Best Lakes Near Phoenix to Cool Off
Phoenix summers can get very hot so a day on the lake is the perfect way to escape from the valley heat and cool off. Arizona has many incredible lakes and many of them are a short drive away from Phoenix. Lakes near Phoenix have many activities including hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and boating. It is hard to imagine lakes in the desert, but after four years of exploring Arizona I curated this list of the best lakes in Arizona, all within a 2 hour drive of Phoenix. Start planning your day on the lake by choosing from these 6 best lakes near phoenix.
What to Bring for a Day on the Lake
- Daypack: Bring a comfortable hiking bag if you plan to hike above the lakes. This daypack is one of my favorite hiking bags.
- Water Bottle: Make sure to bring water with you! This Stanley water bottle is a great option as it can keep your water cold for 12 hours.
- Towel: Bring a towel to dry off after a swim in the lake. I always bring this quick dry towel since it is very light and easy to carry.
- Hiking Boots: The terrain in the southwest is often rocky and sandy. In order to have good traction and not hurt your foot or ankle, I recommend bringing hiking boots.
- Sunglasses: Make sure you can enjoy the views even when it’s sunny. Don’t forget your sunglasses.
- Sunscreen: Because getting burnt is no fun.
1. Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake is the best lake near Phoenix as it is unique and has a lot of things to do. Part of the experience is the windy drive to Canyon Lake through the hills in Tonto National Forest. On your way down to the lake make sure to stop at the incredible viewpoints. At Canyon Lake you can hike, paddle board, kayak, boat, float in the water, have a picnic, and just enjoy the beautiful lake views. Canyon Lake has a restaurant called Well Done Grill where you can enjoy lunch and drinks with a view of the lake. If you are looking for a lake to visit, Canyon Lake is the best lake near Phoenix for great views, paddle boarding, and hiking.
Fees: You need a Tonto National Forest Pass in most of the parking lots at Canyon Lake, but you don’t need this pass if you park at the main Canyon Lake Marina. You can get a Tonto Pass at most pharmacies and gas stations in the valley, so if you intend on parking in a lot that is not at the Canyon Lake Marina make sure to get one before you drive past Apache Junction. America the Beautiful annual passes are only accepted at picnicking sites.
Hike: One of the best hikes near Phoenix, Boulder Canyon Trail, starts across from the Canyon Lake Marina. This is a beautiful hike that takes you up to a great view of the lake and then towards the Superstition Mountains and a view of Weavers Needle. This is an 8.5 mile out and back trail but you can do as much of the trail as you want, you don’t have to complete the entire trail as the views of the lake are in the beginning of the hike.
Swim, Tube, Paddle Board: If you want to spend the day on the water you can bring a float or tube with you and go down into the many swimming areas. Another fun activity at Canyon Lake is paddle boarding. You can rent a paddle board in the valley from No Snow SUP or Redline Rentals and bring it with you to Canyon Lake. The rental company will help you tie the paddle board onto your car. A nice place to paddle board in Canyon Lake is into La Barge Creek which you can see in the photo above.
2. Lake Pleasant
Only 50 minutes north of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant is one of the best lakes near Phoenix. Lake Pleasant has two marinas: Pleasant Harbor Marina on the southeast side and Scorpion Bay Marina on the west side. At Pleasant Harbor Marina you can find Dillon’s Bayou Restaurant as well as boat, paddle board, and kayak rentals. You should reserve the rental equipment ahead of time online through the Pleasant Harbor Marina website to guarantee your rental.
Fees: Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a Maricopa County Park so there is a $7 entrance fee per vehicle.
Hike: The top hike at Lake Pleasant is Yavupai Point Trail, a 3 mile out and back trail that offers incredible views of Lake Pleasant. In the spring you will see a lot of wildflowers. The trail starts at the Cottonwood Day Use Area from the Pipeline Canyon Trailhead North. You will start hiking on the Pipeline Canyon Trailhead and then connect to the Yavupai Point Trail where you see signs directing you towards the left. The trail starts off mainly flat and then has moderate elevation gain for views above Lake Pleasant. The incline part of the trail is very narrow and is a bit steep, so I recommend wearing hiking boots.
3. Saguaro Lake
Saguaro Lake is a beautiful lake in Tonto National Forest, located only about 45 minutes from Phoenix. Here you can find a small beach where you can relax and swim. The small beach does get very crowded on weekends. One of the top things to do at Saguaro Lake is hike Butcher Jones Trail, a hiking trail that takes you along the lake with incredible views the whole way.
Fees: You can purchase a Tonto Daily Pass for $12 at a kiosk in the parking lot of the recreation area. Tonto Discovery Passes, annual passes to Tonto National Forest, are also accepted. America the Beautiful annual passes are only accepted at the picnic sites.
Hike: Butcher Jones Trail is an amazing 5 mile out and back trail along the lake. The trail is moderate, with only slight elevation gain. At the end of the trail you have the option of continuing one quarter of a mile to Burro Cove and one quarter of a mile to a spot labeled as shore line access. Burro Cove offers beautiful views of the lake with Four Peaks Mountains in the background and is worth the extra distance. The shore line access brings you closer to the water but there isn’t any beach area and the views aren’t as good as at Burro Cove.
4. Roosevelt Lake
Roosevelt Lake is a reservoir formed by the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. Roosevelt Lake is one of the best lakes in Arizona and is a scenic two hour drive from Phoenix. At Roosevelt Lake you can boat, kayak, fish and hike. Roosevelt Lake Marina offers boat rentals and kayak rentals. When you get to Roosevelt Lake make sure to check out the Theodore Roosevelt Dam by driving right onto Apache Trail road to the viewpoint of the dam. If you get hungry there is one restaurant at Roosevelt Lake right near the Marina called F FINCH’S Waterfront Kitchen and Bar.
Fees: America the Beautiful Passes are accepted at the picnic spots. If you are boating, you will need a Tonto Daily Pass and a Watercraft Sticker or Tonto Discovery Pass.
Kayak: You can kayak down the Salt River from Saguaro Lake. Enjoy a scenic day kayaking on the river on this Salt River Kayaking Trip.
Hike: The best hike at Roosevelt Lake is Arizona Trail starting from Vineyard Trailhead. The entire Arizona Trail is very long, but you can do the first portion of the trail to get a great view of Roosevelt Lake. The first part of the trail is a very steep climb up, but any amount that you are able to climb up will be worth it. I recommend wearing hiking boots for this hike as it is steep and you don’t want to slip.
5. Bartlett Lake
Barlett Lake is the best lake near Phoenix if you are looking to paddle board but want a quieter option that isn’t as crowded as Lake Pleasant. This lake is smaller than Lake Pleasant but is still really nice and scenic. You can rent paddle boards or kayaks right at Bartlett Lake from Go Stand Up Paddle at Bartlett Lake Marina. To make sure they have paddle boards available, I recommend reserving ahead of time. If you prefer to rent a boat or a jet ski you can do so at the Bartlett Lake Marina and reserve online ahead of time. If you get hungry after a day on the lake, right near the Marina you can find The Last Stop Bar and Grill.
On the way to Bartlett Lake you can do a Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Sonoran Desert.
6. Watson Lake
Prescott is a small city north of Phoenix where the popular Watson Lake is located. Watson Lake is a reservoir with granite rocks in and around the lake. Swimming is prohibited in Watson Lake but you can kayak, boat and hike. After your time at the lake you can get lunch or dinner in downtown Prescott where there are several restaurant options and spend time exploring the streets of downtown Prescott.
Fees: Parking near the lake is $3.
Hike: I recommend hiking around the lake on Watson Lake and Flume Trail which is a 4.5 mile loop around the lake. This hike will take you along the lake for part of the hike and then over and beyond the granite rocks. There are many picturesque views this hiking trail.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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