Visiting Canyon Lake with kids is an easy day trip from Phoenix, with fantastic scenery en route and at the lake. Canyon Lake is rugged like Bartlett Lake, and a lovely desert oasis with great amenities. The lake is located about 30 minutes east of Apache Junction, on the east side of the Phoenix Metro area.
For a little side history, Canyon Lake is one of four reservoirs along the Salt River, and one of the smallest. (The other three lakes are Saguaro Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake.) Canyon Lake was formed when Mormon Flat Dam was completed in 1952, and is popular for fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, and home of the Dolly Steamboat Tours!
For our recent visit to Canyon Lake, we explored a little by kayak and enjoyed playing in the water. We definitely want to return in the warmer months to swim and try kayaking again when it’s not as windy. There’s also a camping option we’d love to try later this fall! Destinations that have a little bit of everything are our favorite.
Of note, we didn’t find the best beaches at Canyon Lake. A lot of the entry areas were very rocky. The best sand area for play is Canyon Lake Scenic Area. Once parked, head towards the marina (east) and down a small hill for the “beach”. There’s also Acacia Day Use Area, which has limited parking. Boulder Recreation site is good for kayaking.
Canyon Lake With Kids
During our April 2019 visit, we also took a Dolly boat tour and highly recommend this! The 2-hour tour took us back into the lake to spot wildlife and enjoy the scenery, and we learned a lot about the area’s history. Kids are welcome and must wear a life jacket when on deck. There are drinks and snacks for sale on board. This company also offers other types of lake cruises. See their website for more details!
Canyon Lake has a large marina, with a restaurant offering a variety of food with a view of the lake. We ate on the patio which was windy, but fun. The food was average. There’s also a campground on the Far East side of the lake, with seasonal camping. You can find more information about the lake and amenities offered on the marina website, or the Tonto National Forest website.
A Tonto Day or annual pass is required to park at any recreation area at Canyon Lake. Parking is free at the marina for the steamboat tour and the restaurant. A Tonto pass is $8, and sometimes $12 if purchased on site. There is a kiosk located between the Palo Verde Recreation Site and the Boulder Recreation Site, on the left-hand side of the road. We recommend purchasing a pass before heading to the lake, as the kiosks can be closed at times. (You can find a list of retailers here.)
Other great things to do around this area:
- Goldfield’s Ghost Town
- Superstition Mountain Museum
- hiking and overnight cabins at Lost Dutchman State Park
- continue past Canyon Lake to Tortilla Flats, more another restaurant option, and some history; more info in the blog post above