing, and hiking.
  3. Canyon Lake: This lake is one of the Salt River’s four reservoirs and is known for its deep blue waters and dramatic canyon walls. It’s a favorite spot for water sports and offers scenic cruises on the Dolly Steamboat.
  4. Woods Canyon Lake: Located on the Mogollon Rim, Woods Canyon Lake is surrounded by a thick pine forest, making it a picturesque and serene destination. It’s a popular spot for fishing and camping.
  5. Patagonia Lake: Situated in Southern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a favorite among birdwatchers due to the diverse bird species that can be spotted here. The lake is also known for its water activities and nearby hiking trails.
  6. Havasu Lake: Located near the famous Havasu Falls, this lake is known for its vibrant blue-green waters and is a popular destination for boating and fishing.

How many lakes are there in Arizona?

While Arizona is primarily known for its deserts, it’s home to numerous lakes and reservoirs. There are over 100 significant lakes in the state, providing recreational opportunities and water resources.

Which is the largest lake in Arizona?

Lake Mead, formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, is the largest lake in terms of water capacity. However, in terms of surface area, Lake Powell holds the title.

Are there natural lakes in Arizona?

Yes, while many of Arizona’s lakes are man-made reservoirs, the state also boasts natural lakes, primarily located in the White Mountains and other elevated regions.

What is the clearest lake in Arizona?

The clearest lake in Arizona is often considered to be Blue Ridge Reservoir (also known as C.C. Cragin Reservoir). It is situated in the Mogollon Rim area of the state, north of Payson. The lake is set in a picturesque canyon with stunning forested shores. It is known for its clear waters, making it a favorite destination for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. The clarity of the water allows visitors to enjoy the beautiful underwater scenery and abundant fish life.

These lakes offer entryways to extraordinary experiences, solitary moments, and unmatched aesthetic appeal.
These lakes offer entryways to extraordinary experiences, solitary moments, and unmatched aesthetic appeal.

Can you swim in the lakes in Arizona?

Absolutely! Many of the best lakes in Arizona offer designated swimming areas. However, it’s essential to check local regulations and be aware of water conditions before diving in.

Yes, water sports like jet skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and boating are trendy in Arizona’s lakes, especially during the warmer months.

Does Arizona have lakes?

Yes, Arizona has several lakes. While it might be surprising given Arizona’s desert reputation, the state is home to numerous lakes and reservoirs that offer recreational opportunities and scenic beauty. Here are some of the notable lakes in Arizona:

  1. Lake Powell: A man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, located on the Arizona-Utah border. It’s famous for its stunning red rock canyons and clear blue waters.
  2. Lake Mead: Another reservoir on the Colorado River, formed by the Hoover Dam. It’s located on the Arizona-Nevada border.
  3. Lake Havasu: Located on the Colorado River, it’s famous for the London Bridge that was relocated to Lake Havasu City from England.
  4. Roosevelt Lake: One of the largest lakes in Arizona, it’s a popular spot for boating and fishing.
  5. Saguaro Lake: Located near Phoenix, this lake is in the scenic Tonto National Forest and offers a desert oasis with cacti-covered mountains.
  6. Canyon Lake: Known for its deep blue waters and dramatic canyon walls, it’s a favorite spot for water sports.
  7. Apache Lake: Located between Roosevelt Lake and Canyon Lake, it’s a popular destination for fishing, boating, and camping.
  8. Woods Canyon Lake: Situated on the Mogollon Rim, it’s surrounded by a thick pine forest and offers a serene setting.
  9. Patagonia Lake: Located in Southern Arizona, it’s a favorite spot for birdwatchers and offers water activities and hiking trails.

Which lakes are best for fishing in Arizona?

Many lakes in Arizona are stocked with fish, making them ideal for anglers. Popular fishing destinations include Roosevelt Lake, Big Lake, and Lake Havasu, among others.

Are there camping facilities near the lakes?

Yes, many lakes in Arizona have adjacent campgrounds or recreational areas, allowing visitors to enjoy a lakeside camping experience.

Can you swim in Lake Havasu?

Yes, you can definitely swim in Lake Havasu! It’s a popular destination for various water activities, including swimming. The state park has a designated swimming area with a sandy beach where visitors can enjoy swimming in the clear waters of the lake.

Final Thoughts on Exploring Arizona’s Best Lakes

Arizona, often celebrated for its vast deserts and iconic landscapes, holds a secret that water enthusiasts and nature lovers cherish: its stunning lakes. From the tranquil waters of Lynx Lake, nestled amidst ponderosa pines, to the expansive horizons of Roosevelt Lake, the state offers a diverse range of aquatic experiences. Each lake, with its unique charm and recreational offerings, tells a story of nature’s bounty and human ingenuity.

As you plan your next adventure, consider exploring the best lakes in Arizona. Whether you’re keen on fishing, boating, hiking, or simply soaking in the serene views, Arizona’s lakes promise memories that will last a lifetime.

The top lakes in Arizona for all types of travelers
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