Destination: Bartlett Lake

This Lake Has Something For Everyone


September 15, 2014

Margie Anderson

Fishing With A View

Editor's Note: We were so sorry to hear of the Sept. 11 fire above Bartlett Lake Marina but join the Church family in emphasizing that the lower facilities are all open and waiting for you. Also, on your way in, please take note of the new restaurant that will soon welcome guests to a beautiful dining experience.

I've been visiting Bartlett Lake since before the road was paved all the way in. Back then, we'd go out at night many times during the summer because the night fishing at Bartlett was (and still is) awesome. We saw coatimundis, Gila Monsters, mule deer, and raccoons. Occasionally the tarantulas would be on the move, and we would see hundreds of them marching along in the dark.

Everything Outdoors By Boat

If you like birding, fishing, boating, hiking, camping, or wildlife watching, Bartlett is the ideal destination for you. A boat is a great way to see tons of birds and animals at Bartlett. From our boat I've seen bighorn sheep on the yellow cliffs, mule deer, otters in the river and behind the marina, bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, hawks, and both kinds of Arizona vultures: turkey vultures and black vultures.

Besides the huge variety of animals you can see, the shorelines of Bartlett are gorgeous as well. Right now, since we've had so much rain lately, the mountainsides are lush and green. In the spring there are wildflowers, and there are multitudes of saguaros. They are lovely when they are in bloom (April-June), and once they fruit (late June), they will be covered with hungry birds.

I like to get out of the boat now and then and let the dog run around, but I keep her on her leash because we've seen many rattlesnakes. One day we were walking around on the shore opposite the marina and we came across a Gila Monster that was just basking in the sun. We didn't bother him and he didn't bother us. He was beautiful! We often spot quail and javelina – another reason to keep a curious and birdy French Brittany on a lead.

No Boat? No Problem

If you don't have your own boat, there is a full service marina at Bartlett that rents out pontoon boats, ski boats, jet skis, paddle boards, and even a 45-foot party boat. What a great way to see the lake! The marina also has a dock store and a convenience store, a full service fuel dock and pump-out station, bait, apparel, fishing supplies, Tonto Passes, and clean public and private restrooms. You can contact them at (602) 316-3378. When you call, you might want to also ask about their Boat Club - an excellent way to have a boat available for you without the cost of ownership.

Birding Is Fabulous

The birding at Bartlett is fabulous, especially in the winter. I've even seen loons there in winter. Phainopeplas, canyon wrens, rock wrens, Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, and many other species are year-round residents. There are so many birds that I can't even begin to list them here. The Tonto National Forest has a list that you can access at

Again, a boat is an ideal way to go bird watching – the birds seem to be so used to boats that they don't spook at all. We've actually had cactus wrens, a pelican, and hummingbirds come into the boat with us!

Ah, The Otters!

The otters are a rare treat. In all the years I've been going to Bartlett I've seen them just three times. The first time was way down in the river end. It had been raining a lot so we wanted to see how the river looked. It was muddy as all get out, and when we first saw the otters we couldn't believe our eyes.

Up 'til then, I hadn't known we even had otters in Arizona. I saw them once again briefly on some rocks along the S-curve, and then in early September we saw three of them in the little cove behind the boats in the marina. John chirped at them, and all three of them climbed out on the rocks and started chirping back at him!

And, Of Course, There's Fantastic Fishing

The fishing at Bartlett is always worth the trip. We like to start out with topwater baits like buzzbaits or poppers first thing in the morning. Later on when the topwater bite fades, we start dragging drop shots, split shots, jigs, or worms down points and ledges.

The bass at Bartlett relate to rocks for the most part. We have also caught plenty of big crappie at Bartlett on small peahead jigs with very small Power Grubs, mostly chartreuse and/or root beer. For the crappie, just watch your graph. They are all over the lake.

Catfish are also abundant at Bartlett. The big flatheads like to eat other fish, and in fact, one that weighed nearly 77 pounds was caught near the yellow cliffs in April of 2013. It took a live 2-pound carp. We've pulled big ones in on plastic worms! You can also try various kinds of stink baits.

Easy To Get To

Bartlett is easy to get to, and it's only 20 miles east of Carefree. From Carefree, take the Cave Creek Road/Forest Road (FR) 24 to the Bartlett Road/FR 19 junction. Turn right on this paved highway; it is 13 miles to the reservoir.

Great Place For Casual Camping

Camping at Bartlett is casual – there are areas at SB Cove and Bartlett Flat where you can pitch a tent or park an RV, but there are no potable water, no hook-ups, and only vault and portable toilets.

Bartlett Flat

To get to Bartlett Flat, turn left onto FR 459 just before the entrance to the main boat ramp and parking lot at the lake. Continue on FR 459 (a paved, low-speed road) for 3 miles, then for an additional ½-mile on an unpaved road to the site. You'll pass the SB site on the way. The road to SB is paved all the way.

RVs are allowed, but the ranger suggests you check it out before you bring your rig out. Weather can change the terrain quite a bit, and all the camping areas are dirt.

Rattlesnake Cove

The Rattlesnake Cove site is a day-use area with a fishing dock, picnic tables, shade, etc. Any size RV is fine there because the parking lot is paved, but you can't camp there overnight. At SB Cove, the ranger recommends a 16-foot limit on trailers and RVs. At the Yellow Cliffs area he says you can often park up to a 32-foot RV, but again, check before you venture in.

JoJoba Site

The Jojoba site has a boat ramp as well as dispersed camping. All of the camping areas have a 14-day stay limit, and the only fee is the $6/per day per vehicle Tonto fee. A boat trailer is $4 more, but a camping trailer is considered part of the vehicle so you don't have to pay any extra.

Tonto Pass

You have to have the Tonto Pass displayed on your vehicle. You can get passes at many stores in Phoenix, online at, at the marina, and at the Ranger Station.

If you are 62 or over, your best option is to buy the lifetime pass for $10, then get the yearly Tonto Pass sticker for only $15 more. It's an incredible bargain. If you pull a boat, three visits pays you back and then some. You can get those online or at the Ranger Station.

Handicapped Accessible

All permanent restroom facilities are handicapped accessible. The fishing dock located in Rattlesnake Cove is fully accessible during high water and is equipped with lighting for night fishing. Courtesy docks at both ramps are accessible; however side rails are not available. The marina is also fully accessible.


Margie Anderson

Good Catch: Bartlett Bass

For $9 you can get a map of the Tonto National Forest that shows camping and recreation sites for six lakes: Bartlett, Horseshoe, Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt. It includes Forest Service Roads (FR) and trails. You can get one at the Forest Supervisor's Office 2324 E. McDowell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85006. Call them at (602) 225-5200.

Now Is A Great Time

This is the ideal time of year to visit Bartlett. The weather will soon begin to cool down, the winter birds will start arriving, and the fishing will be fabulous. See you there!

(By the way, the Allens told me that Bartlett Lake was the ideal spot for their granddaughter's 18th birthday party in August. She and her friends were enthusiastic about the aqua lodges, the pontoon boats, the party boat, the staff at the marina, and overall, their fantastic time on the lake.)


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