Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Bartlett Lake Recreation Area

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Desert riparian species, waterbirds

Elevation: 1700'

Habitat:  Narrow desert reservoir surrounded by desert mountains, riparian habitat behind dam along Verde River

Overall Birding Rating: 4

Difficulty: 1-3 (Easy to Moderate)

Birding Type: Easy to Moderate Hiking

Facilities:  Parking, Restrooms, Camping, Marina and Boat Rentals

Fees/Ownership:  $6.00 Tonto Forest Pass/Tonto National Forest

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Rio Verde /36 miles northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Reached from Bartlett Dam Road, a nice paved road

Overview:  Many birders love extensive range to explore: with habitat variety, surprises, a lot of hiking, and hopes of finding great birdlife as the ending result.  The scenic Bartlett Lake Recreation Area in Maricopa County offers birders that exact sequence.  This area is one of the most beautiful places in Maricopa County, where views of the surrounding area are worth the trip.  Encompassing Bartlett Lake are many canyons, tall mountains, and a beautiful mix of sonoran desert.  Views of some of the tall surrounding mountains include Four Peaks, Mount Ord, and Mount Humboldt.  Bartlett Lake is a narrow and long but large reservoir with a lot of open water to scope out, finding waterbirds may be challenging at times.  This lake is also a very popular fishing destination, where fishing projects have given this lake a healthy population.  Because Bartlett Lake is created by the Verde River, the section of the river behind Bartlett Dam offers birders a lush riparian habitat to bird.  Willows and cottonwoods line the river, and a large and green mesquite bosque fills a large portion of the area along the river.  The riparian habitat along the Verde River behind the dam compliments the scenic lake perfectly.   Because of this great habitat variety and a large area to explore, birders will love birding the Bartlett Lake Recreation Area.

Extensive birding within the Bartlett Lake Recreation Area is provided by seven miles of roads that take vehicles easily throughout the area.  Once the Recreation Area is reached at it's central point, North Bartlett Dam Road can be taken either north or south through the area.  North Bartlett Road runs for four miles north from this access point, which provides different coves and fishing areas to stop at.  This is where birders have the best opportunity to bird different sections of Bartlett Lake.  Once taking this road, Rattlesnake Cove is only 3/4 of a mile north.  This cove has paths that lead down to the lake easily, where good views of the water are given.  Taking the road north has other good stops, including the Yellow Cliffs Boat Launch at three miles and the Bartlett Flats at four miles.  The "Yellow Cliffs" are scenic and worth a look, as they overshadow the lake.  Bartlett Flats are one of the better stops.  After the turnoff to the Flats, it is a well maintained dirt road that runs alongside the north end of the lake.  Most of the Flats can be driven on, but do watch out for loose sand in places.  Parking the car here is a good option and walking along this north stretch of the lake.  Besides looking for waterbirds (which Bartlett Lake seems favored a lot by different grebes and Common Mergansers), bird the surrounding desert washes and canyons for different desert birds.  Before going north on North Bartlett Road, continue straight on the main road into the area (Bartlett Dam Road) and scan the lake at that spot too, where the marina and main boat launch are nearby.

One of the better sections of this Recreation Area is Riverside Campground.  Riverside Campground is accessed from the south side of North Bartlett Dam Road when coming into the Recreation Area on Bartlett Dam Road.  The road to this campground heads south for three miles, which this road is accessed by the lake's marina.  This road is a well maintained dirt road that passes through desert washes and canyons and will have good birding.  It eventually heads back behind Bartlett Lake Dam, where the Verde River runs close to the road.  Riverside Campground is met after three miles, which this campground was appropriately named.  This is a beautiful riparian setting nestled down in a desert canyon-like area.  The Verde River is fast flowing and loud here, and can be heard very well in spots.  Cottonwoods and extensive willows line the river.  Green and lush mesquite bosque also makes up a good portion of the habitat.  The campground is a loop, which is almost entirely mesquite bosque habitat with desert scrub in the mix.  The river is very tough to access in spots from the campground because of thick vegetation.  Paths do run south of the campground a good distance along the river, which is worth exploring as well.  Expect both desert and riparian species here, which both spring and fall migrations would be a good time to visit this location.  Covering this south stretch of the Bartlett Lake Recreation Area will highly increase the diversity of species seen during the day.

Birding Tip:  Bartlett Lake Recreation Area is in the Tonto National Forest, don't forget to purchase the six dollar daily use pass.  A good route to take when exploring this area would be to start early in the morning in the area of Riverside Campground first.  Most species are going to be active in this area early, where a variety of both desert and riparian species will be seen here.  Bird the riverside and scan the cottonwoods and willows, as well as the extensive mesquite bosque in the campground.  After covering the riparian and desert habitats near Riverside Campground, then move onto the lake, where waterbirds will be active the entire day and not just mainly the morning.  A scope is very useful at this large reservoir. 

Directions:  From the east side of the loop 101, take the Pima Road Exit and then Pima Road north for 12 miles until the intersection of Pima and Cave Creek Roads meet.  Then take Cave Creek Road east for four miles until you see the turnoff for Bartlett Dam Road.  Take Bartlett Dam Road east for 13 miles to the Recreation Area.  When turning on Bartlett Dam Road, the Cave Creek Ranger Station is immediately there, where Tonto National Forest daily use passes (six dollars) may be purchased.  After Cave Creek Road goes north past Bartlett Dam Road, it turns into Seven Springs Road, which the Seven Springs Recreation Area is another great area to explore that isn't far from Bartlett Lake.


Bartlett Lake Recreation Area Maps


Scenes and Sights from the Bartlett Lake Recreation Area:

Lake Views

Bartlett Lake offers a lot of exploring...

Yellow Cliffs

Riverside Campground:  Alongside the lush Verde River behind Bartlett Dam..


Back to Area 12-Lower Verde River

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