If you’re looking to reel in some lunkers, try casting a line in Bartlett Lake, roughly 60 miles north of Phoenix. Several state-record fish have been caught here, including a 37-pound, 5-ounce flathead catfish. Fed by the waters of the Verde River, the lake’s surface area of 2,815 acres gives boaters enough room to spread out. Saguaros and other native plants dot the surrounding foothills, where you can travel on the 4.5-mile Bartlett Reservoir Trail for close ups. Dispersed camping right on the shoreline is on a first-come, first-served basis, so visit during the off-season for the best luck getting a spot.
The beauty is in the subtleties at Patagonia Lake State Park, located in the foothills about 15 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border. While it’s not the most striking body of water at first glance, look up to see little delights such as canyon towhees, Inca doves, vermilion flycatchers, black vultures, and hummingbirds spreading their wings. With a wide-open skyline, night is also spectacular for long-exposure photography of the stars. Patagonia is also popular for boating, fishing, and camping. Stay at one of 12 boat-in campsites, 105 lakeside campsites, or 7 rentable cabins. Only a half hour away in Sonoita, you can spend an afternoon tasting wine from the area’s numerous vineyards.