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11 Gorgeous Recreational Lakes near Tucson, AZ

The lakes surrounding Tucson are as diverse as they are captivating, each providing a unique blend of recreational options. Discover the options!
Patagonia Lake state Park in Arizona

The lakes surrounding Tucson are as diverse as they are captivating, each providing a unique blend of recreational options, ranging from the tranquility of fishing to the thrill of boating and the serene beauty of camping under the starlit sky.

For city dwellers and visitors looking to unwind, several city lakes, stocked with an array of fish, offer an accessible escape.

Meanwhile, the more adventurous souls can plunge into the wilder, untouched lakes to relish activities like paddling, boating, and camping.

When it comes to swimming lakes near Tucson, Patagonia Lake is the nearest options with a designated swimming area promising a refreshing dip, but Parker Canyon Lake and several others also offer swimming opportunities.

Check out the comparison table below and find the best lake for your needs!

Lakes near Tucson Arizona Comparison Table

1.  Rose Canyon Lake

Fishing on Rose Canyon Lake on Sky Island Scenic Byway
Source: wikimedia/ public domain
  • Official Page: Rose Canyon Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 37 miles (1h 5 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Hiking, Camping, Nature Trips

Rose Canyon Lake is a well-known destination near Tucson. It’s a small 6-acre lake within Coronado National Forest that is famous for trout fishing.

Due to the fragile habitat, it’s not allowed to boat or swim in the lake. However, the area has a selection of top-rated hiking trails and a campground with RV sites (without hookups). So, there is plenty to do here.

Despite the restriction on swimming, visiting the lake is a great way to escape Tucson’s heat as it sits at almost 7,000 feet. The air is clean and fresh here, and nature is serene and peaceful.

In winter, the gate to the area is closed, but it’s allowed to come and fish at the lake. It’s an excellent time to visit if you want to experience winter wonderland.

2. Roper Lake

This blue tent is set up by a picnic table at Roper Lake Arizona
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Roper Lake State Park
  • Distance from Tucson: 124 miles (2h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, SUPs, Canoeing, Camping, Hiking, Nature Trips

Roper Lake is a part of the aptly named state park near Safford. Although it’s relatively far from Tucson, the park is well developed and offers many water-based activities.

When it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of options. You have a selection of campgrounds, RV parks, and even cabins to choose from, making it easy to plan a weekend gateway. If you’re renting an RV for a lake trip, this is one of the top spots on the list.

On the water, you can go swimming in the designated area, as well as fish, kayak, and boat. There is a launching ramp to aid boaters; however, check the water levels with the park as it’s known to get shallow during the dry season.

Also, there are a few miles of hiking and biking trails in the park. So even if you are not into water activities, you won’t get bored here.

Roper Lake is one of a few lakes around Tucson with a designated swimming area. So, despite the distance, it’s certainly worth the visit, especially in summer.

3. Peña Blanca Lake

Pena Blanca Lake in southern Arizona
Source: wikimedia/CC BY 4.0
  • Official Page: Peña Blanca Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 68 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, SUPs, Canoeing, Camping, Hiking, Nature Trips

Peña Blanca Lake is a 49-acre reservoir south of Tucson mainly known for fishing and kayaking. The remote location makes this lake the perfect destination for peaceful natural gateways.

There is a campground two minutes walk from the lake. It is rather primitive with no drinking water or hookups, but there is plenty of space even for RVs. 

The lake has a boat ramp and a fishing pier which hints at the most popular activities – fishing and kayaking. 

You can also go for a swim, which is rare for the lakes around Tucson. However, there is no beach or safe way to enter the water except for the boat ramp, which you aren’t supposed to use for that.

Still, it’s a quiet and undeveloped setting, ideal for escaping the busy cities and recharging in nature.

4. Riggs Flat Lake

  • Official Page: Riggs Flat Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 155 miles (3h)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Camping, Nature Trips

Riggs Flat Lake is a wild card destination on this list. It’s an 11-acre lake located in the Mt Graham area, making it hard to get to. However, the location is serene and gorgeous, and the lake’s remoteness keeps crowds away.

There is a primitive campground by the reservoir with just the toilets and drinking water for the amenities, and the lake has a boat ramp. Apart from that, it’s undeveloped and wild.

Swimming, kayaking, and boating are allowed, and the lake is known for its rainbow and brown trout population. In addition to the water-based activities, there are plenty of hiking trails around, and the lake can be the perfect base for exploring the area.

Disadvantages. Apart from the remote location, the final stretch to the reservoir is a bumpy gravel road that will test your car’s suspension. Also, there are bears in the area, so food storing containers is a must.

Overall, Riggs Flat Lake is for experienced, self-sufficient adventurers who are used to relying on themselves. It’s a rare gem in the otherwise baren Tucson area, well worth the drive.

5. Agua Caliente Park

Blue waters and palm trees at Agua Caliente Park, an oasis in the Arizonan desert NE of Tucson
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Agua Caliente Park
  • Distance from Tucson: 20 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Walking, BBQs, Picnic, Nature Trips

Agua Caliente Park is a highly-rated destination on the outskirts of Tucson. It’s known for the hot spring, a lake, and beautiful palm trees that contribute to the oasis atmosphere.

The park is tightly managed and has restrictions on any recreations activities except walking, picnics, and BBQs. Boating or fishing aren’t allowed here.

Thanks to such management, the area is rich in wildlife; you are guaranteed to see turtles, waterfowl, and fish. Plus, it’s spotless and manicured.

Also, Agua Caliente Park runs several public programs, mainly around birding and stargazing. But simply coming here for BBQs with family and friends is amazing enough. It is undoubtedly one of Tucson’s must-do destinations.

6. Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake State Park from a boat in Arizona
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Patagonia Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 74 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Camping, Nature Trips

Patagonia Lake is a popular reservoir south of Tucson. It’s a 260-acre lake in a well-developed state park that offers tons of water activities and hiking trails.

When it comes to accommodation, you can stay in cabins, campgrounds, and RV parks. Also, there are 12 boat-in campsites for multi-day water adventures.

Naturally, the lake has boat launch ramps, marina, and swimming areas, but you can hire kayaks and pedal boats if you don’t have your own craft.

Patagonia Lake is a very well-known destination that attracts crowds but at the same time has plenty of space to find solitude. It’s the best recreational lake near Tucson.

7. Parker Canyon Lake

Parker Canyon Lake in Arizona
Source: wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Parker Canyon Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 79 miles (1h 35min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Camping, Nature Trips

Parker Canyon Lake is a medium-sized reservoir located at 5,400 feet elevation, making it a perfect option for summer trips. Here, the temperature is 10-20 degrees cooler than in the desert below.

The lake features a campground with primitive sites, a marina where you can rent kayaks and boats, and a 5-mile trail that loops around the lake. 

Apart from boating, paddling, and hiking, the lake offers excellent fishing opportunities with fishing equipment available for hire. Plus, there are plenty of BBQ and picnic spots, and the area is known to be family-friendly.

It’s one of the top-rated lakes near Tucson and undoubtedly worth visiting.

8. Silverbell Lake

Silverbell Lake in Tucson Arizona
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Silverbell Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 8 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

Silverbell Lake is one of the urban lakes in Tucson. It sits by the Santa Cruz River in Christopher Columbus Park.

The lake is a popular fishing destination known for sunfish, bass, trout, and catfish. Also, there are boat launching ramps, but the size of the watercraft is restricted, and you can’t use gasoline engines, either. (see the restrictions on the official page)

Another disadvantage at Silverbell is that swimming isn’t allowed. It was never designed as a swimming facility, and the water quality isn’t monitored.

Still, the area offers plenty of shade, picnic tables, and playgrounds. Plus, there are a separate model boat lake and a model airplane area in Christopher Columbus Park which can be fun to watch.

If you are looking for somewhere to get your feet wet or explore the shoreline in a kayak, the Silverbell isn’t for you. But it’s close to home and has plenty of amenities to make a fun day out for the whole family, especially if you like fishing.

9. Sahuarita Lake

Drone view of Rancho Sahuarita and Sahuarita Lake, a new home community in Southern Arizona.
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Sahuarita Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 19 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Walking, Picnics

Sahuarita Lake is a 10-acre reservoir south of Tucson. It is similar to Silverbell in its restrictions and purpose.

Fishing is the most common activity at this lake. Apart from the familiar bass and sunfish, the lake is stocked with trout, but you will have to get lucky to hook one.

There is also a boat launching ramp for going paddling or taking a small boat out (electric motors only). The water is clearer than at Silverbell, and the shoreline is built up with nice houses, making paddling here exciting and unusual.

In addition to manicured lawns and picnic areas, there is a 1-mile path that loops the lake. It’s a pleasant walk with shaded resting areas.

Unfortunately, swimming isn’t allowed in Sahuarita Lake, but its proximity to Tucson makes it an excellent day trip destination, especially if you like fishing and paddling. 

10. Kennedy Lake

  • Official Page: Kennedy Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnics, Swimming Pool

Kennedy Lake is an urban reservoir located in J. F. Kennedy Park, just 10 minutes from downtown.

Like Silverbell and Sahuarita, it is relatively small and shallow and has similar purposes and restrictions.

However, what makes the location different is the public swimming pool in the park. It operates between June and August and is a great way to escape the summer heat.

In addition to the pool, Kennedy Park is connected to Tucson Mountain Park, so you can go for hikes and explore the nearby hills.

And when it comes to water recreation, fishing is the number one activity. Plus, there is a boat ramp to aid kayakers and boaters who want to explore the lake.

11. Lakeside Lake

  • Official Page: Lakeside Lake
  • Distance from Tucson: 11 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Walking, Picnics

Lakeside Lake is another small reservoir for fishing and paddling in Tucson. It serves the city’s eastern part, providing an oasis amid the desert.

The amenities are similar to the above three options – walking paths, picnic areas, and a launching ramp, with fishing being the most popular activity.

There is nothing special to mention about this reservoir apart from that it’s not as clean as other options, and there are complaints of people camping in the bushes around the lake. 

Still, if you fancy a paddle about or want to test your luck fishing, this is one of a few options in the eastern part of Tucson.

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