Veronica Samuels

For outdoor lovers and families, there are many excellent lakes in Payson, which become perfect tourist spots to picnic, enjoy outdoor activities and water sports and take in the blissful views. 

Whether you want a quick trip or picnic day, many pretty lakes near Payson are conveniently accessible. These are the hot spots drawing thousands of visitors, especially during spring and summer.

Read on to add these beautiful Payson lakes to your itinerary, as they all are among the top Payson things to do in Arizona.

Check out our post on the Best Cabin Rentals in Payson for fantastic and romantic cabin stays while exploring the town.



  • Distance from Payson – 2 miles
  • Driving Duration – 5 minutes
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking and Boating

If you are looking for a quick drive to spend a day or a few hours by a lake, look no further than Green Valley Lakes, three lakes located in Green Valley Park and one of the popular lakes in Payson.

Green Valley Lakes are part of a 45-acre park located at the west end of Main Street in Payson, Arizona.

It is one of the few parks where you can spend time enjoying yourself with your friends and family until late at night as the park remains open until 10:30 PM.

While the park itself is a favourite hangout spot among locals for walking, running, jogging, hiking, and picnics thanks to the vast expanse of green space, the lake attracts lots of crowds during spring and summer as it becomes a hotbed of water activities.

things to do in Payson Az

Boating and fishing are both popular in Green Valley Lakes. You can rent electric boats between sunrise and sunset for boating in either of the three lakes.

Sunbath, enjoy picnic lunches admiring the lush green views of the areas around the lake. Swimming in the lakes is not permitted.

The three lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from mid-October to mid-May, so go fishing for hours to your heart’s content. 


  • Distance from Payson – 32 miles
  • Driving Duration – 40 minutes
  • Activities – Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, SUP, Hiking and Camping

Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular recreation areas in Arizona.

One of the best lakes in Payson, Woods Canyon Lake is one of the Rim Lakes on the Mogollon Rim, easily accessible within an hour from the town.

Woods Canyon Lake is very popular among families visiting in large numbers during summer thanks to the fun activities you can enjoy, from kayaking to boating and everything in between.

lakes in payson az

Woods Canyon Lake is seasonal and only open to visitors between April and October, with the winter months freezing the waters.

There are options for launching ramps, boat rentals, five campgrounds, and plenty of short and long trails near the lake. 

The lake is stocked with rainbow, brown, Skamania, and tiger trout from April through September.

Enjoy boating, rent kayaks, SUP, or canoes, or simply swim in the waters to cool off.

Since it gets very crowded during peak months, it is best to arrive early for better access.


From Payson, head east on SR 260 towards Mogollon Rim. At the top of the Mogollon Rim, turn left on FR 300 and continue for four miles, to take a right to get on FR 105 for a mile to arrive at the lake.


  • Distance from Payson – 32 miles
  • Driving Duration – 40 minutes
  • Activities – Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, SUP, Hiking and Camping

Willow Springs Lake, located near Woods Canyon Lake, is the closest lake to the town and one of the most popular lakes in Payson among locals and tourists alike.

Located on the Mogollon Rim and a part of the Rim Lakes, about a mile from the town, Willow Springs is a famous lake for fishing in summer when it gets crowded, and it is larger and deeper, making it a better habitat for rainbow and tiger trout.

hiking trails near payson az

Apart from these, Willow Springs Lake is also famous for largemouth bass, green sunfish, and smallmouth bass, and unlike the Woods Canyon, you can also access Willow Springs during winter months to enjoy ice fishing.

You can rent a boat, kayak or canoe in the many nearby shops, although there is a limit to boating as only small engines and electric ones are permitted.


If you are driving the Mogollon Rim, look for the Willow Springs Lake sign on Forest Road 149 about a mile after cresting the Mogollon Rim. 


  • Distance from Payson – 45 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1 hour
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, SUP and Camping

Located northeast of the town is one of the pretty lakes near Payson, Bear Canyon Lake is one of the beautiful lakes at the end of a spectacular drive for about 45 miles through fantastic forested mountains.

There are many lookout points for you to enjoy some stunning views from the edge while driving in Mogollon Rim country to the lake.

Located in the Apache Sitegreaves National Forest, Bear Canyon Lake is not easy to access among the Payson lakes. You must drive on the gravel road FR 300 to arrive at the lake.

But its secluded location makes Bear Canyon Lake appealing as it has retained its wilderness. If you are looking for a scenic afternoon swim, Bear Canyon Lake is the perfect location.

Swimming is very popular during the summer months when the crowds swell.

Only electric boats are permitted, but you can enjoy fishing for trout, another favourite summer activity, as the 60-acre, 50 feet lake is stocked about once a month from April through September, with a bag limit of 6 trout and Arizona fishing license laws being applied.

Enjoy a picnic lunch, or swim in the stunning blue waters against the backdrop of aspen trees, tall green pines and blue spruce trees to beat Arizona heat.

Note that camping is basic with no drinking water or tables or trash facilities. There is no entry or camping fee.


  • Distance from Payson – 55 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1.5 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Swimming, SUP and Camping

One of the offbeat lakes near Payson is Knoll Lake, located at almost 8000 feet in Leonard Canyon, along the Mogollon Rim and surrounded by dense Ponderosa Pine forests about 55 miles away from the town.

If you are looking for a secluded getaway in the forests with fewer crowds and stunning views, Knoll Lake, covering 75 acres, is a great option.

Like Bear Canyon, it is one of the remote Payson lakes involving a drive on the gravel road, passing ahead of Woods Canyon Lake.

lakes in payson area

If you want to do more than one, you can combine the visit to Knoll Lake with Woods Canyon, although you will need to start early to enjoy both comfortably. 

Knoll Lake gets its name from a rocky island in the middle of the lake. It is a part of the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest.

Rainbow and brook trout fishing is popular in Knoll Lake during May and June each year.

There is a 30-unit Knoll Lake Campground, within walking distance of the lake, with picnic tables, drinking water, and plenty of shaded areas to spend your day with your favourite books or drinks.

Tent and RV camping is permitted.

Enjoy boating in small electric boats or tubes on this lake amidst forests.


  • Distance from Payson – 60 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1.5 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Swimming, SUP and Camping

Chevelon Lake is one of the largest lakes in Payson but one of the least visited as it is tough to access. 

Chevelon Lake is at an elevation of about 6,300 feet spanning 208 acres, with average depths varying between 35 feet and a maximum depth of about 80 feet.

If you do not mind the adventure and love lakes with fewer or no visitors amidst lush forests, you will love this gorgeous lake.

Reaching Chevelon Canyon Lake requires a steep hike along a deep canyon for most of the trail to get to the water’s edge from the parking area. 

Mogollon rim lakes

Alternatively, you can use a small boat, canoe, kayak, or float tube to access the waters if you can carry them.  

Since the lake is deep and requires this challenging hike, only seasoned fishers come here for trout fishing. 

You can fish better from the boat for trophy rainbow and brown trout. It is also stocked with fingerling Rainbows twice yearly in the spring and fall.

This lake cannot be accessed during winter when roads are closed due to snow from November to late April.

Chevelon Canyon Campground is a primitive campground with six sites with a picnic table, fire ring and a vault toilet for free. 


From Payson, get on Rim Road or Forest Road 300 from Highway 260 for 8.5 miles to FR 169, which is partially paved.


  • Distance from Payson – 55 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1.5 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Swimming, SUP and Camping

All the Rim Lakes near Payson are spectacular and blessed with stunning forested landscapes, and Black Canyon Lake is no exception.

Black Canyon Lake sits about 7,000 feet in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Like the other lakes in the region, Black Canyon also remains closed, as the roads to the lake are generally closed from December to early April due to snow.

Black Canyon Lake is one of the popular fishing spots in spring and summer, especially for Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass and Green Sunfish. Varying sizes of rainbow trout are stocked in the spring and early summer.

The lake has a paved ramp for small boats and two campgrounds nearby. You can launch boats to fish from them.

You need fishing licenses with a trout stamp for all anglers 14 years and above.

Black Canyon Rim Campground, near the junction of Forest Roads 300 and 86, is the closest if you want to spend overnight, which includes 21 camping sites, water and chemical toilets. The campgrounds are fee-based, and no reservations are possible. 


  • Distance from Payson – 47 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1 hour
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Camping, SUP, Hiking, and Boating

Another gem on the Mogollon Rim is C.C. Cragin Reservoir, known mainly by locals as Blue Ridge Reservoir.

It is one of the best Payson lakes attracting large crowds since there are many summer activities to beat the Arizona heat.

C.C. Cragin Reservoir is an artificial lake that covers 200 acres and looks more like a river along a canyon as it winds past the Rim.

There are excellent basic amenities like a boat ramp, kayak rentals, toilets, picnic tables, play area for kids.

Enjoy SUP and canoeing, and admire the lush forests lining this narrow reservoir.

Since there are no flat sand beds or points to hop off and on, swimming may not be feasible as you’ll have to swim longer to reach the shore.

The lake is stocked in May with rainbow trout. Renting small boats is the best way to increase your chances of catching fish.



  • Distance from Payson – 40 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1.5 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Camping, SUP, Hiking, and Boating

Fossi Creek, known for its waterfalls fed from springs forming pools, is one of the most desired destinations when scorching heat prevails in the Grand Canyon State.

Fossil Creek Falls is one of the most famous waterfall hikes in Arizona, plunging from about 25 feet and also a lot wider than many waterfalls, forming a stunning turquoise pool below.

It is one of the best Arizona swimming holes and an excellent half-day trip you can easily add when visiting Payson, as it is an hour away.

Located along the northern part of the rugged Mazatzal Mountains, this remote area is one of the largest wilderness areas in the state.

payson az lakes

You can also plan this trip from Strawberry, only 15 minutes away from the waterfalls. Fossil Creek Waterfalls is located 2 hours North of Phoenix, or 1.5 hours South of Sedona. 

It is suitable for all levels, so if you are traveling with kids, this is one of the recommended swimming holes in Arizona worth adding to your itinerary. Bring snacks and water, and look out for rattlesnakes on your hike.

To get to the trailhead, drive for about 21 miles down Fossil Creek Road, and most of the route is unpaved. You must pay a $10 fee to enter Fossil Creek, allowing parking space at the trailhead. 

If you love adventure, you will love your visit to Fossil Creek falls, as you can enjoy diving from the edge of the cliff 25 feet high to the pool below. 

But check the water levels before plunging as sometimes the currents can be strong and deeper in some places.

The journey to the waterfall is a beautiful one-mile-long hike amidst the stunning Fossil Creek in the Fossil Creek Wilderness area, which boasts abundant lush forests, and rich wildlife, especially many birds.

There are several swimming spots and campsites on the way to the waterfalls. Stop by and swim in the pools or picnic on your hike. 

After reaching the falls, you can swim at the beautiful pool, admire the beautiful landscapes and relax.

You can also walk, sit behind the waterfall, and even snorkel to see the fish in the water. You can enjoy floating and kayaking.


You can also access the waterfall following the path along the creek, which is more adventurous if you want to explore more, head to Fossil Springs, the source of Fossil Creek waterfalls. 

The hike to Fossil Creek springs is a moderate trek with an elevation gain of about 4 miles one-way, and a permit is required.


Take the I-17 north out of Phoenix to the 260 East. After 10 miles, you’ll see forest road 708 leading to the trailhead.


Fossil Creek Falls is worth visiting throughout the year. Spring and summer are the popular months, so if you plan to go during these seasons, it is best to secure your permits in advance.

Swimming holes in Arizona


Fossil Creek Waterfall and the surrounding area are open to the public from April to October and are available solely for day use with a reserved permit.

The permits sell out very early, especially on the weekends, so be sure to get your permit soon. You can get your permits online here, issued one month before the arrival date. 

The permit is for day use only, and no camping is allowed. No fees or permits are required if you visit during Fall and Winter, from October 2 to March 31.


Verde Hot Springs is located in the ruins of a former resort in south Sedona in Yavapai County.

The hot springs, sitting on the site of an abandoned hot spring resort which burnt down in the 1960s, left only two cement pools and a few fountains.

Located near the Fossil Springs Wilderness Area, you can easily plan a day trip to Verde Hot Springs while exploring Payson. 

Although it is not technically a lake, it is one of the best water spots near Payson for cooling off.

Verde Hot Springs has water temperatures reaching 98.6°F to 105°F.

Among the best natural hot springs, these hot springs are free to enter and a perfect way to unwind while enjoying the stunning landscapes around the resort. 

Sedona hot springs

The pools also attract hot spring purists or nudists regularly, so expect people to be soaking in their birth suits.

Check out the many myriads of colourful graffiti from the 1960s around the hot tubs.

Besides the hot springs, you can check out the many hiking & biking trails, horseback riding, and wildlife. 

You can plan a weekend trip by extending to explore nearby hikes around Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend or even the Grand Canyon.

At Childs Dispersed Camping Area, camping is free, authorized, and permitted for a maximum of 5 days per year. 

Except for a vault toilet, there are no amenities, so carry your camping essentials and practice leaving no trace.


The hot springs are free to enter. You need to hike for a mile which also involves crossing a river or wading through it, and a slight uphill climb to access Verde Hot Springs. 

Alternatively, if you have a high-clearance vehicle, drive through rough dirt roads amidst the forest for about 6 miles to arrive at the hot springs.

Check the weather before you go since the roads may be closed if the weather gets rough. Avoid going during or after rains when the water levels are high in the river.

Wear waterproof shoes, and carry snacks, water, and anything else you need, as there are no amenities or basic facilities.


  • Distance from Payson – 48 miles
  • Driving Duration – 1.5 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Swimming, SUP and Camping

Although it is not one of the Rim lakes, if you are looking for a secluded lake near Payson, Roosevelt Lake is one of the best water playgrounds.

Covering 19,000 surface acres and running for about 25 miles long and up to two miles wide, Roosevelt Lake is a fantastic spot for fishing, camping, swimming and picnics.

Unlike other lakes in Payson, you can rent or bring boats of all sizes to Roosevelt Lake.

lakes near Mogollon rim

The lake is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel, and flathead catfish, making it a fun hotspot to enjoy and teaching fishing to kids.

Apart from that, there are more fun activities if you want to be more adventurous in Roosevelt Lake.

It is a playground for water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing, windsurfing, SUP, kayaking, and jet skiing if swimming is too mild for you. 

On route 188 leading to the lake, there are a few campgrounds with excellent amenities if you wish to camp near the lake.


  • Distance from Payson – 61 miles
  • Driving Duration – 2 hours
  • Activities – Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Swimming, SUP, Picnics and Camping

One of the furthest lakes near Payson, Apache Lake, is the most developed waterbody on this list.

fishing lakes in payson

If you are willing to drive far, visit Apache Lake for a fun time to stroll on the beaches, rent jet skis, enjoy picnics, and indulge in all water sports.

You can rent boats, kayaks, canoes, or swim to cool off in this vast lake offering beautiful views. Despite its remote location, expect crowds during summer months and holiday weekends.




Ronnie’s Resort is one of the most popular stay options loved by families and couples, known for its excellent location and spacious rooms. Check out more here.

Majestic Mountain Inn is located in the Tonto National Forest; this hotel features 100 Ponderosa Pines on site. 

Lodge at 5600 is preferred by couples and is a perfect fit for couples if you are okay with staying in Pine. Check it out here.

Best Western Inn of Payson is one of the best picks, thanks to its excellent location. Find more here.

Best Cabins

Luxurious Bungalow in Payson is one of the new Payson cabins with top reviews for its excellent location, top-notch amenities and a perfect getaway for families and couples on West Sherwood Drive.

You can rent the entire property for yourself, a three-bedroom villa featuring a pretty patio, views of the city that you can admire from the terrace, a garden, barbecue facilities, free WiFi and free private parking.

Luxurious Bungalow in Payson offers a hot tub, a perfect retreat in the winter. You can enjoy skiing nearby as it is closely located on the slopes.

The air-conditioned villa consists of 3 bedrooms, a living room, a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and a coffee machine, and two bathrooms with a shower and a hot tub. 

Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson.

One of the best Payson cabins if you are looking for a well-furnished, centrally located holiday home is Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson.

Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson features a three-bedroom house with a garden, private kitchen,

and balcony with a beautiful garden, mountains and city views.

The holiday home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, free WiFi, a Barbecue, bed linen, towels, a flat-screen TV, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, a 24-hour front desk, and a business centre. 

Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson also offers a relaxing spa at their spa centre.

Check out this list of the 15 Best Cabin Rentals In Payson Arizona, to experience a relaxing stay amidst gorgeous locations.

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