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Explore / nature / desert & lowland

Canyon Lake

& Dolly Steamboat

2 Cool Lizards travel guide

Canyon Lake is located in the Tonto National Forest, about 1 hour east of Phoenix. One of my favorite places, this lake offers spectacular views of scenic canyon cliffs, wildlife and desert terrain. We enjoyed the lake via the Dolly Steamboat nature cruise. If you prefer to see the lake by another method, boat rentals are available on the lake. If you have time, take your own boat and spend some time at the campground (reached by boat).

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Canyon Lake Arizona
Canyon Lake lies between Saguaro Lake on the west and Apache Lake on the east. This beautiful lake is less than an hour from Phoenix, and sits at an elevation of approximately 1,660 feet. Sunrise and sunsets are spectacular, painting the canyon walls in vivid color.

Canyon Lake Marina offers tent and RV camping, a day use area and slips for boat camping.

A trip up the lake by boat is necessary to fully appreciate the beauty of the Lake, surrounding terrain, and multitude of wildlife that lives along the lake shores. Take a ride on the steamboat, rent a boat, or bring your own boat (see "resources" below). The view is breathtaking. Take your camera and binoculars. An abundance of wildlife can be seen along the shores from the Dolly Steamboat (see photos below). Remember that summer months can be very hot. Fall through spring is the best time of year to see the lake by day.

The Dolly Steamboat cruises include day cruises, a twilight dinner cruise, and a dinner - astronomy cruise. Visit for current information on cruises.

Take a tent or RV to the Canyon Lake Marina if you wish to stay in the campground. The marina also provides a day use area. See "Resources" below.

Precision Marine rents out several types of boats, including: pontoons, runabout, fishing boat, Kayak, and canoe. They operate at Canyon and Saguaro lakes (see "Resources" below.

We have enjoyed the lake via the Dolly Steamboat on each of our several visits. All photos on this page were taken during that cruise.

Tortilla Flat Saloon Arizona
I recommend continuing a bit further down Hwy 88 to the old west town of Tortilla Flat for a meal (or stop over) at the Superstition Restaurant & Saloon. It is a fun, unique place. Sit on saddles at the bar for added adventure. Add your dollar bill to the many already pinned to walls by tourists and visitors before you.

Visit for current information on menu and hours of operation.

Fabulous Reviews Of Nearby Places:
Lake Pleasant
White Tank Regional Park
Verde Canyon Railroad
Patagonia Lake

Canyon Lake Tonto National Forest
Viewpoint Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake Wildlife
Leaving The Nest: Canyon Lake
petroglyphs Petrified Forest
Bighorn Sheep Canyon Lake


Located about 1 hour From the Phoenix area to Canyon Lake, Arizona: Take Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway) to Apache Junction. Exit at Idaho Road and turn North to Highway 88 (Apache Trail). Travel 14 miles Northeast on the paved Historic Apache Trail. Just past the second one-lane bridge, turn left into the Canyon Lake Marina and Campground.

Resources: Canyon Lake Marina and Campground Boat Rentals Cruise Canyon Lake on the Dolly Steamboat
Dolly Steamboat Phone: 480-827-9144

canyonlakes Lakeside Restaurant

accessible travel

accessible trail Painted Desert Inn
The boat is accessible by wheelchair (see ramp in photo at left). Wheelchair accessible restrooms are available near the restaurant. The two restrooms on the Dolly Steamboat are not wheelchair accessible, though the lower deck is wheelchair accessible. Please call ahead to inform crew members about special needs.

Visit for current information.

Visit accessible travel to read our article on accessible travel in Arizona.

travel with children

Petrified Forest
Take a picnic meal to enjoy before or after the trip (taking food and beverage onto the boat, other than an unopened water bottle, is not permitted), or enjoy dining at the lakeside restaurant. Swimming, boating, hiking and wildlife watching provide plenty of activities for children. Desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, white-tailed deer and bald eagles are a few of the local inhabitants you might be lucky enough to see.

All children must wear a life preserver jacket while on board the boat. A snack bar is available on board.

Visit for current information.

Visit travel with children to read our article on traveling with children.

travel with pets

Pets are welcome at the Canyon Lakes Marina Campground. Per the Dolly Steamboat website, pets are allowed onboard the Dolly Steamboat if potty trained, quiet and non-aggressive.

NEVER leave a pet unattended in a vehicle; temperatures can be extreme in Arizona. ALWAYS clean up after your pet.

Visit for current information.

Visit travel with pets to read our article on traveling with pets.

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