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11 Top-Rated Recreational Lakes near Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix has more recreational lakes than most people imagine. Despite the desert location, there are plenty of incredible recreational reservoirs that most cities can only dream of.
11 Best Lakes near Phoenix

Despite its desert location, Phoenix is one of the best cities in America for lake recreation. It offers a wide choice of reservoirs, most of which have hardly any limits on activities.

If you don’t want to drive far, you can check out Tempe Town Lake – a fun city reservoir with fishing, paddling, and boating. Canyon Lake is the best fishing destination, with five state records to boast.

Lake Pleasant is the best all-round reservoir; it’s one of the nearest and most developed. And if you want to escape it all, enjoy solitude, and experience one of the best night skies in the state, Alamo Lake is the top choice.

There are plenty options on the list. Check out what Phoenix has to offer.

Lakes near Phoenix:

  1. Tempe Town Lake
  2. Saguaro Lake
  3. Canyon Lake
  4. Apache Lake
  5. Theodore Roosevelt Lake
  6. Bartlett Lake
  7. Horseshoe Reservoir
  8. Lake Pleasant
  9. Alamo Lake
  10. Chaparral Lake
  11. Pioneer Lake
Lakes near Phoenix Arizona Comparison Table

1. Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake in Tempe Phoenix Arizona
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Tempe Town Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 10 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Walking, Picnics

Tempe Town Lake is a 220-acre reservoir on the Salt River. It’s a hugely popular recreation spot with parks, boat rentals, and special events like triathlons, marathons, and boat parades.

If visiting for the first time, the best place to start is Tempe Beach Park on the southern shore. It’s the most visitor-friendly option where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and famous pedal doughnuts.

The northern bank is more suited for boaters and anglers. It has rowing clubs, designated fishing spots, and a marina with a launching ramp.

Although swimming or wading are prohibited at Tempe Town Lake, the northern shore has sand beaches suitable for volleyball and sunbathing. You can launch paddleboards and kayaks from here or have a picnic.

Boating is limited to electric motors, so sports like wakeboarding, waterskiing, and jet skiing are not possible at Tempe Town Lake. Instead, it’s a unique spot to kayak and paddleboard. You can explore urban features and show off your paddling skills to passersby.

Also, the reservoir offers pretty good fishing. You can expect warm water species like largemouth bass, channel cats, carp, and bluegill. And in November, AZGFD stocks the lake with rainbow trout, so keep an eye on the schedule

One of the biggest drawbacks at Tempe Town Lake is the lack of shade – there are hardly any trees around. Also, it’s a busy metropolitan area, so don’t expect a tranquil experience.

Still, the reservoir is a vital part of the community and a fun destination. It’s a must-visit spot for tourists and a welcome oasis for the locals. 

2. Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake on Salt River near Phoenix Arizona
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Saguaro Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 43 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Saguaro Lake is a 1,264-acre reservoir in Tonto National Forest, some 43 miles from Phoenix and just 30 miles from Scottsdale, Mesa, or Tempe. It’s the nearest full-on recreational lake with no restrictions on activities.

The best place to start is the Saguaro Del Norte Recreation Site. It offers a launching ramp, a marina with boat rentals, a restaurant, and even a narrated cruise tour on Desert Belle.

Another option is the Butcher Jones Recreation Site. It’s a quieter area with plenty of trees for shade and picnic tables. Also, this is a popular kayaking spot and a place where many hiking trails start.

When it comes to activities, Saguaro Lake is very versatile. You can go swimming, paddling, hiking, and boating, including water sports like waterskiing and wakeboarding.

However, it’s not great for camping. There are no designated camping areas except for the Bagley Flat, deep inside the canyon. It’s a boat-in-only site which is fantastic news for paddlers and boaters, but traditional campers will have to look for alternatives.

Fishing is very popular at Saguaro Lake. The reservoir even holds a state record for tilapia – 7lb 8.8oz. Here, you can catch largemouth bass, channel cats, bluegill, yellow bass, rainbow trout, and many more species. But don’t expect a lot of action; the lake is known for lunkers rather than large numbers.

Overall, Saguaro Lake is a fantastic option that rarely disappoints. But be prepared to share space with other happy visitors; it’s a buzzing destination that gets packed on weekends.

3. Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake on Salt River near Phoenix Arizona
Source: wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Official Page: Canyon Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 50 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

At 950 acres, Canyon Lake is the smallest of the four Salt River Canyon lakes. It’s located in the Superstition Wilderness, about one hour from Phoenix and 50 minutes from Gilbert or Mesa.

This lake attracts thousands of visitors every year, and for a good reason, it’s absolutely gorgeous and hugely versatile. It’s a boater’s paradise and a fisherman’s dream.

If you plan to relax on the beach, swim, and paddle, then the Acacia Recreation Site is the best match. It offers plenty of shade, picnic ramadas, and a sandy swimming area. You can put in your kayak or a SUP right from the beach.

The adjacent site – Palo Verde – is best suited for boaters and campers. Here you’ll find a marina, a restaurant, boat rentals, and a private campground with tent and RV sites. Also, this is where The Dolly Steamboat starts its sightseeing and dinner cruises.

The unique thing about Canyon Lake is that it holds five state fishing records, more than any other lake in Arizona. They include largemouth bass, yellow bass, black buffalo, black bullhead, and green sunfish. 

Although most of them were set around the turn of the century, Canyon Lake is still an excellent fishery with larger than average fish. 

However, similar to Saguaro Lake, this reservoir gets packed during weekends, especially when the weather is hot. Both lakes (and Apache Lake) reach their boating capacity by mid-day, so arrive early if you plan to get on the water.

Although the smallest, Canyon Lakes is just as fun as its neighbors and packs a lot of recreation into a small area. Renting an RV and spending a weekend with family is what this lake is all about.

4. Apache Lake

Apache Lake on Salt River near Phoenix Arizona
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Apache Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 65 miles (2-3 hours)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

At 2,568 acres, Apache Lake is one of the larger lakes on the Salt River. It’s just as stunning and versatile as Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake, yet it offers more space for boating and camping.

The most developed spot on the reservoir is Apache Lake Marina and Resort. It has hotels, boat rentals, an RV park, a store, and a bar, pretty much anything you may need on a lake trip. However, the trade-off is that it gets rather crowded, especially in summer and on holidays.

The alternative is Burnt Corral Campground, a few miles up the lake. It offers over 70 designated campsites, a boat ramp, and plenty of trees for shade. Although it gets busy as well, this area is geared towards anglers, campers, and paddlers, so it’s not as rowdy as the marina.

Getting to both areas is an adventure in itself. The northern section of Apache Trail (Route 88) is a corrugated gravel road that can be a challenge to road vehicles and especially RVs. 

Plus, as of 2022, the section above Tortilla Flats is closed due to damage. The only way to get to Apache Lake is from Roosevelt, which adds miles to the journey. Here’s more information.

Yet, Apache Lake is worth the drive. It offers an impressive range of activities, from swimming and fishing to paddling and boating – there is no shortage of action. You can spend weeks exploring the lake’s towering cliffs and cozy coves, and you won’t cover even half of it.

In short, it’s a fun destination and an incredible adventure that everyone should try at least once.

5. Theodore Roosevelt Lake

Theodore Roosevelt Lake near Phoenix Arizona
Source: flickr
  • Official Page: Theodore Roosevelt Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles (1h 45min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Theodore Roosevelt Lake is approximately 21,000 acres when full. It’s the largest reservoir in central Arizona and a water playground like no other. It stretches for almost 24 miles and can be easily accessed from Route 188.

The most developed part of the reservoir is Roosevelt Lake Marina, not far from the dam. It offers slips, rentals, hotels, a store, and a campground. It’s a one-stop-shop for lake visitors.

However, if you prefer quieter spots with primitive camping, the lake doesn’t disappoint either. There are half a dozen campgrounds along its 128-mile shoreline. Considering the vastness of the place, it’s easy to find a secluded spot to enjoy some solitude.

As you may expect, there are no restrictions on recreation at Roosevelt Lake. It has it all. You can swim, paddle, waterski, and even scuba dive – the sky is the limit here. And thanks to its incredible size, it doesn’t get jammed by boaters; there is enough room for everyone.

When it comes to fishing, the lake is legendary, too. It’s regarded as the best fishery in Arizona. There is plenty of underwater growth and vegetation that provide excellent habitat. Plus, the lake is large enough to produce some impressive lunkers. In fact, it has two state records to its name – smallmouth bass and bigmouth buffalo.

Overall, Roosevelt Lake is incredible. It’s vast, it’s stunning, and it offers every recreational opportunity under the sun.

6. Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake near Glendale Phoenix Arizona
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Bartlett Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 55 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Bartlett Lake is a 2,815-acre reservoir that can be reached in just an hour from Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, or Glendale. It’s a fantastic recreational lake with hardly any restrictions and easy shoreline access.

Unlike the reservoirs mentioned thus far, Bartlett Lake sits on the Verde River. Yet, it’s pretty similar to the Salt River lakes. The landscape is just as scenic, and the facilities are just as good.

If you’re into boating, Jojoba Boat Launch and the marina are the two best places. Here, you will find slips, ramps, rentals, and even restaurants. The lake is a mecca for waterskiing and wakeboarding, so it’s an easy choice for water sports. 

Alternatively, you can try the SB Cove area, where folks set up camps by the water and enjoy everything the lake has to offer. It’s a better option for swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Also, you can camp right on the beach at SB Cove; most of the lakes don’t allow that.

Talking about fishing, Bartlett Lake is excellent. It has two state records to its name – carp and flathead catfish. But you can also target largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill, and various types of crappie.

What makes fishing here different from Salt River lakes is easy shore access. You don’t need a boat to cast here, although the results are better if you do.

Overall, it’s another fantastic spot near Phoenix. If you’re into beach camping, this is the place to be.

7. Horseshoe Reservoir

Horseshoe Reservoir near Phoenix Arizona
Source: wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Official Page: Horseshoe Reservoir
  • Distance from Phoenix: 60 miles (1h 30min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Hiking, Camping

Horseshoe Reservoir is a 2,800-acre lake north of Phoenix. It offers stunning scenery and a peaceful setting, but it won’t suit most people.

Unlike other options on the list, this destination is remote and wild. Accessing the lake requires a high clearance vehicle, but what you get in return is a truly tranquil spot, free from crowds.

Apart from difficult access, another drawback is the fluctuating water levels. Depending on the season and water demand, Horseshoe Reservoir can be completely drained. So check the levels before traveling to avoid disappointment.

Swimming is allowed at Horseshoe Reservoir, and most of the time, you can have the whole beach to yourself. Also, it’s an excellent spot for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding, because water sports like skiing and wakeboarding are prohibited here.

Fishing is OK at Horseshoe Reservoir. There is very little pressure, but fish has a hard time recovering because of the drainage. Still, anglers who know the reservoir well never drive home empty-handed. You can catch various types of catfish, bass, crappie, and bluegill.

Also, the reservoir offers a campground, but the facilities are limited. Apart from a restroom and a couple of ramadas, there isn’t much here. It’s a pack it in pack it out lake.

The cool feature at Horseshoe Reservoir is the spillway that creates a waterfall that you can walk behind. Granted, it may not be worth the long drive, but it’s a unique spillway that you won’t see elsewhere.

Overall, Horseshoe Lake is best suited for seasoned adventurers and off-roading enthusiasts. But for everyone else, it might be too hard to get to.

 8. Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant Peoria Phoenix Arizona
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Pleasant
  • Distance from Phoenix: 43 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Scuba Diving

Lake Pleasant is the most developed and versatile reservoir near Phoenix. And the best part is, it’s only 50 minutes drive from downtown.

The lake is managed by the regional park that offers a wide selection of facilities and things to do. There are two marinas, two large boat ramps, two campgrounds, and a selection of day-use areas with ramadas and beaches. The choice is huge.

And when it comes to activities, Lake Pleasant offers everything Salt River lakes do, plus a few cherries on top. For example, you can take a ride on a water slide that will launch you 15 feet in the air, explore the inflatable aqua park with an obstacle course, or learn to scuba dive. This reservoir takes water recreation to a whole new level.

But wait, there is more. Lake Pleasant is one of the best fishing spots near Phoenix, too. It’s known for striped, hybrid, and white bass varieties, in addition to the largemouth, crappie, bluegill, and various cats.

And it holds four state records – hybrid striped bass, striped bass, white bass, and white crappie, just one short of Canyon Lake.

Another unique thing about this destination is the developed trail network totaling 18 miles. Most are for hiking, but there are a few mixed-use ones, too.

As you may expect, the biggest drawback to Lake Pleasant is the crowds; it gets packed on weekends and especially during events like Paddle Fest and music festivals. But the best destinations usually are. 

Overall, it’s an incredible lake destination that never gets boring. Just be prepared to share the space.

9. Alamo Lake

Alamo Lake State Park Arizona
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Official Page: Alamo Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 134 miles (2h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Swimming, Hiking, Camping, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Stargazing

Alamo Lake is a classic desert oasis far from civilization. It’s known for rich wildlife, great fishing, and the breathtaking night sky.

The best way to access the lake is to visit Alamo Lake State Park, located 40 miles north of Wenden. Despite the remote location, the access road is paved and suitable for most vehicles.

This state park offers over 250 campsites and a couple of cabins which is handy considering that most visitors stay overnight to enjoy stargazing here. In fact, Alamo Lake State Park is regarded as the best state park for stargazing in Arizona, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

And when it comes to water recreation, this lake doesn’t disappoint either. The park offers two paved boat ramps and has no restrictions on activities. You can swim, paddle, and boat to all your heart’s desire.

Also, the lake is considered a prime bass and crappie fishery. Standing timber provides excellent habitat, so anglers tend to get a lot of action here, although lunkers are rare. Also, the reservoir is home to multiple fishing tournaments, so you can test your fishing skills against others.

A couple of drawbacks to Alamo Lakes are the distance from Phoenix (134 miles) and the heat – it gets scorching here in summer (100+ degrees), and no trees in sight.

Despite these, Alamo Lake is a welcome break from much busier Salt River lakes. It’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy nature at its best.

10. Chaparral Lake

Chaparral Lake Scottsdale Phoenix Arizona
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Chaparral Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 15 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Walking, Picnics, Sports Fields

Chaparral Lake is a centerpiece of a Chaparral Park in Scottsdale. It’s an urban destination with ramadas, sports fields, and some water activities.

AZGFD stocks the lake multiple times a year, attracting anglers from the greater Phoenix area. You can target largemouth bass, channel catfish, common carp, and even rainbow trout when it’s stocked in winter. 

Fishing here isn’t as good as at Salt River lakes, but it’s much closer to home and can be enjoyed during the week. Check the stocking schedule to increase your chances.  

Although swimming and wading are prohibited at Chaparral Lake, you can make use of the boat ramp and go for an urban kayaking adventure. Boating is allowed on the lake, too, but the motors must be electric. 

In addition to water recreation, Chaparral Park offers miles of walking paths, a dog park, playgrounds, and several ramadas for picnics. It’s a family-friendly spot that can be enjoyed every day of the week.

Related: 12 Superb Recreational Lakes near Payson, AZ

11. Pioneer Lake

Pioneer Lake Peoria Phoenix Arizona
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Pioneer Lake
  • Distance from Phoenix: 14 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Walking, Picnics, Sports Fields, Splash Pad

Pioneer Lake is a small 5-acre lake in Peoria. It’s a popular spot known for channel catfish and a well-kept park.

This lake is part of the Community Fishing Program and is stocked multiple times a year with channel catfish and trout. Also, you can catch bluegill, carp, and largemouth bass here.

As urban lakes go, it’s a fantastic spot to unwind at sunset or go fishing early in the morning. Yet, fishing is the only water activity that the lake offers; swimming or boating are prohibited here.

Instead, Pioneer Community Park offers a splash pad, playgrounds, ramadas, a dog park, and a few miles of walking paths – similar to other parks around Phoenix.

If you enjoy catfish fishing or just want to hang out with friends and family, it’s a nice local spot, but for serious lake recreation, you’ll have to travel further away.

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