Lake Pleasant – An Oasis in the Sonoran Desert


Morristown, Arizona

On the north end of the Phoenix metro area you will find an embankment dam on the Agua Fria River. The New Waddell Dam provides recreation, electric power and flood protection to the Phoenix area. Completed in 1994, the reservoir behind the large dam is known as Lake Pleasant. That is not the beginning of the story for Lake Pleasant, however. The Agua Fria River played a part in the development of the area as a major source of water in the desert. According to a post on the North Phoenix Blog here, the first dam on the river was built in the 1890s. That dam didn’t survive more than a year; however in the 1920s a group of farmers raised enough funds to build a permanent dam to create Lake Pleasant. Eventually, the Carl Pleasant Dam was renamed the Waddell Dam. That dam still exists, however it is submerged in the lake after construction of the much larger New Waddell Dam that was built down-river.

My wife, Lynn, and I are ready to head down the trail.

My wife, Lynn, and I are ready to head down the trail.

Our first visit to the area in 2012 introduced us to the Pipeline Canyon Trail, listed as a moderately difficult trail, there is an interesting floating footbridge crossing a small section of water that has filled a former wash. In the last couple of years, however, the Lake Pleasant Regional Park facility added several new trails. This week, our friend, Leenie, my wife Lynn, and I hiked our first trip on the Wild Burro Trail. The short, two-mile (3.2 km) trail is labeled “Easy”, and except for a minor elevation change at the north end of the trail, this hike is truly a walk in the park. As you can see by the trail map below, the trail skirts a couple of small bays on the west edge of the reservoir. We hiked the length of the trail and turned around, hiking the entire 4 miles (6.4 km) in under two hours. There is even a parking area with rest rooms at the north trailhead, and another public restroom facility at 1.6 miles (2.6 km) south.

This short trail is an easy hike featuring beautiful views of the reservoir and the Sonoran Desert.

This short trail is an easy hike featuring beautiful views of the reservoir and the Sonoran Desert.

Though the New Waddell Dam is on the Agua Fria River, the reservoir is also a water storage area for water from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project Aqueduct. The park is composed of over 23,000 acres (93 sq km) including both water and land areas. The gallery of images included here features images that were all taken on our hike along the Wild Burro Trail. I understand there are wild burros in the park, however, on this trip we didn’t see any. There were, however, several people fishing at the edge of the two bays we walked by. According to one fisherman, the fishing wasn’t so good on the morning we visited.


A trio of coots enjoy the nice spring morning.


After our hike, we drove down to the Scorpion Bay Marina and had lunch at Dillon’s Restaurant. We were no more than five minutes from the trailhead to the marina, and the weather was perfect for a lunch at the floating restaurant. Boat and kayak rentals, sailing cruises and other water activities are available at the marina. There is a six-dollar per carload entry fee to the park which will need to be paid even if you only want to visit the marina. As with all desert hiking, bring plenty of water and use sunscreen.

Click on one of the images below to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner




3 thoughts on “Lake Pleasant – An Oasis in the Sonoran Desert

  1. Wonderful photos! I haven’t hiked since I moved to ND. I loved hiking in NM, AZ, CO, etc. I miss the SW! Great blog, John.

    • Thanks. When we get back to Fargo in the summers, we miss our hikes. The nearest trails are over an hour drive from our house. We get there a couple time each summer, nowhere near the once a week minimum here in AZ.

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