This summer everyone is looking for ways to get out of the heat, and usually, that includes water. So, that said, here is a short list of lakes in the area, accessible within two hours of Tucson, and a little bit about each one so you can make an informed decision about where you want to go and what type of experience you would like. At any of these venues, you will want to book or show up early. These lakes are primarily for fishing but some have swimming areas. Check ahead.
A scenic drive along the old Ruby road. It is operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. With a primitive campground and few facilities, Arivaca Lake still has good fishing and birding, I am told; but the newly remodeled boat ramp is several yards from the water due to lack of precipitation.
This is part of the Arizona State Parks system and is open year-round. Camping is at a premium in the summer. Most campsites have plenty of mature trees and shade. There is a Visitors Center and a marina that rents boats as well as camping cabins.
This lake is a bit more remote and sports several camping areas and a marina that rents boats and fishing equipment. Very little shade.
This lake is part of the Arizona State Parks system and has several campsites. Trees and shade are at a premium. Located just south of Safford, AZ with a breathtaking view of Mt. Graham, there is good fishing on the north end. The most interesting thing about Roper Lake is they have rustic cabins for rent, with air conditioning and a barbeque. I am sure they sell out fast.
This lake is on the far south end of the road to Ruby off I-19. Surrounded by scrub oak, Peña Blanca Lake is a popular recreation spot for visitors from both Nogales, Arizona and Mexico, just across the border. Built in 1957 by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, it provides recreation year-round and can be quite crowded in the summer months.
This lake is on top of Mt. Graham in the Pinelino Mountains. This is our favorite. It takes some effort to get up there. But once you do it’s much more heavily forested than Mt. Lemmon. Our choice would be to stay at Soldiers Camp and visit the lake during the day for fishing.
Atop Mt. Lemmon, this is a pleasant little 6-acre lake at one end of a campground. Temperatures are always cool, fishing is allowed, but no boats, no swimming. Camping is first come, first served or by reservation.
For more ideas about Things to do this Summer to Cool Off, see our 25 Cool Things to do this Summer page.