Saguaro cacti, rugged mountains, and open spaces may dominate the Arizona landscape, but the state lays claim to impressive lakes as well, including several within an hour of Phoenix. Throughout the state, these top lakes offer outdoor adventurers opportunities to boat through red rock canyons, scuba dive to the depths, fish for tournament-sized bass, and more.
Created by the damming of Glen Canyon, Lake Powell ranks among the top lakes for houseboating in the United States, but you don’t need a houseboat to explore its nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline and 96 major canyons. You can boat, kayak, jet ski, sailboat, and waterski through the waters straddling the Arizona-Utah border.
Lake Powell, which is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, is also a popular destination for hiking, fishing, and camping. Using the Arizona city of Page as a base, you can tour Glen Canyon Dam, venture to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and marvel at Antelope Canyon.
The nation’s first and largest national recreation area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area includes two impressive lakes: Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Both were formed by damming the Colorado River, but the 110-mile-long Lake Mead is by far the more impressive, totaling 1.5 million acres and 225 square miles of surface area. Not surprisingly, boating and watersports, including waterskiing and kayaking, are prevalent, but visitors also swim, scuba dive, fish, and camp here.
Because Lake Mead is a short drive from Las Vegas, it can get crowded. For a little more privacy, Lake Mohave can be accessed on the Arizona side of the Arizona-California border at Katherine Landing, or with a permit, you can launch at the Hoover Dam and discover the hot springs along the Black Canyon Water Trail.
Featuring 60 miles of navigable waterways along Arizona’s northwest border with California, Lake Havasu is considered one of the state’s best boating lakes and is popular with the spring break crowd who come to party on the water and on the sandy beaches of Lake Havasu State Park. It also attracts anglers hoping to catch record-setting largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass.
The lake is also home to the London Bridge, moved brick from the U.K. to Lake Havasu City in 1971, and its coast features scaled-down replicas of famous American lighthouses, which serve as navigational aids.
Theodore Roosevelt Lake
At nearly 21,500 acres, Theodore Roosevelt Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world when it was created by the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in 1911. Today, it’s still the largest lake in Central Arizona and popular with boaters, watersports enthusiasts, and anglers hoping to hook crappie, catfish, and smallmouth and largemouth bass. Just five minutes from the marina, Tonto National Monument’s main trail leads to a 20-room cliff dwelling with incredible views of the lake.
Formed by the Waddell Dam on the Agua Fria River northwest of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant is one of the closest lakes to the metropolitan area. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the lake, especially on weekends, to boat, kayak, sail, paddleboard, and waterski. You can even scuba dive at the lake, considered one of the best inland scuba locations in the West.
Looking for something different? Lake Pleasant Regional Park has a nature center, dinner cruises, and moonlit scorpion hunts. You can also night fish here for largemouth, white, and striped bass.
The otherworldly granite boulders surrounding this lake just 4 miles from downtown Prescott make it one of the most picturesque in the state. It’s especially popular with kayakers, canoers, and standup paddleboarders, but you can also boat and fish here. Looking for a land adventure? Watson Lake has trails for hiking and mountain biking, features an 18-hole disc golf course, and provides access to the rock climbing boulders of Granite Dells.
Nearby, the lesser-known Goldwater Lake offers similar terrain and similar recreational opportunities, including outstanding kayaking and canoeing.
Willow Springs Lake
Created by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1967, Willow Springs Lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout May through September, making it one of the state's great lakes for trout. It's also one of the quiestest. Boats are limited to those with electric or maximum 10 horsepower gas motors, so you are more likely to see families casting from the shore than watercraft on the lake.
Typically, Willow Springs Lake closes after the first winter snowstorm, but when it doesn’t, intrepid anglers drop a line and ice fish here.
This pine tree-lined lake in the Bradshaw Mountains 15 minutes from Prescott—and less than two hours from Phoenix—lures Phoenicians with its cooler summer days and lush greenery. Most visitors stick to the shore, fishing for rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish, or hike the 2-mile Lakeshore Trail. Some venture out on the water in small engine boats, kayaks, and canoes, though.
But, that’s not all Lynx Lake Recreational Area has to offer. Just north of the lake along the Lynx Creek, you can pan for gold.
Although it’s the smallest of the lakes created by dams on the Salt River, at 950 acres, Canyon Lake is packed with boaters and watersports enthusiasts, who make the roughly 45-mile trip from Phoenix for the festive atmosphere and dramatic scenery. It’s also popular with tourists who break here while driving the Apache Trail or book a narrated tour on the Dolly Steamboat. You can also scuba dive, fish for various types of bass, and hike in the area.
The other nearby Salt River lakes—Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, and Saguaro Lake—are worth checking out, too.
Located about 15 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border, Patagonia Lake State Park is a favorite with campers throughout the state. Not only does the lake boast 105 lakeside campsites for RV and tent camping, it also has 12 boat-in campsites, and seven cabins available for rent. Visitors come to boat and fish as well as spot Inca dove, hummingbirds, canyon towhee, and other birds. Take a break from watersports and wildlife sightings with a visit to Sonoita’s wineries, just a half-hour away.
Pine trees and aspen surround this 300-acre lake nine miles south of AZ 260 on the White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands. Although you can sail, kayak, and canoe on its waters, Hawley Lake is known for its fishing. Purchase a White Mountain Apache Tribal fishing permit at the lake’s store (your Arizona state license doesn’t cover fishing on tribal lands), and cast a line for rainbow, cutthroat, brown, and brook trout. Camping sites and cabins are available if you plan to spend more than a day here.
Named for surveyor Bill Bartlett, this 2,815-acre lake is less than 50 miles from Phoenix and one of Central Arizona’s best-kept secrets, especially if you enjoy boating, kayaking, waterskiing, and other watersports. The fishing is decent, too, with anglers having the most luck hooking largemouth and smallmouth bass. Boats and small watercraft, including standup paddleboards, can be rented at the lake's marina. Even if you don’t want to boat or fish, the scenic, paved drive to Bartlett Lake makes it a worthwhile destination.
This remote lake, surrounded by the mountains of western Arizona, is considered one of the best places for bass fishing in the state. Largemouth bass are so plentiful that the Alamo Lake State Park often hosts bass fishing tournaments here, but you can also catch crappie without much effort. Prefer boating? Alamo Lake offers 3,500 acres of water to explore.
Water levels can fluctuate dramatically, though, since this lake was created by a dam on the Bill Williams River, so you may want to check current conditions before you leave home.
Fool Hollow Lake
This public lake on the outskirts of Show Low gets its name from Thomas Jefferson Adair, who moved here in 1885. Locals joked only a fool would try to farm the land, but Adair successfully persisted. Today the lake, created by damming Show Low Creek, is popular with local anglers casting a line for largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, pike, and trout. Boaters with a maximum of 10 horsepower engines are welcome, and tent and RV sites are available.
Tempe Town Lake
Adjacent to downtown Tempe and Arizona State University, this man-made lake offers fun on and off the water. To explore it, rent a kayak, pedal boat, standup paddleboard, or electric boat. You can also sail, row, or fish for trout, bass, catfish, and sunfish. If you’d rather stick to the shore, the trail circling Tempe Town Lake is perfect for jogging and biking. (You can borrow a bike from the local Grid Bikes station or rent a single or double surrey lakeside.)
Many of the city’s biggest celebrations, including the July 4th Tempe Town Lake Festival and Four Peaks Oktoberfest, take place at Tempe Town Lake.