The Ultimate Guide to Patagonia Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park is a great place for fishing, water skiing, camping, picnicking, and hiking all year round

Southern Arizona has a treasure in the desert: Patagonia Lake State Park. Located 15 miles northeast of Nogales, this two 265-acre man-made lake is one of the prettiest of Arizona’s desert lakes.

The drive to the park takes you through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca, and scrub oak. Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.

Road to Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek flows through the Coronado National Forest between the Santa Rita Mountains in the north and the Patagonia Mountains in the south and is notable for its extensive, well-preserved riparian corridor which harbors many rare species of plants and animals, especially birds. The creek creates a band of greenery in the otherwise arid mountains in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and which stretches for 15 miles from the village of Patagonia to the low-elevation foothills east of the Santa Cruz Valley where the waters evaporate or seep below ground.

A dam over the creek (constructed in 1968) formed Patagonia Lake, a small but scenic reservoir. Its blue waters are surrounded by a narrow band of trees and bushes set beneath barren, rocky hillsides bearing cacti and yucca. Below the dam, several miles of the creek and an area of hills on both sides are further protected as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is Patagonia Lake scenic, it offers a variety of recreational activities. Visitors enjoy fishing on the two-and-a-half-mile-long lake.

Patagonia Lake holds healthy populations of largemouth bass, channel and flathead catfish, crappie, and sunfish. Rainbow trout are stocked seasonally from November through March and offer anglers a chance to experience fishing for these beautiful, delicious fish in a unique southern Arizona environment.

Fishing opportunities abound from both shore and boat and anglers typically do fairly well in their pursuit of whichever species they are targeting. The best time for fishing is about sunrise or around dusk. There is a handicapped-accessible fishing dock.

Patagonia Lake is ringed with trees and desert vegetation. A beautiful arched wooden bridge allows hikers to walk from one peninsula to another.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near the lake is a ½-mile hiking trail that leads to Sonoita Creek. This is a popular birding area. Additional trails can be accessed through Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. Hikers can use Patagonia Lake State Park as a basis for hiking through the nearly 10,000 acres of the combined state park and Sonoita Creek Natural Area.

Twenty miles of trails are available for hiking and eight miles of trails are shared with equestrians.  The Overlook Trail, a 1.5 mile hike of moderate difficulty is close to Patagonia Lake State Park and is a great way to see 360 degrees of spectacular scenery.

At all times of the year, boots with good traction, sun protection, food, and water are recommended. The minimum elevation change on any route is 300 feet.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a roped-off swimming area and there are covered picnic ramadas with tables and grills. The marina store is open seven days a week for fishing licenses, bait, ice, boat rentals, and a few miscellaneous supplies.

Camping facilities include 105 developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m.–8 a.m. 

There are two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long and are suitable for camper vans and short trailers.

Summer weekends are busy and the campgrounds are usually full by 5:00 p.m. on Fridays from May through October. The gate to the park closes at 10:00 p.m. It opens at 4:00 a.m. If you plan a summer visit try for weekdays or arrive early on Friday. Summer temperatures range from 90 to near 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 60-65 degrees at night.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twelve boat-in campsites are also available. Sites have a picnic table and fire-ring and are accessible by boat only. Some sites have portable restrooms.

Seven two and three room cabins are available with beautiful views of the lake making an ideal getaway for a weekend—or a week. The cabins are furnished with a queen-sized bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan with overhead light, and electricity. Cabins also offer heating and air-conditioning. Campers must supply their own linens.

Each cabin also has a barbecue and picnic table outside plus an individual fire ring. Family-style shower facilities are only a short walk from all of the cabins. All cabins are wheelchair friendly and accessible to people with disabilities.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North of Patagonia Lake State Park near Sonoita is The Nature’s Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. A prime riparian area the preserve protects a cottonwood-willow riparian forest that includes some of the largest (over one hundred feet tall) and oldest (one hundred and thirty years old) Fremont cottonwood trees. Rare and sensitive plant species are found here and four native fish species live in Sonoita Creek. Mammals found in the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve include bobcat, javelina, white-tail deer, mountain lion, coatimundi, and coyote.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach the park, follow Highway I-10 east from Tucson to Highway 83. Turn south and drive to Highway 82, eight miles past the town of Patagonia. Turn south and continue until you reach marker post 12, take Lake Patagonia Road four miles southeast to the entrance. From Nogales, follow Highway 82 twelve miles northeast to marker post 12, then follow Lake Patagonia Road four miles to the entrance.

Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park Fact Box

Size: 2,658 acres

Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet

Established: April 1, 1975

Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales

Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to Vail (Exit 281); south on SR 83 to Sonoita; west on SR 82 past Patagonia to the Patagonia Lake State Park turnoff (distance is 177 miles one way)

Nearest services: In Patagonia, 10 miles away.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: $15/vehicle Mondays-Fridays; $20/vehicle Saturdays-Sundays.

Best time to go: Summer, if you want to cool off; Winter, if you want to kayak or fish when crowds are gone and the lake is calm.

Trails: There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails. All but a half-mile of them are within the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Visitor center: This should be your first stop for maps and a list of boating and swimming rules. Wakes are prohibited along two-thirds of the lake and rangers keep a close eye to make sure everyone is enjoying responsibly.

Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground: There are 105 sites with electricity and room for two vehicles. Sites with electricity are $25-$30 per night; non-electric sites are $20-$25. The 12 boat-in campsites ($20-$25 per night) have no power or bathrooms. Cabins have a queen-size bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heating and air conditioning. Bring your own bedding and supplies. Cabins cost $119 per night, $129 on holidays with a three-night minimum. Campsites and cabins can be reserved at azstateparks.com.

Supplies: The Lakeside Market sells food, drink, and other common provisions and also offers boat rentals, fishing licenses, and bait.

Worth Pondering…

Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.

―Mathew Tekulsky, National Geographic News, 2004

The Best Lakeside Camping Destinations 

What are some of your favorite places to visit for lake camping?

Summer is prime camping season, but if you don’t pick the right destination, you may be sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why finding a great campground near the water is key!

Lake camping offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in the sunshine. Days by the lake can include everything from kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding to swimming and fishing while balmy evenings call for roasting marshmallows and playing board games. To prepare for a week at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.

Lakes are wonderful for camping and most have some amazing campgrounds nearby to choose from. You can build wonderful memories with your family at a lake. So, pack up your swimsuits, fishing poles, kayaks, and inflatable toys and head to one of these fabulous lakeside campgrounds.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweap Marina RV Park & Campground, Arizona

Enjoy this desert oasis in the Southwest. The Wahweap Marina RV Park and Campground are located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which manages the lake as well as a large 1.3 million-acre swath of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. It is 186 miles long with 1,960 miles of shoreline and over 96 major side canyons.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is a quarter-mile from the lake but set on a tiered hillside to provide fabulous views. They provide a shuttle to help you get around and you can charter a boat or book tours on the lake as well.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. Recently named one of America’s 21st Century Parks, Utah Lake State Park provides many recreation opportunities for visitors. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.

Related Article: Everything You Need for Lake Camping

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities for picnicking, day-use, and overnight camping are also available. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.

The park is west of Provo and 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, 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 camping experience.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, and rest. The lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Five campgrounds offer mixed amenity sites. Campground C offers 25 electric and water sites. Campground F has 15 full hookup sites. Both back-in and pull-through sites are available.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. The 2.5-mile-long lake has more than 7.5 miles of shoreline. Canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. There are three boat launches around the lake.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. Fox Run and Maple Lane loops allow pets at designated sites. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Nestled in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest parks and favorite destinations offers hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats and during summer visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach. This park is rich in history with many facilities being constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers can choose from a variety of trails including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric and water hookups.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. There is plenty of water and plenty of beach room at New Mexico’s largest State Park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Remember to wear your life jacket. Boat safe and boat smart!

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic area, playgrounds, and developed camping sites for RVs. Campground facilities include 173 developed sites: 144 water and electric and eight full hookup sites.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. Lake Mead was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. With more than 750 miles of shoreline, you can enjoy a day at the beach, take a boat out and disappear for hours, or nestle into a cove to try to catch a big one. 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. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables, and shade. Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina.

Related Article: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Lakeside Market offers boat rentals and supplies. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several options when it comes to staying overnight. The park offers RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.  There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills; 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups and 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, 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.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two campgrounds suit everyone from those who want only a basic campsite to those who want it all. Both campgrounds have restrooms with showers. The West Campground offers 50 spacious sites with full hookups, covered picnic tables, and fire rings. Some sites have views of the reservoir. ATVs are not allowed in this campground except on a trailer.

Related Article: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Lake Pleasant State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, 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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, 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.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Worth Pondering…

It is not down in any map; true places never are.

—Herman Melville