Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Saguaro Lake Recreation Site

Fast Flight Facts

Target Species:  Regular and rare water species, desert species

Elevation: 1500'

Habitat:  Open reservoir with surrounding desert mountains

Overall Birding Rating: 3

Difficulty: 1-3 (Easy to Moderate)

Birding Type: Moderate Hiking, Boating, Walking and Scanning

Facilities:  Parking, restrooms, restaurant, marina with boat rentals

Fees/Ownership:  Six dollar Tonto National Forest Fee

Closest Town or City/How far from Phoenix:  Mesa /32.5 miles east-northeast of Phoenix

Getting there:  Access from the Bush Highway to the turnoff to Saguaro Lake

Overview: Saguaro Lake is a very large reservoir that creates an amazing array of habitat for many different bird species.  It is a beautiful lake, and the scenery alone is worth the visit.  Besides open water, this lake has many coves and reeds around the lake that attract a high amount of different water bird species.  The surrounding desert and mountain habitats provide excellent habitat for our desert species and nesting Bald Eagles.

Bird-wise, this lake always holds great numbers of waterbirds, especially in the winter.  At times, several hundred Western Grebes may be observed together in large flocks, with Clark's Grebes often mixed in.  Ducks are numerous in good numbers as well, especially in areas where there are coves and beaches.  Keep an eye out for gulls as well, as there usually are a number of them.  Raptors around the lake include Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Prairie Falcon.  By scanning the cliffs, you will have a chance of seeing a Bald Eagle or Prairie Falcon.  Canyon and Rock Wrens are commonly present along the area.  Uncommon and rare birds seen at Saguaro Lake have included Greater Scaup, Horned Grebe, Sabine's Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake. 

Birding Tip: Saguaro Lake has several trails and stops that can be accessed by different areas.  One of the main stops at Saguaro Lake is of course the Saguaro Lake and Marina Recreation Site.  It is recommended to rent or take a boat out to look at the birds on this lake, as it is a large lake that has many spots that are a lot harder to get to hiking by foot.  From the marina, is a road along the recreation site that runs east along many picnic tables right along the lake.  It is worth scanning this west side of the lake for waterbirds.  Also along this stretch are cliffs, which can be good for Canyon Wren and Prairie Falcon.  Another way to access the lake without a boat is by going over to the Butcher Jones Recreation Site.  Here you can view the the lake from Butcher Jones beach where various waterfowl are often present.  At the southeast corner of the parking lot at the Butcher Jones Recreation Site is a trailhead to a trail that runs for a long distance along Saguaro Lake, which goes well east of Butcher Jones.  This is an amazing hike, and it provides many views of this beautiful lake.  It also gives you a great chance of seeing a better variety of birds along the lake as well as the bird species that live in saguaro desert.   Along this stretch it also provides many views of cliffs that overlook the area, be sure to watch and scan for Bald Eagles.  A scope is useful for this hike when looking at distant birds.  The trail is moderate hiking difficulty, be sure to bring plenty of water when hiking on this trail. 

Directions: Whether coming north up the Bush Highway or coming down south, the turnoff for the Saguaro Lake and Marina Recreation Site will be between mile signs 32 and 33.  If you want to take the scenic hike along the lake's east end, continue north up the Bush Highway to Butcher Jones Road (located between mile signs 33 and 34), and continue east on this road until you reach the Butcher Jones Recreation Area.  Once here, find the Saguaro Lake trailhead at the southeast corner of the Butcher Jones Site parking area, and follow this trail, which ends up going along the east end of the lake.


Saguaro Lake Recreation Site Map

Saguaro Lake Recreation Site eBird Data


Scenes and Sights of Saguaro Lake Recreation Site:


Birdlife of Saguaro Lake Recreation Site:

Clark's Grebe

Western Grebes

Horned Grebe (rarity)

Eared Grebe

Ring-billed Gull

Black-legged Kittiwake (rarity)


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