14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Hot summer days + refreshing water = endless fun!

There are few things more relaxing than a lake vacation. The US and Canada are chock-full of scenic lakes from Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Lake George in New York to Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the Southwest to Okanagan Lake and Lake Osoyoos in southern Canada. And we specifically wanted to hone in on the best lakes as a way to help travelers pinpoint exactly where to aim their RV for their next lake vacation. 

Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some lakes offer wide sandy beaches and others expansive mountain views and hiking trails. You can visit these lakes all year round but the spring, summer, and fall are the best times to go for outdoor sports like boating, fishing, and swimming. Winter can also provide some beautiful views especially if you’re a snowbird in the Sunbelt states.

Head out to your nearest lake to enjoy any of these outdoor activities or opt for one of these suggested best lakes from coast to coast.

Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake George, New York

The place to be in the Lake George region is on the 32-mile long lake, considered by some to be the most beautiful in the U.S. Lake George checks off all the boxes of what you’d look for in a typical lake retreat—hiking, boating, camping, shopping, dining, and lodging options set the lake apart not to mention those one-of-a-kind views. And, the many water-based activities in the area are one of the best ways to enjoy it. From water skiing and jet skiing to rafting and kayaking, you’ll find it all on Lake George.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant, Arizona

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley regional park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Lake Wawasee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Wawasee, Indiana

There are seven lakes in and around the town of Syracuse with more than 3,500 acres of water making it a water lover’s paradise. Lake Wawasee, the largest of these lakes, is the largest natural lake in Indiana. Lake Wawasee hosts the state-owned Wawasee Family Fishing Site. Located on the southeast shores, opportunities to fish, picnic, and relax in the outdoors await you. Several local marinas are also available; you can rent a fishing boat, pontoon boat, or jet skis at several locations on the lake.

Sand Hollow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow, Utah

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in the modern campground.

Quail Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Lake, Utah

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well.

Okanagan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Lake, British Columbia

Stunning Okanagan Lake spans 84 miles from north (Vernon) to the south (Penticton). Kelowna sits just about halfway and the east and west sides of the lake are connected by the five-lane William R. Bennett Bridge. Okanagan Lake is known for its beaches with over 30 throughout the region. Many beaches are equipped with playgrounds, concessions, and bathrooms. Enjoy the lake from a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), wake boat, sailboat, pedal boat, charter boat, flyboard, kayak, or canoe. Okanagan Lake’s water temperature in July averages 69-71 degrees F.

Elephant Butte Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Utah Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.

Alamo Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, Arizona

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. The area has good wildlife viewing opportunities and you may spot a bald or golden eagle. Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest, and relaxation. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year-round including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. The campgrounds offer a variety of amenities including 15 full-hookup sites. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead, Nevada

Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes. See the Hoover Dam from the waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mohave or find solitude in one of the park’s nine wilderness areas. This national recreation area, just minutes from Las Vegas offers Joshua trees, slot canyons, and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way. A national park where the rocks are as red as fire and the mountains are purple majesties!

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah

It’s not often that man creates something of such extraordinary natural beauty but that’s Lake Powell. This man-made lake’s warm blue waters wind through red sandstone cliffs filling more than 90 side canyons. Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches up into southern Utah. It’s part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground. Rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging. Nearby, take the view of one such canyon with the sandstone Rainbow Bridge, regarded as the world’s longest natural arch.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake, Arizona

A true Arizona gem, Patagonia Lake State Park lies in the gently rolling hills of southern Arizona and is renowned as a great spot to fish for bass or catfish. This beautiful destination offers RV and tent camping, overnight cabins, and boat-in campsites. Plus, the surrounding trails connect to Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. If you’re looking for a day trip or weekend adventure, this park will take your breath away.

Osoyoos Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos Lake, Washington and British Columbia

14-mile-long Osoyoos Lake is the southern-most chain of lakes along the Okanogan River. Osoyoos Lake is known as the warmest lake in Canada averaging approximately 75 degrees F in July and August. Derived from the word sẁiẁs meaning “narrowing of the waters” in the local Okanagan language (Syilx’tsn), Osoyoos Lake is surrounded by desert landscape, vineyards, orchards, hills, and mountains. Osoyoos Lake can be accessed in Washington State at Lake Osoyoos State Park, a 47-acre camping park.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape. Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. There are a variety of activities and businesses at Saguaro Lake. Rent a boat from Precision Marine, have a meal at the ShipRock Restaurant, and take a delightful tour on the Desert Belle. Saguaro Lake is a jewel in the middle of the Arizona desert.

Where will your summer adventures take you?

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

The Best RV Camping July 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in July camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in July. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in May and June.

Smokiam RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smokiam RV Resort, Soap Lake, Washington

Smokiam RV Resort has undergone a full renovation with new premium big rig friendly RV sites, remodeled restrooms/shower facilities, renovated playground area, new cabin rentals, Tepee rentals, a sandy beach with a new dock and watercraft rentals, a renovated clubhouse for groups/events/adults and families, new café and espresso bar, a new miniature golf course, and 900 feet of sandy beach. Our site, D-3, is one of the ten new premium pull-through sites facing Soap Lake. These sites are extra long and extra wide designed for RVs up to 45 feet in length. 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Soap Lake is a unique mineral lake, world-renowned as “nature’s spa”.  One of only two similar lakes in the world, its waters have the most diverse mineral content of any body of water on earth and have long been believed to have healing properties. 

RV Park at Rolling Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino and Resort, Corning, California

The RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino is an easy-on, easy-off (I-5; Exit 628) 96-space RV park with long pull-through sites (up to 75 feet in length) with 30/50 amp-electric service, water, and sewer conveniently located. All spaces are pull-through. Wi-Fi access is available over most of the park. The RV Park is within an easy walk of the Casino and golf course. Laundry facilities are available nearby at the Traveler’s Clubhouse. The site is safe and secure with the 24-hour patrol.

Ambassador RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho

Ambassador RV Resort is a 5-star resort that is easy-on, easy off (I-84 at Exit 29) with 188 full-service sites, pool, spa, sauna, and 5,000 square foot recreation hall. Features 30-foot x 85-foot short term pull-through sites, 35-foot x 75-foot long term pull through sites, 45-foot x 60-foot back-in sites and wide-paved streets. Pets are welcome if friendly and owner is well trained.

Located near Idaho’s wine country and convenient to the Boise metro area, the Ambassador is the perfect home base for all your activities.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky

Whispering Hills RV Park is nestled in the heart of horse country in Georgetown, north of Lexington. The park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129. Whispering Hills offers 230 full-service sites including nine new premium pull-through sites in the 70-90 foot range. Amenities include a swimming pool, basketball court, laundry facility, book exchange, fishing pond, bathhouses, picnic tables, and fire rings at most sites. Our pull-through site was in the 60-foot range. Most back-in sites tend to be considerably shorter and slope downward. Interior roads and sites are gravel.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Morristown, Arizona

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Cedar Pass Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Cedar Pass Campground has 96 level sites with scenic views of the badlands formations. Enjoy the stunning sunsets, incredible night skies, and breathtaking sunrises from the comfort of your RV. Camping in Cedar Pass Campground is limited to 14 days. The campground is open year-round with limited availability in the winter season. Due to fire danger, campfires are not permitted in this campground, and collection of wood is prohibited. However, camp stoves or contained charcoal grills can be used in campgrounds and picnic areas.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Island, South Carolina

Edisto Beach State Park offers access to the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It also provides access to the saltwater marsh and creeks. An environmental education center highlights the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin. The trails wind through Edisto Island’s maritime forest of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees. During your walk, you may see white-tailed deer, osprey, or alligators. 112 RV and tent camping sites with water and 20/30/50 amp electrical service is available ocean-side and near the salt marsh. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available for park guests near the office area and in the Wi-Fi room located adjacent to the office.

Jamaica Beach RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamaica Beach RV Resort, Galveston, Texas

Jamaica Beach RV Resort is across the street from the beach on Galveston Island with wide-open views of the Gulf. The park offers 181 pull-through sites with full hookups, concrete pads, a picnic table at every site, and all-inclusive amenities like a 700-foot-long lazy river. Other park amenities include a relaxing beach pool, family pool, indoor infinity hot tub, outdoor hot tub, splash pad, 3 laundry facilities, 3 shower houses, and pickleball courts.

Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Tennessee

Formally known as River Plantation, Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge is located along the Little Pigeon River in eastern Tennessee. The park is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the popular attractions of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Big rig friendly, guests can choose from a selection of modern and spacious, full hookup RV sites that include concrete pads, a fire ring, and a picnic table. Our back-in site was in the 75-foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and Cable TV centrally located. Amenities include a swimming pool with hot tub, basketball court, game room, fitness center, outdoor pavilion, fenced-in Bark Park, and dog washing station.

iRVin’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

iRVin’s RV Park & Campground, Valemont, British Columbia

Big-rig friendly with pull-through sites in the 70-foot range, iRVin’s RV Park & Campground is a 5-star park with full-service sites including water, sewer, and electric power (choice of 30 or 50 amps). The park is nestled in the Robson Valley with a 360-degree mountain view, a quiet place where deer wander by occasionally. Wi-Fi worked well from our site (#27). No problem locating satellite. Conveniently located one mile north of Valemont on Highway 5 en route to Alaska and an hour from Mount Robson and Jasper National Park.

Worth Pondering…

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

—Yogi Berra

Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert

With more than 23,000 acres of water and beautiful desert landscape, Lake Pleasant is one of the most scenic recreation areas in the Valley

The desert is parched and grows little but cactus. Except for roadrunners outwitting coyotes, the desert supports no wildlife. Arizona residents and seasoned snowbirds have heard it all before from first-time visitors. Sometimes they just smile and head for Lake Pleasant.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away amid rolling hills just 30 miles north of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a sudden and dramatic escape. This expansive playground combines all the things we love about the desert—endless sunshine, rising mountains, saguaro-clad slopes, and waves of spring wildflowers—with the addition of unexpected water. For outdoor enthusiasts, this 23,000-acre park is a dream destination.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

­­Lake Pleasant History

In the mid-1920s, the Waddell Dam confined the waters of the Agua Fria River as a private irrigation project. The dam originally was named after Carl Pleasant, the engineer who designed it. The completion of the New Waddell Dam in 1994 turned Lake Pleasant into a major storage facility for Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The new dam tripled the size of the lake and submerged the old dam. Pleasant is the second-largest reservoir in central Arizona, behind only Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Water is pumped into the lake via the CAP canal during winter and is released during spring and summer to meet higher demands.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Fishing

A dozen fish species swim in Lake Pleasant. Those fishing from shore generally goes after catfish, sunfish, and carp. From a boat, anglers can explore coves, channels, and deep holes. The lake is a popular spot for largemouth bass, striped bass, and Arizona’s only population of white bass. Others that might end up on a line include tilapia, bluegill, bigmouth buffalo fish, and white and black crappie.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boat Ramps and Marinas

A 10-lane boat ramp helps keep the traffic flowing onto the water even during busy times. There also is a four-lane ramp at the north end of the lake.

Never fear if you don’t have a boat. You can rent just about anything that floats at Scorpion Bay Marina. Hourly and daily rentals include pontoons, fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks, and other water toys. The marina has a general store and the Scorpion Bay Grill with indoor and patio dining.

Located on the southeastern shore outside the regional park Pleasant Harbor Marina has two four-lane boat ramps, boat rentals, a waterside restaurant, and daily cruises. Look for the world’s largest floating water slide to reopen for the season in late spring. The RV resort has more than 300 full and partial hook-up sites as well as dry camping. There is a $6 entry fee per vehicle for everyone visiting Pleasant Harbor Marina.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Hiking Trails

Landlubbers will have plenty to keep them busy. A network of hiking trails spreads across the park some tracing the shore while others explore surrounding desert hills. It’s always fascinating to witness this contrast—groves of saguaros standing guard over a large body of water. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some hiking options. All mileages are one way.

Beardsley Trail (4.1 miles): This is the longest Lake Pleasant trail as it traverses open desert parallel to South Park Road before it junctions with the epic, county-circling Maricopa Trail

Pipeline Canyon Trail (2 miles): This trail highlights the best display of spring wildflowers with the heaviest concentration stretching from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadrunner Trail (0.8 miles): It follows the water’s edge connecting the Discovery Center with the 10-lane boat ramp

Wild Burro Trail (2 miles): It’s so named because it provides the best chance to see some of the park’s long-eared residents

Yavapai Point (1.5 miles): The trail makes a moderate climb to the crest of a hill at the edge of the water that offers some impressive views

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnic Areas

Picnickers will find numerous covered ramadas and tables dotting the landscape. Day-use areas include tables, grills, drinking water, and restrooms. The Sunset Ridge Area sits atop a hill with commanding views of the lake. It has 21 picnic sites with tables, grills, and a porta-john.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discovery Center and Playground

In 2016, the original dam observation/visitor center building was expanded and given a stylish update. The Discovery Center now offers visitors a good introduction to the lake with exhibits on history, wildlife, plant communities, and information on upcoming events. Spotting scopes and signs on the balcony help you identify points of interest that range from features of the dam to the distant ridge of Four Peaks. Children will love the adjacent playground filled with animal-themed slides and swings. The Discovery Center is now open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, until further notice.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Lake Pleasant

Imagine starry nights or the light of a full moon shimmering on the water. Snag a campsite to enjoy that show. Lake Pleasant offers 148 sites for RV and tent camping spread across the Desert Tortoise and Roadrunner campgrounds. Campsites cost $15-$40 per night, depending on amenities.

Developed sites have water, electricity, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. Sites can be reserved up to six months in advance at maricopacountyparks.org or by calling 602-506-2930.

Primitive camping is allowed along much of the shoreline in such areas as Two Cow and Fireman’s coves. Locations change with fluctuating water levels. Park staff can provide more details.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Location: From central Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to the Carefree Highway (SR-74) exit. Drive 15 miles west, then turn north on Castle Hot Springs Road.

Park Elevation: 1,700 feet

Surface Water: 10,000 acres

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle.

Campsite Rates: $22-$32

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Try these outdoors camping getaways in the Valley of the Sun. Here’s how!

There is no winter like a Sonoran Desert winter. It’s a great time for a little adventure in the outdoors. People travel from all over the world to experience the desert’s 70-degree sun-filled winter days. And you can enjoy them, too? So why not pack up the RV and hit the road?

For a Valley getaway, look no farther than a Maricopa County Regional Park. Don’t just go for a day hike or a bike ride. Spend a week instead. Or two weeks! Revel in the mild days and roast marshmallows over a campfire on a cool star-laden night.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that’s a getaway worth heading to Phoenix for.

Camping in Maricopa County Regional Parks

Six Maricopa County Regional Parks have campgrounds suitable for RVs:

  • Cave Creek Regional Park
  • Estrella Mountain Regional Park
  • Lake Pleasant Regional Park
  • McDowell Mountain Regional Park
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park
  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks Camping Reservations and Fees

Developed campsites in each park include such amenities as water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring. Restrooms offer flush toilets and hot showers.

You can reserve a site up to six months in advance starting on the first day of each month. To do that online, go to maricopacountyparks.org.

Phone reservations can be made by calling 602-506-2930 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Payment in full is required and there’s an $8 reservation fee.

Developed sites are $32 per night; semi-developed sites are $22. Primitive camping (only at Lake Pleasant) is $15. There are also some shaded RV sites for $40. 

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things To Do When You Get There

Once you’ve got your camp set up, get out and explore your home away from home. Put aside tablets and phones and reconnect to wide-open spaces. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. Keep an eye open for wildlife, especially during the prime hours around dawn and dusk when critters are most active.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parks lifted their annual fire ban on December 1, allowing visitors to build campfires in designated rings and receptacles. For many, the friendly warmth and flickering light of a fire is the highlight of camping. But if you’re there to be amazed by a galaxy of stars away from city lights, it’s better to forgo the fire and enjoy the clear night sky.

Just don’t forget your hiking shoes. Each park offers plenty of opportunities to spend quiet time walking around outside.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

This 2,922-acre park which is located north of Phoenix sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. This desert oasis provides any hiker and equestrian majestic views. Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 11-miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to 5.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike the Slate Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a longer, more difficult hike, try the 5.8-mile Go John Trail. 

Camping at Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground consists of 55 campsites for tent or RV camping. The average site size is 40 feet; however, pull through sites may accommodate up to a 60-foot RV with water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes seasonal wetland or riparian area. The majority of the park remains pristine desert. Estrella Park offers over 33 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park Trails range in length from 2.3 miles to 8.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. If you are looking for an easy hike, the 2.4 mile Baseline Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a long, all day hike, the Pederson Trail encompasses 8.7 miles.

Camping space is at a premium at Estrella Mountain which offers only seven sites. Each site is developed and can accommodate a 45-foot RV.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

At Lake Pleasant anglers will be eager to drop a line. The lake is a popular spot for largemouth bass, striped bass, and Arizona’s only population of white bass. Or rent a kayak at Scorpion Bay Marina. Pontoons and fishing boats are also available for rent. Landlubbers have a variety of hiking trails to choose from. At 4.1 miles, Beardsley is the longest as it rambles through open desert before it junctions with the epic Maricopa Trail. Yavapai Point (1.5 miles) makes a moderate climb to the crest of a hill at the edge of the water that offers impressive views. Snaking along the shoreline, Wild Burro Trail (2 miles) is so named because it provides the best chance to see some of the park’s long-eared residents.

Lake Pleasant has 148 developed and semi-developed (no hookups) sites with nearby restrooms and showers. There’s even boat-in camping for those who would like to spend the night on the water.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40-miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5-miles to 15.3-miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Those looking for an easy hike should try the North Trail at 3.1 miles. Those looking for a good workout should try the Pemberton at 15.3-miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated.

Camping at McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park derives its name from King Usery, a rancher turned rustler and stagecoach robber. Whatever you think of his moral choices, spend some time hiking in this park in the East Valley and you’ll admit the man knew a good hideout. Most people visit Usery to hike up the flank of Pass Mountain to the Wind Cave, a scooped-out alcove where seeping water irrigates a hanging garden of plant life. Views are exquisite from the high perch. If you prefer to stay on more level ground, the Blevins Trail makes a 3-mile loop through picturesque desert.

Camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Anchoring the far western edge of the Valley is White Tank Mountain Regional Park. At nearly 30,000 acres, the largest Maricopa County regional park is spread across the desert lowlands and sharp-rising peaks of the White Tank Mountains. With 40 miles of hiking trails rambling across the landscape, visitors will find a perfect blend of scenery and solitude. The most popular hike is the nearly mile-long Waterfall Canyon Trail that leads to a pool in a narrow box canyon. There are other short easy pathways but a true White Tank specialty is the series of long lanky trails that twist into the backcountry away from the crowds. Put together a moderate loop by combining Mesquite Canyon and Willow Canyon trails.

Camping at White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Amenities include water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers.

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

There is no winter like a desert winter. It’s a great time for an adventure in the outdoors.

Snowbirds travel south to experience the Valley’s 70-degree sun-filled January and February days. And locals enjoy them, too!

Look no farther than a Maricopa County Regional Park. Go for a day hike or a bike ride or a week of camping and revel in the mild days of a Sonoran Desert winter.

Maricopa County Parks

Maricopa County is home to one of the largest regional parks systems in the US with over 120,000 acres of open space parks that include hundreds of miles of trails, campgrounds, and nature centers. Currently, there are 12 regional parks in the system visited by over 2.5 million people annually. Whether you’re planning on hiking, enjoying the scenic Sonoran Desert views on horseback, or peddling up a trail on a mountain bike, the parks offer a variety of opportunities for all types of users, ages, and comfort levels. This pristine Sonoran Desert park system includes the following parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe Dam Regional Park

Sitting at the base of the Hedgepeth Hills in north Phoenix, this park offers recreationists the opportunity to participate in activities that require ample space. Adobe Dam Regional Park consists of approximately 1,514 acres of park land—761 acres which have been developed. Unlike the rest of the County’s regional park system, Adobe Dam is known as a place where families can congregate to enjoy a multitude of concessionaire recreational activities.

From central Phoenix, take I -17 north to the Pinnacle Peak exit. Go west on Pinnacle Peak to 43rd Avenue.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buckeye Hills Regional Park

Consisting of 4,474 acres of natural desert, the park is located in the southwest Valley. Enjoy the rolling hills of pristine Sonoran Desert with beautiful views of the Gila River riparian area. Buckeye Hills Regional Park has restrooms but there is no running water or electricity available in the park. Facilities at the regional park include 50 picnic tables, cooking grills, two large armadas, and a small shooting range at the southern end of the area.

From central Phoenix, take I-10 west to US 85 south. Buckeye Hills Regional Park will be on the west side of US 85, just south of the Town of Buckeye and the Gila River.​​

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

This 2,922-acre park which is located north of Phoenix sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 11-miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to 5.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. The family campground consists of 55 campsites. The average site size is 40 feet; however, pull through sites may accommodate up to a 60-foot RV with water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Hwy (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel east to 32nd St. (7 miles). Turn north on 32nd St. to the Cave Creek Regional Park entrance.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes seasonal wetland or riparian area. Amenities include a 65-acre grass picnic area. Estrella Mountain Park offers over 33 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park Trails range in length from 2.3 miles to 8.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The park offers seven RV sites. Each site will accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. 

From central Phoenix, take I-10 west to Estrella Parkway exit. Travel south to Vineyard Ave. Turn east on Vineyard Ave. to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park entrance on the south side.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hassayampa River Preserve

At Hassayampa River Preserve you may see any one of the 280 species of birds along the riparian corridor. Perched atop the massive trees are some of Arizona’s rarest raptors including Harris hawk. On your walk, a brilliant vermilion flycatcher might catch your eye. The Preserve consists of approximately 770 acres along the Hassayampa River south of Wickenburg. In 2017, The Nature Conservancy entered into an agreement with Maricopa County to manage the Hassayampa River Preserve.

Head west on Carefree Hwy (AZ-74) to US-60. Turn right onto US-60 W. Travel approximately 6.2 miles.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

A scenic water recreation area, this northwest Valley park is a recreationist’s dream. The 23,362 acre park offers camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers two boat launching ramps. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 148 camping sites.

Directions: ​From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Highway (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel west 15 miles to Castle Hot Spring Road. Travel north to entrance.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40-miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5-miles to 15.3-miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The park offers two picnic areas totaling 88 picnic sites. McDowell Mountain offers a campground with 76 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring.

From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Beeline Highway (SR 87). Continue northeast on SR 87 to Shea Blvd. Travel west on Shea Blvd. to Saguaro Blvd.; turn north. Continue through Town of Fountain Hills to Fountain Hills Blvd; turn right and travel four miles to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park entrance.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

This southeast Valley park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. Goldmine Mountain is located in the northern area with a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment in the southern portion of the park. The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forest. San Tan Mountain Regional Park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Turn west on Phillips Road to entrance. 

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

The newest addition to Maricopa County’s Parks System, the conservation area encompasses 2,154 acres of diverse, rugged upper Sonoran Desert. The north Valley location contains archaeology sites and lush riparian areas along Cave Creek. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area offers over seven miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.2 miles to 4.6 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult.

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is located approximately 35 miles north of central Phoenix. Interstate 17, State Route 51, and Loop 101 can all be used to reach the park.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Usery Mountain Regional Park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring.

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valleys west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 30 miles of shared-use trails ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles and difficulty from easy to strenuous. In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. The park offers a campground with 40 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park is located at the very west end of Olive Ave about 15 miles west of the 101 (Agua Fria Highway).

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! Where to See the Best Blooms?

Weather brings spring wildflowers to add desert color

Spring-like weather has arrived in the desert a little later than normal this year but it comes bearing gifts. After a rainy and snowy winter, warmer temperatures are triggering a profusion of wildflowers.

The flowers of the Sonoran Desert are a splash of color and passion. While almost entirely absent last year, they are out in force this season. This is a time to revel in satiny sun and balmy breezes and go looking for them. It’s a show you don’t want to miss. Here are some places to admire those soft, ground-level fireworks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

First, let’s establish a few rules so everyone can enjoy this season’s bounty.

1. Don’t pick wildflowers. They won’t last long enough to see a vase. They’ll die very soon after being plucked and then all their hard work of sprouting, growing, and blooming was for naught. Leave them for others to enjoy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

2. Stay on trails and watch where you step. There could be small seedlings all around. And for goodness’ sake, do not wade out into a field and trample the flowers, thus ruining them for everyone, just so you can snag a selfie. Take all photos from the pathways.

3. Don’t dawdle. Peak colors at any one location may last from a few days to two weeks. If you hear about a wildflower bonanza, track it down. The beauty may be ephemeral but your memories will last for years.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The wildflower population appeared spotty at Usery Mountain Regional Park until moisture-laden storms in February changed the equation. Suddenly hillsides were streaked with color. Poppies, primrose, lupines, rock daisies, fairy dusters, and the flame-orange tips of ocotillo added drama to mountains that already exhibit plenty on their own.

The Userys gain enough elevation to afford stunning views back toward Phoenix and farther east to the rolling waves of mountains like the Goldfields and Superstitions. Hike the slopes to Wind Cave and Pass Mountain to admire the best panoramas while wading through bands of flowers.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There’s always a bit of magic where desert and water meet. Add flowers to the mix and that’s a great way to spend a day. At Lake Pleasant, the heaviest concentration of poppies can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge is guarded by some extremely robust globemallows the size of landscape shrubs. A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Bartlett Lake

Near Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The road to Bartlett Lake quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies—this is a good spot for them.

Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers are on a blooming binge at Picacho Peak State Park. Carpets of dazzling golden Mexican poppies play a starring role in the colorful show—but other wildflowers add their own hues to the landscape. Among them: blue lupines, orange globemallow, white desert chicory, and bright yellow brittlebush.

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nearly any spot along the park’s main road will include wildflower scenery. One of the best side routes for colorful views from a vehicle—and even more grand vistas from trails—is the Barrett Loop.

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“We had poppies blooming in January and that’s unheard of in my time here,” park manager Steve Haas says. Two large washes keep the park cooler than the lower desert and generally prompt a later seasonal bloom. Traditionally, colors peak from late March into early April but things are happening a little earlier this year.

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with cream cups, poppies, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days each week.

Worth Pondering…

Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!

—Lady Bird Johnson

6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Enjoy waterfront camping at these six scenic lakes in the arid Southwest

Since the Southwest is known for its iconic desert landscape, you may be surprised by the many scenic lakes where you can enjoy waterfront camping.

These lakes are an oasis for activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking, and have camping facilities that can accommodate RVs.

1. Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a regional park about an hour north of Phoenix. The recreation area is open year-round and has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

The developed sites are complete with water and electricity, a covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and access to a dump station. If you don’t mind dry camping, the semi-developed sites have similar features except for utilities.

2. Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Patagonia Lake is well known for its great fishing, hiking, and bird watching. This southern Arizona state park also has a beach, boat ramp, and a picnic area with tables and grills. If you don’t have your own watercraft, canoe, pontoon boat, row boat, and paddle boat rentals are available.

The campground has over 100 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Waterfront cabins can also be rented on the southeast end of the lake. The park can get crowded, but it’s usually more peaceful during the off-season and middle of the week.

3. Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

Parker Canyon Lake is off the beaten path and not as easily accessible but it is usually much less crowded than Patagonia Lake. The US Forest Service campground is open all year; in the summer boat and paddleboard rentals are available.

Lakeview Campground overlooks the lake with 65 campsites (maximum length 36 feet) on top of a hill. There are no hookups, but there is potable water, a general store, and restrooms.

4. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Nevada/Arizona

Lakes Mead and Mohave are both on the Colorado River and worth a visit in the RV. The two reservoirs are located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a short day trip from Las Vegas.

There are several campgrounds and RV parks along the shores of the two lakes. The National Park Service sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These include Las Vegas Bay Campground, Callville Bay, Boulder Beach Campground, and Echo Bay. Lake Mead RV Village offers pull-through and full hook-up sites.

5. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest state park in New Mexico surrounds the state’s biggest reservoir. Elephant Butte Lake has beach access, a fishing pier, marinas, and boat rentals. The park has 15 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as several picnic areas where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the lake.

There are about 170 RV sites in Lions Beach, Desert Cove and South Monticello campgrounds. Primitive beach camping, group sites, and boat-in camping are also available.

6. Alamo Lake, Arizona

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 27 mixed-amenity sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites 15 full-hookup sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.

It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau