Three Special Lake Hikes Near Phoenix, Arizona

Few people associate the desert of Central Arizona with lakes, but they are more common than you think. They are also more beautiful, rugged, and man-made than you might think as well. But whatever your knowledge on Arizona’s lakes might be, one thing is for sure, there are some amazing lake hikes near Phoenix, Arizona, that you just might need to put on your bucketlist.

This handy little guide will give you the scoop on three of my favorite trails that you can hike to explore different lakes. All of them have their own unique character, and every trail has it’s own draws. No matter your level of hiking experience, give these trails a gander. If you haven’t done all (or any) of them, they are worth checking out. And if none of these look quite challenging enough for you, you might consider some drier alternatives, such as Tom’s Thumb or the LV Yates trail.

Palo Verde Trail #512 at Bartlett Lake

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR

The Palo Verde Trail (#512) at Bartlett Lake is a Tonto National Forest trail that follows the western shore of the lake. It’s fairly flat, such that the cumulative elevation gain is quite small. However, you will be hiking up and down along the contours of the shore, so it isn’t quite as easy as it might look at a glance. With a general lack of shade, this particular trek is best suited for the cooler months in Arizona- winter, late fall, and early spring.

I’ve hiked this trail a few times in the past, and while I wouldn’t say that it wins points for being the most unique of the three options, it’s my favorite Bartlett trail. I really enjoy trekking through the Sonoran Desert foliage, while also staying near the water. There is still something magical about saguaros on the beach. And the view across Bartlett is really spectacular as well. The Four Peaks crowns all the surrounding lands, and at times there is even snow on the ground here.

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR

With its trailhead being located at a picnic area, and a few beach spots further along the trail, this particular option from among the lake hikes near Phoenix, is a great option for families. (Of course, whether you are alone or with a group, you will need to practice safe desert and near-water hiking! Keep you and your family safe!) Bartlett Lake is also the more secluded and quiet of the three lakes, making the Palo Verde trail an ideal spot for hikers looking for accessible but quieter options.

The trail is a little on the slippery side. That’s because there are places where it is quite narrow, and has a layered nature of hard packed soil with looser gravel and sand on top. Even when dry, you can be prone to falls on this trail. Also watch out for cacti near the trail! And be prepared for a big of path finding, particularly through the washes.

Need to Know Information

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR

Difficulty: Easy; Moderate if you go the entire 9 miles

Trail Length: 4.7 miles one way

Elevation Gain: 92 feet

Toilets at the Trailhead: Yes

Fee: Tonto Pass or America the Beautiful Pass

How to Get There

For the Bartlett Lake option of the lake hikes near Phoenix, you will need to get yourself to Carefree, AZ. This town is one of the northern-most suburbs of the Phoenix-metro area. From there, take Cave Creek northeast until you reach Bartlett Dam road. Continue heading east, past the ranger station. Follow this almost all the way down to the lake, until you can follow signs for Rattlesnake Cove. Park in the Rattlesnake Cove parking area. If you need to get a Tonto Pass, the Marina shop has some (if it is open). Be sure to enjoy the beautiful views along the way!

Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR 2016

Saguaro Lake has long been an escape for me, and somewhere that I have many good memories with friends. In high school and college, my friends and I used to visit the lake at night for the beautiful drive and starry skies. It’s also home to wild horses, and it’s southern end leads to the lower Salt (a favorite recreation area). So, among these options, it has a very special place in my heart.

The Butcher Jones trail takes you through a mesquite bosque (or small forest) and along the edge of the lake. Eventually the trail will climb upwards and cross over a hill characterized by the drier Sonoran plant communities. And then it will head back down towards the water again.

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR 2016

Of the lake hikes near Phoenix, this particular trail description belies the wild beauty of this trek. In fact, of the three, I think this trail is my favorite and of the three lakes, Saguaro Lake is absolutely the one I love the most. Saguaro Lake is rugged, with sweeping, rocky mountains ringing the generally calm oasis that the man-made lake provides. It’s really hard to describe this place in words that will do it justice, so you may just have to take my word that this is a beautiful place you need to visit if you haven’t been previously.

All that being said, this is likely the most busy of all the options. So, be sure to keep that in mind with selecting your hike and planning on the date/time that you might go.

Need to Know Information

lake hikes near phoenix

Saguaro Lake with Four Peaks in the background (c) ABR 2016

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Length: 4.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 541 feet

Toilets at the Trailhead: Yes

Fee: Tonto Pass or America the Beautiful Pass

How to Get There

The trailhead is located at the Butcher Jones recreation site, just north of Saguaro Lake. In order to get here, and whether you are coming from the north or south, you will need to get onto Bush Highway. From the north, take the 87 (or Beeline) there and from the south take the 202 to Power Road, which will transition to the Bush Highway.

Yavapai Point at Lake Pleasant

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR 2021

Of these lake hikes near Phoenix, Yavapai point has the most concentrated elevation gain, and you might consider it a micro-summit effort. So, if you prefer hiking with a bit more upward challenge, this trail in Lake Pleasant Regional Park would be my suggestion of the three options.

You can also vary the length of this hike depending on where you start. If you come in from the north entrance of the park, you can make this a quick 3 mile hike. But I do tend to enjoy tacking Pipeline Canyon on and coming up from the south. This will make your hike closer to 5-6 miles, but vary the terrain and give you some amazing views of both the lake and the canyon.

lake hikes near phoenix

The bridge (c) ABR

All that being said, this trail can be difficult to just do on a whim, because (1) the north entrance has limited hours, (2) the bridge at Pipeline may be down. So, you will need to do your research before heading out to make sure that the experience you want will work with the time, water level, and infrastructure operation.

If you are able to hike from Pipeline, you will have the opportunity to take a pretty flat trail that runs above the canyon down towards the water. When you get to Pipeline Cove, if the water level is high and the bridge is down, you will have to turn around. If the water level is low, you will be able to cross on foot. Then you will walk through the desert on the backside of Yavapai, until you take a branch to the right and start your climb. It goes without saying that the view from the top is amazing.

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR 2017

If you come from the north entrance, you can get right to hiking up to the point. Just make sure that it will be open when you plan on getting there. Days are limited and at some points during the year they close as early as 4p, while not opening as early as other entrances either.

Need to Know Information

lake hikes near phoenix

View from the point (c) ABR 2017

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Length: 3 miles RT (or 5-6 miles with Pipeline)

Elevation Gain: 449 ft

Toilets at the Trailhead: Yes

Fee: $7.00 per vehicle; Maricopa County parks fee

How to Get There

In order to get to this trailhead, you will need to take the 74 to Castle Hot Springs road. You will take the road north and either go to the main entrance station on Lake Pleasant Access road or continue to the northern entrance at Cottonwood lane.

Picking The Best Lake Hikes Near Phoenix For You

lake hikes near phoenix

Saguaro Lake (c) ABR 2016

If you are new to all these lakes and all the various hikes, and limited on time, you might be wondering, how can I pick between all these great options? (Assuming they all look as fascinating to you as they did to me). Here is a short list to help you pick which of the lake hikes near Phoenix might be the best option for you.

 

Palo Verde Trail near Bartlett Lake:

(1) Remote and relatively quiet

(2) Amazing views of Four Peaks

 

Butcher Jones near Saguaro Lake:

(1) Rugged and beautiful lake views

(2) Lush Sonoran Desert experience

 

Yavapai Point neat Lake Pleasant:

(1) Nice elevation gain and workout

(2) Possibility of hike alterations with the addition of Pipeline Canyon

Protect Nature and the Trails

lake hikes near phoenix

Bartlett Lakeshore (c) ABR

Arizona and many other places have seen a huge increase in outdoor recreation, particularly in 2020. In many cases, and pretty sadly, this has translated into a HUGE increase in trash and trail side destruction. Whether you are from Arizona or anywhere else in the world, we all need to do our part to love and protect nature. Here are a couple simple ways to do that which you can apply here in AZ or anywhere you hike.

(1) Stay on the Trail

Going off trail kills plants, scares animals, and created “spider trails” which encourage other people to follow the path you’ve blazed. All together this hurts biodiversity and makes the trails less enjoyable for users.

(2) Pack out ALL of your trash

This includes dog and baby waste, as well as toilet paper (if you use some for yourself on the trail). Even little shreds of food packaging are bad for the environment and steal the natural beauty from other hikers. I’d suggest packing a variety of plastic bags that you can safely seal and store different trash needs that you may have. And you can increase your positive impact by picking up other trash you see on the trail (although when it comes to other people’s trash, do not handle any sort of biowaste/toilet paper/etc.). Stay safe first and foremost!

(3) Be fire smart!

We are hugely vulnerable to fire here in Arizona, and more than 80% (!) of our wildfires are human caused. To prevent fire- only target shoot in designated areas with berms (no explosives or metal targets), do not park over dead grasses, do not allow chains to drag from vehicles, and ensure that any fires you light are completely out when you leave the area. Respect fire bans.

Staying Safe Exploring the Lakes of the Sonoran Desert

lake hikes near phoenix

(c) ABR 2021

Another way to have a positive impact on the trail is to keep yourself safe. Rescues are expensive, put rescuers at risk, and obviously, you will be having no fun at that point. Accidents do happen, but you can do a few key things to make sure that you are as safe as can in nature be when you venture out.

Remember that you are your own responsibility and so is your safety. This guide does not guarantee your safety on any of these trails. You need to make sure that you only venture out when the weather is good (not too hot and not stormy) and only if your health is up to it and you are prepared.

BRING WATER. It is not cool to get dehydrated on any hike, but out here it is extremely dangerous. Bring at least a liter with you for the shortest of these hikes and more for the 5-6 mile treks. Bring more than you think you will need! And couple that with a variety of snacks, including salty options.

lake hikes near phoenix

Pipeline Cove (c) ABR 2017

Wear close-toed hiking shoes with good, grippy soles. Even though these are lake hikes, they are in the Sonoran Desert, which is full of prickly things and slippery trails. Your feet and legs need to be in good condition to keep you moving. Protect yourself from the sun and elements otherwise.

Since these are also hikes near water, please keep an eye on your children AT ALL TIMES. Further, keep yourself safe. Do not attempt to enter the water if you cannot swim or the shore is too steep to safely get yourself out. Do not swim alone. Practice all water safety.

You can find more safety tips in our other guides.

More Information on Arizona

lake hikes near phoenix

Lake Pleasant (c) ABR 2017

For more tips and tricks to visiting Arizona, check out our guide to our home state. It is growing all the time!

Save this for later on Pinterest.

Previous

Tom’s Thumb Trail: One of the Best Hiking Trails in Scottsdale, AZ

Next

Bear Mountain Trail: Hiking the Skyline of Sedona, Arizona

2 Comments

  1. Garrett

    I used to hike out at Canyon lake years ago. Is the trail still open? I remember the trail head being accross the street from the marina/ resteraunt??

    • waitingforrain28

      Yes! That trail is still open. I think I have a separate post about the beginning section of that trail- I believe it’s called Boulder Trail (103) off the top of my head.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén