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Saguaro Lake is located in the Tonto National Forest within Maricopa County, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. It is a true desert oasis for Valley residents needing some rest and relaxation. The 1,264-acre lake stretches 10 miles long, providing recreational users with 20 miles of scenic shoreline. Driving along its shores, you will be awed by the breathless beauty of the steep cliffs, crystal blue water, and surrounding flora. The lake is named after the Saguaro cactus that is seen throughout the desert landscape.
The Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest forest in North America. It contains almost three million acres of terrain, and boasts a variety of plants due to its variation in altitude, between 1000 and 7900 feet. It is one of the most visited urban-area forests in the nation. The national forest preserves the watersheds and reservoirs contained within its expansive borders.
Saguaro Lake is the last of four reservoirs along the Salt River operated by the Salt River Project. The four reservoirs form a continuous chain of lakes almost 60 miles long. The Project is a cooperative effort between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Salt River Valley Water Users' Association for water supply and electricity generation. Created by construction of the Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930, Saguaro Reservoir provides flood control, irrigation water, hydroelectric generation, and recreation for the Phoenix area. The Dam was named after the Stewart Ranch located nearby.
Saguaro Lake spans out over 1,200 acres when at full operating capacity, with an average depth of about 90 feet. The reservoir provides year round enjoyment with temperatures ranging from 25 - 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The Saguaro Lake Recreation Area, also known as Saguaro del Norte, is located near the dam and includes a marina with a restaurant and boat rentals, boat ramps, a swimming beach, plus picnic and restroom facilities. The Bagley Flat Campground with 30 spaces is accessible only by boat. Because Saguaro Lake has a maximum boating capacity, visitors should arrive early during the busy months from April through October.
Anglers flock to Saguaro Lake for catches of rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow bass, black crappie, sunfish, channel catfish and walleye. The Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks Saguaro Lake with rainbow trout. More than 2,000 fish-habitat structures were installed to enhance lake fishing. According to Bass Master Magazine, the best months for catching trophy bass (12+ pounds) are October to December and February to April.
For landlubbers who want to enjoy Saguaro Lake on foot, the Butcher Jones Trail is a 4-mile hike (2 miles down, 2 miles back) with spectacular views of the lake below. The rocky, narrow trail is of moderate difficulty, generally hugging the shoreline with detours through Saguaro cactus and shade trees. And for serious sports enthusiasts, the Saguaro Lake Triathlon is held in April, with a 1500 meter swim, a 30 mile bike route, and a 5.5 mile trail run. Participants and spectators alike enjoy the post-race celebration.
As you travel around Saguaro Lake and the Tonto National Forest, watch for the incredible variety of flora and fauna. The saguaro, prickly pear, and jumping cholla cactus dot the desert-like terrain. Bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, javelina, black bear, and deer are some of the species that occupy the higher elevations of the forest. Don't forget to look up at the sky and watch for vultures, falcons, eagles, and hawks.
With so much to see and do, there's no doubt that Saguaro Lake is an oasis within the hot desert landscape of Arizona.
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