This Underrated Arizona State Park Is A Remote Desert Playground On A Pretty Lake

When you think of a desert getaway, perhaps you imagine the warm sun baking the stress out of you, majestic saguaro cacti reaching toward the cloudless sky, and lizards skittering through sand and stone. What you might not think of is a lake for fishing, boating, and other water sports. Well, it's time to change your perception with one of Arizona's most underrated state parks. Patagonia Lake State Park sits about 80 miles south of Tucson, another Arizona area known for its natural wonders, and it's got everything you need for a magical lake vacation in the middle of the desert. 

Established in 1975, this park on the shores of human-made Patagonia Lake also happens to sit right next to Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, which has lots of hiking trails to check out. There is a kid-friendly beach, a wonderful camping area with a few sites that can only be accessed by boat (and have a lot of privacy), great fishing, and some fantastic opportunities for birders. Here's what you need to know about Patagonia Lake State Park. 

Boating and hiking

The park charges a flat fee for entry per vehicle, around $15-20 depending on when you visit. If you walk in or ride a bike, it's a mere $3 for day-use, which is fantastic for all you can do at the lake. If boating is your thing, Patagonia Lake has two boat ramps that don't require a fee to use. You can have a motorboat on the lake, though no jet skis or V-8 boats are permitted. Check for full restrictions here. You can waterski and rent pontoon boats, rowboats, paddle boats, and canoes at the park's marina. If you love fishing, you can try for crappie, bass, trout, bluegill, and catfish. (Please note that the fish station is closed for renovations in early 2024.) You can swim anywhere you like other than the boat ramp area, but there is a nice designated swimming area called Boulder Beach for you to enjoy, though there are no lifeguards. Make sure to keep beach and other water safety tips in mind

If you like hiking, Patagonia Lake State Park has a half-mile trail to Sonoita Creek. The park borders Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, which has plenty of land to travelerblog, including a moderate 1.5-mile hike called the Overlook Trail right by the lake. There are 20 miles of trails at Sonoita Creek, and the entrance fees are the same as Patagonia Lake State Park.

Birding and camping at the park

This is one of America's many great birdwatching destinations. It's a popular activity at Patagonia Lake State Park, and the half-mile Sonoita Creek Trail we mentioned previously is a great place to spot avian activity. Some of the species you may see are the impressive great blue herons (pictured above), hummingbirds, black vultures, Inca doves, canyon towhee, and vermilion flycatchers. The park has a bird list with the species that have been observed in the area, which you can access here.

Camping on this lake is the perfect vacation idea, with over 100 sites to choose from. They've got picnic tables, fire rings or grills, and parking for two vehicles. Some even have a ramada, aka porch, which can help make putting up your tent even easier, and many sites have amp/voltage hookups and are suitable for RVs. There are also 12 boat-in sites that can only be accessed by the water if you want something a little more secluded.

You can also reserve one of seven cabins with lake views and comforts like beds, a mini-fridge, and air conditioning. The bathrooms are shared in a central facility shared with the campers, but they're just a short walk away. All the cabins are accessible and suitable for those with mobility limitations. You can reserve here, and if you're coming May through November, book early as it gets busy.