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Arizona lakes

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Did You Know … ?

  • Lake Mead is America’s largest manmade lake based on water volume.
  • Lake Powell has 1,960 miles of shoreline, more than the West Coast of the continental U.S.
  • On Jan. 7, 1971, Hawley Lake reported Arizona’s lowest-recorded temperature — minus 40F.
  • Robert McCulloch, buyer of London Bridge, diverted the Colorado River to position the bridge as he wished.
  • After construction of Glen Canyon Dam, it took 17 years (1963-1980) for Lake Powell to reach its planned level.

Manmade oases

Arizona, in America’s hot and dry Southwest, is known for exactly those characteristics while relatively less known for its lakes. The Southwest, when first occupied by Europeans, already had lakes, as well as rivers.

But, with the growing need to tame waters inclined to flooding and to extract water for agriculture, engineers dammed the rivers. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation lists 17 dams within Arizona or on its state line, including five each on the Colorado and Salt rivers.

The net effect, from the tourist’s standpoint, was a significantly enhanced collection of recreational lakes. In addition, because the riverbeds may be set in canyons or among other diverse natural features, some new lakes took shape with convoluted shorelines and varied landscapes good for wildlife — and for photography. Lakes Mead and Powell are the best and largest examples of this.

In general, tourists can look for recreational lake facilities around Flagstaff, Phoenix, Prescott and Yuma. Others are right at the center of the state, as well as in the White Mountains to the east and along the Colorado River, on the state lines in the west and north.

The largest, Mead and Powell on the Colorado, are bigger than the third largest by a factor of about 15 and hence have the capacity to accommodate millions of visitors annually. Part of Mead is in Nevada and a large part of Powell is in Utah. Powell abuts the Navajo Nation’s lands.

Whether choosing a large or small body of water, visitors have ample choices for recreation, with fishing and boating the most often cited. Some lakes are known for specific fish species and, similarly, boating choices vary by lake, ranging from houseboats or a quiet paddle in a canoe to speedboats or jet skis. Water-based play also includes the likes of parasailing and waterskiing.

Quite a few lakes offer camping and hiking; a few also accommodate biking and horseback riding. Some lakes are in wildlife refuges, but even if not, many lakes and their environs promise good birding and wildlife viewing, either from the water or nearby. Finally, all have the scenery to justify toting the camera.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go ice fishing at Hawley Lake, which is on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. Luna Lake, the centerpiece for the Lake Wildlife Area, is also in the White Mountains and known for ice fishing.
  • Do your parasailing or take a seaplane ride at Lake Havasu.
  • Use time at Mormon Lake in the Flagstaff area for hiking and wildlife viewing, as well as boating activities. In winter, take advantage of the area’s trails for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
  • Go waterskiing on Lake Mead or on Lake Mohave.
  • Swim and camp at the Theodore Roosevelt Lake, a reservoir east of Phoenix created by the Roosevelt Dam.
  • Carry the camera and get a good look at Lake Powell’s impressive reach on an airborne sightseeing tour (by plane or helicopter). Carry the camera anyway.

Things to do for Centrics

  • In summer at Bullhead City, recreation headquarters for Lake Mohave, participate in the town’s annual river regatta for canoers, kayakers and tubers.
  • Get married at Watson Lake, located in the stunning Granite Dells, outside Prescott.
  • At Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, just upstream from Martinez Lake north of Yuma, look for bighorn sheep and mule deer at dawn or dusk as the animals come out to drink water.
  • Take time out for the Colorado River Museum at Davis Camp north of Bullhead City. It is housed in a building originally used by workers building Davis Dam, which created Lake Mohave.
  • Look to the San Carlos Lake and other lakes in the San Carlos Indian Reservation for prime fishing opportunities. Or head to Alamo Lake, in central Arizona northwest of Phoenix, for the bass fishing. Or, make that Woods Canyon Lake at the center of the state for trout fishing — and some kayaking, too.
  • The birding is good near many lakes. Consider Betty’s Kitchen Interpretive Area at Mittry Lake in the Yuma neighborhood. The Mittry Lake Wildlife Area is considered a birding hotspot, and a good one for fishing, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Vacation aboard a houseboat on any of these lakes: Havasu, Mead, Mohave and Powell, all reservoirs on the Colorado River.
  • Take a tour of Hoover Dam, an excursion that takes visitors down 520 feet through solid rock to see the hydroelectric generators turned by the Colorado River. Hoover Dam created Lake Mead.
  • Rent a boat and plot a route that takes you under London Bridge on Lake Havasu.
  • Find serenity in a stone hot tub fed by the natural hot springs found in Roper Lake State Park south of Safford.
  • Take a scenic steamboat tour on Canyon Lake in the Phoenix area. In addition to scenery, look for bighorn sheep, deer, wild boar and various species of birds.
  • Apply the sunscreen and claim your beach time at the lake of your choice.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Arizona Office of Tourism at