Saguaro Lake is located within the Tonto National Forest, surrounded by beautiful, jagged cliffs, canyon walls, and cacti forests. The Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline, with recreational amenities for boating, kayaking, sailing, jet skiing, fishing, camping, biking, and hiking.
Featured Image Credit: Garry Wilmore
Facts about Saguaro Lake
- Location: State Route 87, about halfway between Phoenix and the ghost town of Sunflower, just 20 minutes from Mesa, Arizona
- Maximum Depth: 110 ft
- Surface Area: 1,264 acres
- Elevation: 1,506 feet
- Primary Outflow: Salt River
Saguaro Lake Characteristics
Saguaro Lake is the fourth and bottom-most lake into which the Salt River feeds. The lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam, completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. At its deepest point, the lake reaches 110 feet and stretches over 1.9 miles in length.
The lake is divided into two sections, which are joined together by narrows that stretch between the canyon walls. The lower portion has the greater water surface area, while the narrower east end has boat access camping at Bagley Flat Campground. An 82-decibel engine noise restriction applies to all water activities.
Stewart Mountain Dam
Built between 1928 and 1930, located 41 miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, the Stewart Mountain Dam is 1,260 feet long and 207 feet high, housing a 13,000-kilowatt hydroelectric generating unit. Saguaro Lake was formed; as a result of the dam’s construction, as it slowed the flow of the Salt River in Maricopa County, Arizona. The dam was named after a ranch that used to be located nearby, known as the Old Stewart Ranch.
After the dam’s completion, an original camp house was turned into the Saguaro Lake Ranch, located by Saguaro Lake, on the banks of the Salt River. Horseback riding, kayak, and tube rentals can be found at the Guest Ranch.
Boat ramps, fishing pavilions, swimming, and picnic tables are available at the Saguaro Lake Marina and various other locations around the lake and surrounding areas. Camping at the lake is available, but only by boat. Campsites can be set up on any of the shores except the Butcher Jones trail and beach.
Butcher Jones Trail winds along the eastern shore of Saguaro Lake, beginning just north of the lake’s beach. The 5.8-mile round-trip trail has minimal elevation changes and offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and lake. The trail ends at a popular fishing spot named Burro Cove.
Credit: William Herron
Saguaro Del Norte Recreation Site, near the dam, hosts the Lake Marina, Saguaro Vista Interpretative Trail, and public boat launch ramps. Saguaro Lake fishing spots are some of the best in the state of Arizona. For boating, a Tonto Daily Pass and Watercraft Sticker or Tonto Discovery Pass are required.
Fishing can be done from various locations on the lake, from shorelines, grass mats, river channel drop-offs, rock piles, cuts, and points. Fishing activities require a fishing license at Saguaro Lake and can be purchased with Arizona Game and Fish.
Saguaro Lake Marina
A unique way to experience the lake is to book an 80-minute educational and entertaining narrated cruise aboard the Desert Belle Cruises. The Desert Belle, a two-story paddlewheel boat, has been cruising the lake’s waters since 1964. Additional live music, wine, and craft beer tours can be booked. Arizona’s beautiful and exotic wildlife can be spotted along these guided tours, along with towering canyon walls and dramatic desert vistas.
At the ShipRock Lakeshore Restaurant, diners can enjoy panoramic views of Saguaro Lake, Bulldog Cliffs, and the Goldfield Mountains. With indoor and outdoor seating and live music, there are a variety of dining and entertainment options.
Precision Marine provides boat, kayak, and canoe rentals for day and overnight use. No Animals, B.B.Q.s, or glass containers are allowed on the boat rentals. Precision Marine provides boat repair and maintenance services in the Saguaro Lake Marina. Precision Marine also houses the Ship’s Store, which carries bait, tackle, and marine and boating supplies. All boating activities require passes to the Tonto National Forest.
Credit: Kevin Dooley
Saguaro Lake is stocked with fish varieties that include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow bass, bluegill, carp, crappie, rainbow trout, walleye, and channel catfish.
Many types of other wildlife can be spotted on and around the lake, including many birds, such as bald eagles, hawks, vultures, blue herons, woodpeckers, cactus wrens, cardinals, thrashers, and quail. Along the cliffs and canyons, it may be possible to spot various other animals that call the lake home, including bighorn sheep, deer, coyotes, bobcats, wild horses, and mountain lions.
Credit: Patrick Finnegan
Can you camp at Saguaro Lake?
Bagley Flat Campground is a boat-in-only campsite at Saguaro Lake. While this campground is open year-round, has grills and picnic tables, and is a short distance from shore fishing, it is also a pack-it-in and pack-it-out area. So, make plans for hauling out your trash.
Are there wild horses at Saguaro Lake?
Wild horses may be seen along the lake shore when they emerge from the desert and cacti forests to cool off in the water and feed on plants and grasses.
Are there fees to get into Saguaro Lake?
Vehicle permits may be purchased, admitting one vehicle and all of its passengers. Individual permits for walking or biking may be purchased for a lesser fee.
Can you swim in Saguaro Lake?
Water testing on Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake is done routinely, with results showing that the water is safe for swimming.
What is the water level of Saguaro Lake?
Current water levels for Arizona lakes, including Saguaro Lake, can be found at https://www.azgfd.com/fishing/lakesrivers
How high are the cliffs at Saguaro Lake?
6 to 40 feet high.