Rivers and Lakes: Arizona State Parks on the Water

Thanks to the waters of Arizona, these parks are great destinations in the summer. You can explore on foot or on bike in the cooler morning and evening hours, then beat the sunshine and heat by jumping into the Colorado River or Lake Havasu.
Prepared By:

Casey A.

Traveler, writer, editor

Arizona may not have any coasts, but they have state park destinations for the lakes-and-rivers types among us. Whichever side of the state you find yourself in, there are Arizona state parks waiting to host your freshwater adventure.

This story was created in partnership with Arizona State Parks & Trails. All photos provided by Arizona State Parks & Trails.

East ‘Coast’ State Parks

Lyman Lake State Park, Arizona

Lyman Lake State Park

There are two hidden gems on the eastern side of the state that you just can’t miss: Lyman Lake State Park and Roper Lake State Park.

The second and third tallest mountains in all of Arizona provide the snowmelt that fills the Lyman Reservoir. The reservoir and its namesake state park are situated at about 6,000-foot elevation between Mount Baldy and Escudilla Mountain, and the watershed downriver extends into New Mexico. Because motorized boats are permitted on this body of water, we recommend boating (whether you paddle or motor) across the reservoir to the Ultimate Petroglyph Trail to seek out prehistoric Hopi documentation in the rocks. This trail is only about .5 mile long and ends at Ultimate Rock, where you’ll find yourself in awe at all the early art. Please remember to leave these remarkable artifacts as you find them. There are also two additional interpretive trails to more petroglyphs and an ancient ruin that don’t require a water crossing.

Lyman Lake State Park Ultimate Petroglyph Site

Ultimate Petroglyph Site at Lyman Lake State Park

If fish or birds are your thing, then Roper Lake State Park is your Arizona park. Between the 32-acre Roper Lake and the additional Dankworth Pond, the fishing and birding in this area are tough to beat. Keep an eye—or a line—out for bass, crappie, bluegill, trout, catfish, Gamble’s quail, redwing blackbird, yellow headed blackbird, great horned owl, cardinal, flycatchers, kingfisher, mallard duck, ruddy duck, grebes, egrets, herons, and mergansers at this beautiful park with plenty of campsites, cabins and trails.

Sunset at Roper Lake State Park, Arizona

Sunset view from a cabin at Roper Lake State Park

West ‘Coast’ State Parks

Along one 30-mile stretch of the Colorado River, you’ll find four unique Arizona state parks. Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, River Island and Buckskin Mountain are names that conjure up images of water activities of all varieties and all settings. In fact, they provide just that.

Boats on share of Cattail Cove State Park in Arizona at sunset

Cattail Cove State Park in Arizona at sunset

Lake Havasu State Park pairs the iconic imagery of a lighthouse on the water with the Lake Havasu City London Bridge, as well as desert nature trails along the sandy shores of the lake. This park brings all your water vacations alive in one place. Dive into the water on hot days and take a stroll through the desert to spot wildlife in the cooler seasons or times of day. Check out the brand-new cabins right on the white-sand beach.

Lighthouse at Lake Havasu State Park

Lake Havasu State Park lighthouse

Just down the road, Cattail Cove State Park is also situated on Lake Havasu. Boasting a beach, boat ramp, 61 campsites, and access to the whole lake, this state park is a great launching point for family water skiing, peaceful fishing, or a mellow day floating in the lake with buddies.

If Cattail Cove State Park is more of a meeting place for water sports, River Island State Park is the peaceful, off-the-beaten-path respite. This is a great place to bring your tent or camper and spend some time hiking, birding, wildlife watching, fishing, and playing on the water of the Colorado River away from it all.

View of River Island State Park, Arizona

River Island State Park

Buckskin Mountain State Park is the southernmost Arizona Park on the “Parker Strip,” the 18-mile stretch between Park and Headgate Dams on the Colorado River. You’ll find mountains rising up on either side of the Colorado River, meaning a variety of outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities will present themselves here. The extensive trail network around the park—and even back to River Island State Park—will take you from riverside to old copper mines, from desert to mountain vistas. The park is bigger than you’d think, so pack a back full of water and sunscreen, lace up, and see how much you can explore while you’re there.

Trail market in Arizona's Buckskin State Park

Interruption Point in Buckskin State Park

Thanks to the waters of Arizona, these parks are great destinations in the summer. You can explore on foot or on bike in the cooler morning and evening hours, then beat the sunshine and heat by jumping into the Colorado River or Lake Havasu. Don’t be surprised to realize that the next time the water is calling to you, you plan a route back to revisit all the beaches of Arizona.

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