Arizona Summer Fun

Saguaro Lake Is Just The Ticket


The scenery constantly changes as you navigate Saguaro Lake. Emily Anderson sits on the dock at the campground upriver and enjoys a view of Four Peaks. 

When the weather starts heating up in Arizona, everyone begins to long for a large body of water to dive into. In an ideal situation, this body of water would also be beautiful and have lots of things to do and to look at.

This pretty much describes Saguaro Lake in a nutshell. Now before I go getting you all excited about Saguaro, let me first tell you that Saguaro is a very popular lake and if you want to find a parking place for your boat trailer, you need to get there early.

Fat Bass Add To Lake's Popularity

One of the reasons for the lake's popularity with bass fishermen is trout. Yup, the Arizona Game and Fish stocks trout in this lake in winter, and when bass eat those trout, they get big and fat. Big and fat is a good thing for a bass. There are many other fish to catch as well - rainbow trout, smallmouth, yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, channel cats, and even walleye.

You needn't worry if you don't have a boat. There is not only great fishing from shore, but you can also rent a boat at the lake. Precision Marine rents runabouts and fishing boats, including pontoon boats. At the Saguaro del Norte Recreation site near the dam (it's the first place you come to when you enter the lake area) there is a marina, a restaurant, a Sheriff's aid station, picnic tables, restrooms, and boat ramps. This is also where you can rent a boat.

Cruise On Belle

One of the most fun things to do at Saguaro is to take a cruise on Desert Belle. The beautiful two-story boat will take you all over the lake for a 90-minute narrated cruise where you'll learn about the history, geology, and wildlife. To get tickets or to learn more, visit their Web site at

It's A Beauty

Saguaro Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona, in my opinion. Soaring cliffs, awesome rock formations, lush vegetation, and fantastic views combine to make this lake a delight for the eyes.

As you travel up the lake, the scenery constantly changes. There are several nice sandy beach areas at the lake as well, and even a campground that you can only access by boat. This campground has a nice dock and pit toilets that are also handy if you aren't camping and just need to take a bathroom break during a fishing trip.

Wildlife Views

One of the things I like most about Saguaro (besides the awesome bass fishing) is the wildlife you can see. Last time we went there we saw bald eagles, woodpeckers, a kingfisher, cardinals, thrashers, cactus wrens, hawks, doves, quail, squirrels, a coyote, canyon wrens, rock wrens, scaups, buffleheads, and ten bighorn sheep.

When you're fishing, you're generally moving slowly down the bank, which allows you to see a lot of things that pleasure boaters may miss because they are just racing up and down the lake. Next time, slow down and look around. You may be amazed at what you can see.

Trail Along The Lake

There is a very easy trail that will take you a couple miles along the lake and across a peninsula to give you access to many fishing spots as well as beautiful views. The trail starts at Butcher Jones Recreation site and ends at the north side of Burro Cove.

The trail was built to provide easier access to shorelines where the fishing habitats have been installed. After you go around Peregrine point, there are several spur trails that lead to the fishing areas. You'll also pass Camper Cove before you reach Burro Cove. It's an out-and-back trail, so you return the same way you came, for a total of just over 2-1/2 miles each way.

If you'd like to add a climb and an extra mile to your hike, take a faint trail that heads west as you go around the first lake arm on the trail. The main trail heads right and back toward the main lake, but if you take this lightly used trail to the left, you will climb up and get a great view of Four Peaks.

Butcher Jones

Why Butcher Jones? Well apparently Dr. W.W. Jones was a doctor back in the day who was a friend of Jacob Waltz (the Lost Dutchman Mine guy). It seems that the good doctor had a hand in a variety of businesses, including mining, ranching, and freighting, and there are stories that he performed surgery on his dining room table. Since his nickname became "Butcher" Jones, it might be fair to assume that he wasn't the best of doctors. At any rate, he did get something named after him.

Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

On the other side of the Stewart Mountain Dam, on the banks of the Salt River, is Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch with 20 cabins. Full ranch breakfast is included with each stay, and you can also purchase sack lunches as well as dinners. While you're there, you can ride horses, kayak on the lake, or tube the river, then relax by a fire under the stars. You can call them at 480-984-2194 or visit their Web site at

Tubing The Salt

Tubing the Salt River is a time-honored way to spend a summer's day. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of childhood is a horrifying sunburn acquired on the Salt River. I'm talking blisters and intense pain. Let that be a warning to you. Do not forget your sunscreen! Also, reapply frequently. You're going to be on the river under the sun for hours.

If you visit you will find that you can tube the Salt for $17 per person or tube. This includes tube rental, shuttle bus service, and free parking. If you don't need to rent a tube, it's $14. Children have to be at least 8 years old and four feet tall.

Some Options

There are several options when it comes to how far you want to float and how long you want to be on the river. There are shuttle bus stops at three different points, and you can choose from 2-hour, 3-hour, or 4-hour float trips. Those times include shuttle bus time and they are approximate, depending on the water flow.

The trip can get rowdy with loud music and hijinks, but you'll meet lots of fun people and you'll see some truly gorgeous scenery. Wear a hat and sunglasses, and maybe even some of that awesome guidewear clothing with UPF built right in.

As I recall, my legs had the worst of the burn, mainly because they were so rarely exposed to the sun. Protect your skin.

About Tonto Passes

You don't need a Tonto Pass if you are parking at Salt River Tubing, but you do need a pass if you are visiting the lake or the Butcher Jones Recreation Area. Passes are $8 per vehicle plus $4 per watercraft. The prices for the Discovery Pass have changed. If you have an Interagency Senior Pass from the National Forest Service, an annual Tonto National Forest Pass (Discovery Pass) is now $60.

Cardinals are all over the place at Saguaro Lake. This one perched o a saguaro to sing for us.

If you are 62 or older, you really need to get one of these Interagency Senior Passes. Visit almost any National Forest office or ranger station and get one for $10. It's good for your lifetime and gets you into National Parks for free - you and up to three people with you. It's good at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish and Wildlife Service sites that charge a fee. It also gives you 50 percent off on things like campground sites.

If you add the $60 yearly senior Tonto Pass, you get into Bartlett, Saguaro, Roosevelt, etc. - all the lakes and sites on the Tonto National Forest for free, with half-price camping. It's a smoking deal, since a day pass for a car and boat is now $12. To find a place where you can buy the Interagency Senior Pass, visit

An Amazing Place To Visit

Saguaro Lake is an amazing place to visit and if you haven't been there yet, plan to visit soon. Whether your thing is hiking, fishing, boating, photography, tubing, horseback riding, or just relaxing in the sun or having a great burger with a view of the lake, Saguaro Lake is just the ticket.


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