Lake Pleasant & Canyon Lake – Waterfront Camping in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

January 2018 – One of our favorite things in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is the places where the arid prickly land embraces water. The city of Phoenix was first settled by the ancient Hohokam people who used the rivers to irrigate their crops. The city was named “Phoenix” because the new modern community rose from the ashes of that ancient city like the mythical phoenix bird. Those same rivers still flow today and in places they have been dammed to become lakes.

Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Lake Pleasant, Arizona.

Lake Pleasant is on the northwest side of Phoenix, and it is big enough to house a marina, several boat launches, a few campgrounds and an RV park.

Golden hour cactus at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Arizona’s iconic saguaro cacti light up in the late afternoon sun at Lake Pleasant.

The air glistens with a special light at dawn and dusk, and we made a point to get out at sunrise and sunset to see what we could see.

Lake Pleasant Arizona at sunset with saguaro cactus-min

Sunset at Lake Pleasant.

There is something about the stately saguaro cactus standing watch over a beautiful calm lake in pink and blue light that stirs my soul.

Saguaro cactus at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min


Saguaro cactus at sunset at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Sunset over Lake Pleasant.

Sunset steals over the water gradually, changing the sky and water from shades of peach to orange to pink.

Sunset saguaro cactus at Lake Pleasant Arizona RV trip-min


Sunset at Lake Pleasant RV campground with saguaro cactus-min


Sunrise at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Our favorite thing about lakeside sunrises and sunsets is the reflections!

The campgrounds at Lake Pleasant are lovely and offer campsites of all kinds, from up on a hill with a view of the whole lake to down on the shores of a narrow cove. Like all the public campgrounds in Arizona, reservations are highly recommended in the peak winter season.

Travel trailer RV at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min


Sunset at Lake Pleasant Arizona-min

Lake Pleasant.

One day the skies turned threatening, and heavy clouds dripping with moisture reached down to the desert floor.

Saguaro cactus in mystical light-min

Heavy storm clouds hovered over the cactus.

Saguaro cactus at sunset in Arizona-min

A while late they turned pink.

The only caveat about camping at Lake Pleasant is that when the wind picks up it really howls. One night our trailer shook and rattled and bounced on its wheels all night long as the lake seethed with whitecaps and wind-whipped waves. It felt like we were back in the Sea of Cortez on our sailboat where the infamous Corumuel winds catch sailors off guard every year!!

After we had been camping at Lake Pleasant for a while, we packed up and moved to Canyon Lake on the other side of Phoenix.

Of course, nowadays “we” means not just the two of us but our new furry companion, Buddy, too.

Buddy the RV camping dog in our truck-min

My boys — the Pilot and Co-Pilot!

Canyon Lake is one of several man-made lakes on the Salt River. Gorgeous Roosevelt Lake is another lake on the Salt River that we have enjoyed most winters we’ve been in Arizona in our RV. This was our first time camping on Canyon Lake, however.

Canyon Lake Arizona speedboat and cactus-min

Canyon Lake is another beautiful desert lake on the eastern edge of Phoenix.

Down on the shores of the lake Buddy discovered a few new duck friends.

A puppy meets a group of ducks at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

The local duck welcoming committee.

One of the ducks was so curious about us he climbed out of the water and waddled up to say hello.

A duck waddles up to say hi at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

Why, hello there!

There is a lot of bird life along the Salt River, from snowy egrets to bald eagles. At Canyon Lake there was a resident flock of coots that spent their days wandering between the grassy shore and the water.

Canyon Lake RV campground on an early Arizona morning-min

Canyon Lake.

Early one morning Buddy ran down to the shore to admire the sunrise.

Sunrise at Canyon Lake on an Arizona RV trip-min

Sunrise at Canyon Lake.

Mark and I followed, cameras and tripods in hand. As Mark set up his shot, Buddy gave him pointers on composition and camera settings.


Mark gets a few photography tips from our new companion.

Buddy checked the back of the camera and gave his approval.

Sunrise photography at Canyon Lake RV Campground Arizona-min


We walked along the water until the sun was all the way up. Down by the water’s edge there were some fabulous gnarly trees, and Mark paused on a lower branch for a cuddle and portrait with the pup.

RV camping with a dog at Canyon Lake Arizona'-min


Buddy seems to weasel his way into most of our pics these days. We just can’t help it!

Buddy the camping dog at our RV-min


Whether he’s patiently sitting outside waiting to be let in.

Little RV puppy Buddy waits at our fifth wheel trailer door-min

Surveying the scene from the top step while waiting for the door to open.

Or patiently sitting inside waiting be let out!

The dog Buddy welcomes us home to our RV-min

“C’mon out, Buddy!”

If you are visiting Arizona with your RV this winter and looking for a different view of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, try camping at one of the many beautiful lakes!

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More info about RV camping at Lake Pleasant and Canyon Lake:

Other blog posts from places we’ve visited where the Desert and Water meet:

More special campgrounds we’ve enjoyed:

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26 thoughts on “Lake Pleasant & Canyon Lake – Waterfront Camping in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

  1. We are currently camped in the Sam Houston National Forest northeast of Houston. Verizon coverage is very limited. Do you have a cell phone booster? We just got one but so far not much improvement.

    • Funny that you say that. We just tried out the WeBoost Drive 4G-X-RV yesterday. You can read our notes about it here in the middle of our post on internet access. We found no improvement just as we found no improvement with an older Wilson Electronics product four years ago. We just live with slow signals and it’s generally okay.

  2. Em,
    I knew it was only a matter of time before Puppy Chow took over the blog. You realize you need to start the Puppy Chow fan club, complete with shirts, hats, mugs, etc., don’t you? 🙂

  3. Love your photography, no matter the subject, but Buddy is stealing the show! Give us more of Buddy and how he is developing.

    We are currently at “your” Kierland Resort for our annual trip to Scottsdale. Think of you each time we arrive!

    • Buddy is making us smile hour after hour, and he’s becoming a very well documented dog as we take a gazillion photos of him every day!!

      Thank you for thinking of us at Kierland Commons. Our anniversary is coming up on Valentine’s Day and we have such great memories of our special day at Kierland!

  4. Hey, didn’t you notice that Buddy is “on point” with those 4 ducks! I’m sure he’s part Brittany Spaniel with enough terrier to give him those prick ears. Yes, the whole world loves a dog (except maybe W.C. Fields). Buddy sure is a lucky dog (and so is Mark) – seems to be a mutual admiration society. SK, DVM, retired

    • Thank you for your knowledgeable opinion, Steward. How nice to hear from a veterinarian! We have noticed Buddy pointing but didn’t know that was attributed to particular breeds. As you say, he must have some Brittany Spaniel in him and a little terrier too — a nice healthy mix! I was looking at an old photo I took of a coyote the other day, and the ears, nose and face were really similar too, much more-so than many dog breeds!!!

    • New commenter here! I have been following your blog for almost two years as my husband and I begin serious planning for our upcoming retirement years and life in an RV. We so appreciate your technical articles! We acquired a Brittany pup in November of 2016 and he has changed our lives! I, too, think Buddy has many Brittany traits. We chose a Brittany for their size, energy, cleanliness, and how well they get along with people and other animals, knowing we would be leaving our sticks and bricks and traveling around the country. I’m so happy Buddy found you!

      • We are so happy too, Lisa. For the past few days we have been involved in a project that involves a lot of people and a lot of commotion, and Buddy has been an incredible little trooper. The Brittany seems to be a wonderful breed, and I’m sure your dog will love your travels — as you will!! Have fun planning for your adventure and downsizing into your new RV, and enjoy every minute on the road. It makes us both feel really good that we could play some small part in helping you make your retirement travel dreams come true!

  5. Clearly you’ve developed a lot of love for your new companion, and he for you two! Your wide smiles when you’re engaging with Buddy reminds me of the endless smiles we have for our dog, who is also an awesome camper. They have a way of warming our hearts, and being worth every bit of trade-off. Enjoy, enjoy!! And, thanks so much for your wonderful blog – we enjoy every single publication!

    • Thank you so much, Gigi! It is going to be easy and fun to share our stories about Buddy. He is continuing to amaze us every day. We went for a wonderful early morning hike this morning, and after he got most of his wiggles out he trotted along right behind us on the trail without his leash without dashing away to explore the millions of distractions. Incredible! Now he’s crashed on the daybed recharging his little battery. Enjoy your happy camper dog, and thank you for appreciating our various online articles here!

  6. Wow! Those lakes are so beautiful in the desert. This past December, Rob and I went to Scottsdale and did some hiking in the neighboring areas. It too was lovely but, not near as pretty as the lakes. Guess next time we’re out there we will have to check out the lakes. We continue to enjoy watching your travels. As always, thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Rose & Rob — Thanks so much for following our adventures after all these years! The Sonoran Desert lakes are truly beautiful, and each one is a little bit different. I hope you check them out and do a few shore side hikes on your next trip to AZ!!


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