Visiting Bartlett Lake with kids is the perfect day excursion from Phoenix! The scenery is rugged and beautiful, the water warm in the summer for swimming, and there are boat rentals available if desired. There are some hiking and camping options too, but not many. It’s almost a hidden gem of the Phoenix area!
For a little side history, Bartlett Lake was formed when the Bartlett dam was built in the late 1930’s, to help regulate the flow of the Verde River. (Yes, this is the same Verde River that we explored and loved! Learn more here.) It was named after Bill Bartlett, a governor surveyor. It is downstream and south of Horseshoe Lake. Bartlett Lake is the second largest of the Phoenix area lakes!
For our visit to Bartlett Lake, we stopped at two swimming areas. Rattlesnake Cove and SB Swimming Cove are two of the most popular areas, and for good reason! They both provide large swimming areas, safe from boats, with photogenic scenery. We also stopped for ice cream treats at the marina before heading home! There are plenty of signs giving directions to all coves, and the marina.
You can view our YouTube video summary here:
Rattlesnake Cove has an extensive parking lot, which is a plus, and lots of ramadas with picnic tables! The shoreline for swimming is smaller, however. If the main swimming area is full, you may have luck finding a spot by the taking the dirt paths (north end of the parking lot) along the shore. Just watch out for rattlesnakes. Yes, true to the name of the cove, we heard and saw a rattlesnake during our visit! Just remember to give them space, and they will likely slither back to their dens and leave you alone.
We spent about 2 hours at this cove and had it to ourselves from about 8:15am-10:15am! The water was warm, and the kids loved swimming and skipping rocks. We even took our little boat out a bit. The swimming area may have a small shoreline area, but it extends well in to the lake with waist high portions. There are restrooms by the parking lot.
There was a slight bee problem here, however. It might just be seasonal (we visited in mid-July); the bees were not aggressive but they did land on our toddler’s food, and thus posed an issue. The bees did not bother us while in the water, or at the picnic tables, just right at the shoreline. If you have any bee aversion or allergy, we suggest avoiding this place. Or stopping by briefly to see if the bees are currently present.
SB Swimming Cove
This area is north of Rattlesnake Cove, and our favorite. First, there were no bees! Second, the shoreline was much longer and there were actually three parking areas along the road. (If you’re looking for names, try Bartlett Lake Recreational Area, along with Bartlett Flats.) We arrived here around 10:45am; there were a pair of fisherman and two other families and we all had plenty of space to spread out.
What the kids loved most here were the little fish! We had brought nets and, with a little patience, actually caught two! The swimming area was also no more than 3-4 feet for a good portion, making it perfect for swimming and floating. Restrooms are located by the parking lots.
What to Bring
It goes without saying that a day at the lake means sunscreen! Even on cloudy days, like when we went, you can get burned. Otherwise, swim suits/rash guards, towels and water shoes would be a good addition, as well as plenty of water and snacks. We also brought nets, our inflatable boat and paddles, a swim floatie for the toddler, and buckets and shovels. Since it’s not a far walk to the water from the parking lot, we also suggest bringing camping chairs and a shade structure if possible. There are a few trees you may be able to claim, but it’s not guaranteed. Note that cell service is spotty.
With a little planning, a day at Barlett Lake with kids will become a family tradition!
Bartlett Lake is located about 50 minutes north of Scottsdale, and the road to the lake is entirely paved. A Tonto Pass, day or annual, is required; there are two stations to purchase these passes on the way to the lake, but we recommended purchasing a pass from a local retailer before visiting, just in case the kiosks are closed. (You can find a list of retailers here.)
There is a large marina at Bartlett Lake, offering boat rentals, as well as a small general store for drinks and treats. The Last Stop Bar and Grill is a sit down restaurant offering food and beverages with a beautiful view of the lake! We recommended arriving early, especially during the summer weekends, as parking will fill up fast and there is no alternatives.
For more information about the lake, as well as current closures, visit the official website.