Saguaro Lake: Phoenix Water Oasis.

Formed in the late 1920s by the construction of the Stewart Mountain Dam, Saguaro Lake ranks as the most popular of the four Salt River Project lakes. Saguaro Lake winds for ten miles through the Tonto National Forest in the heart of the Sonoran Desert just east of Scottsdale. Saguaro gets its name from the thousands of majestic Saguaro cactus that speckle the landscape. The lake’s popularity is due in part to its proximity to Phoenix; just 41 miles east of the downtown area. Accessible through Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, visitors will travel north for 27 miles on Route 87 into the Tonto National Forest. At the Bush Highway/Forest Road (FR) 204, guests should turn right and travel for four more miles to arrive at the lake. Entrance to the lake requires a fee of $4 for vehicles and $2 for boats and jet skis; senior discounts are available. Besides the striking beauty of the surrounding terrain, the lake itself offers visitors a variety of water activities and conveniences to make trips to this winding water body both fun-filled and comfortable.

Surrounding the lake, walls of pink and yellow rock rise up into massive cliffs and mounds reflecting the Arizona sunshine on to the peaceful waters. The water takes a soft and seductive form set against the harsh and jagged background of the Sonoran Desert, making it all the more alluring. There are places along the lower portion of the lake that the landscape softens a bit and the water meets rolling desert hills blanketed with desert plant life. Because of the lake’s proximity to the dam, the lake is nearly always filled to capacity, 86,000,000 cubic meters of fresh water, and to a depth of 118 feet. The lake’s depth makes it exceptionally refreshing in the Arizona heat. The more than 22 miles of shoreline provide opportunities for picnicking, sunbathing, and swimming. Water skiers, jet skiers, and kayakers will enjoy the calm cool waters of the lake during the hot Arizona summers, and swimmers can splash all day at Butcher Jones’ picnic site and swimming beach. Although the lake is small, it hides coves and caves all along its shoreline providing opportunities for exploration and privacy even on busy weekends. Those guests who prefer to find their fun on dry land can explore the numerous trails that criss-cross the area and occasionally catch a glimpse of a soaring eagle, grazing mule deer or Big Horn sheep.

Within the 1,200 acres of Saguaro Lake, most of the fun can be found out on the water and boaters spend time meandering lazily as passengers jump and dive into the refreshing water. Angler’s flock to the lake to catch their share of Brown and Rainbow trout, Yellow and Largemouth bass, Channel catfish, Walleye, Crappie, and Bluegill. The lake is divided into upper and lower portions and connected by narrow waterways where boaters are required to reduce their speeds to 15 miles per hour while they traverse between the two sections. A variety of boats are welcome here although there is an 82-decibel noise restriction strictly enforced. Because of the lake’s popularity, certain restrictions can apply to boaters depending on the season. On popular holiday weekends, for example, the lake can quickly reach boating capacity and additional boaters arriving late will find themselves prohibited from getting on the water. Summer weekends, in general, are particularly busy and those guests hoping to launch can expect delays of up to 2 hours.

The Saguaro Del Norte Recreation Area, open year-round and daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., is located in the far west upper end of the lake and contains all the modern conveniences guests might need. The full-service, Saguaro Lake Marina located here offers boat storage and rental, boat slips, fuel services, sewage tank dump, bait and tackle, and an exceptional restaurant. The Saguaro Lake Restaurant is perched on top of a hill overlooking the marina and gives patrons beautiful views of the lake, particularly exceptional at sunset. A leisurely tour aboard the Desert Belle is also an excellent way to catch the bronzes, pinks, and lavenders of the Arizona evening sky. About 5 miles south of the marina on Bush Highway is the rustic Saguaro Lake Ranch Resort. For those who prefer a bed to a sleeping bag, this is the right place to rest up after a long day on the lake. The Ranch, built in the 1930s, offers activities such as horseback riding during winter, fall, and spring, and kayaking and tubing during the summer months. There is no trash service at Saguaro Lake so the rule is “Pack it IN, Pack it OUT”. Glass bottles are not allowed either. Restroom facilities are available, as are barbeque grills and 3 public fishing piers. The Bagley Flat Campground, located about 4 miles from the dam, offers 30 camping spots, waste facilities and is open year-round for visitors at no fee. With its stunning scenery and plentiful amenities, Saguaro Lake is truly a desert oasis.

Saguaro Lake photos are compliments of Robert Body for your viewing pleasure. Re-publishing is prohibited without authorization.