Saguaro Lake: The Complete Guide

Saguaro cactus by Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Arizona, America, USA
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Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake, Arizona 85264, USA

If you're visiting Phoenix, Arizona, and looking to get active in nature, nearby Saguaro Lake is a great option for a day trip. The scenic recreation area is just 41 miles from Phoenix and 27 miles from Mesa, and is perfect for adventurous travelers looking for a great spot to go boating, fishing, jet skiing, hiking, camping, and more.

Saguaro Lake was formed as the Stewart Mountain Dam and was built on the Salt River as part of the Salt River Project. Named for the Saguaro cactus, which is plentiful in Arizona, Saguaro Lake boasts more than 22 miles of shoreline. The lake is part of the Tonto National Forest and is surrounded by beautiful, jagged rocks and forests of cacti. The average depth of the lake is 90 feet.

Things to Do

Saguaro Lake boasts many water activities. You can rent a motorboat, fishing boat, or pontoon boat, or for a little more structure, take a relaxing paddleboat tour. If you have your own boat, look for a marina where you can rent a slip. For all boating activities, a Tonto Daily Pass and Watercraft Sticker or Discovery Pass are required.

You can enjoy a 90-minute, narrated cruise of Saguaro Lake with Desert Belle cruises, during which you'll see towering canyon walls, dramatic desert vistas, and exotic Arizona wildlife. Desert Belle has been plowing the waters of Saguaro Lake for more than 40 years and is one of the most popular options for exploring the area. Private charters are also available.

The area is also a great place for fishing. Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, channel catfish, and walleye are a few of the fish that anglers can find in these waters. Shore fishing is permitted with a fishing license, but renting a fishing boat would be the best option if you're looking to bring back a serious haul.

Where to Camp

Camping on Saguaro Lake is accessible only by boat. You can set up camp on any of the shores except Butcher Jones. Bagley Flat Campground, which offers 30 campsites, is about four miles from the dam. There are no fees to camp, and the campsites are open all year. To get there, travel up a narrow cliff-bordered portion of the lake. The campground is in a scenic and peaceful area and has sanitation facilities.

How to Get There

The Saguaro Lake recreation area is easily accessible by car from Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale. The area is about a 40 minute drive from downtown Phoenix. From Mesa, you can drive 27 miles on State Highway 87 to Bush Highway/Forest Road (FR) 204 and turn right, and then follow FR 204 for 4 miles. From Scottsdale, take Shea Boulevard or McDowell Road east to SR 87, then turn north on Beeline. About 8 miles after crossing the Verde River, turn right at the Saguaro Lake Recreational Area.

Where to Stay Nearby

On the other side of the dam as the Salt River continues is the beautiful Saguaro Lake Ranch. This ranch once served as a residence and chow hall for workers building the dam; today it is a popular option for accommodation. You can stay at a cabin, sit around the four-sided fireplace, swim in the pool, go horseback riding, and enjoy the birds and wildlife along the river.

Tips For Your Visit

  • Being close to Phoenix, Saguaro Lake is a popular recreation area, so prepare for that if you visit during the busy season. It is also scenic, so bring a camera.
  • Go early or stay late if you want to photograph the towering cliffs and stands of saguaro cacti.
  • Remember to pay your visitation fees and get your pass before you get to the lake. (You can buy a pass at gas stations and stores in town before you get to the lake.) You'll need a pass for your vehicle and also for each watercraft every day, but the cost is minimal and far outweighed by the splendor of this natural destination.
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Saguaro Lake: The Complete Guide