With 158 miles of shoreline, San Carlos Lake is one of the largest lakes in Arizona when it’s full – averaging 19,500 acre-feet of water in a good season! One of eight lakes with desert surroundings, you’ll find deep blue waters framed by gaunt, rocky, cactus-speckled mountains – in this case, the foothills of the Gila and Mescal mountain ranges. Make a point of visiting this aquatic oasis.
Formed by Coolidge Dam, San Carlos Lake lies within the 3,000-square-mile San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, located approximately 125 miles east of Phoenix near US 70. It’s one of the larger reservations in the state (after the Navajo reservation) and is subject to tribal regulations – a permit is required for all hiking, fishing, camping, and off-highway driving.
Check for latest permit costs at the Recreation & Wildlife Department in San Carlos
Permit required for fishing, hunting, or special-use
Family permits include parents and children 18 and under
Visitors to the Black and Salt Rivers or Bear Wallow Creek must have a special permit
No permit is needed for driving through on US 60, US 70, Road 800 to San Carlos, or Road 500 to Coolidge Dam
Black and Salt River permit may be used for fishing in those rivers or Bear Wallow Creek; special permit fees per day for ages 12 and up
Boat permits are issued on a daily or per calendar year basis; a combined fishing and boat permit can be purchased for a full calendar year
Water-skiing/personal watercraft permits are also available for annual access; free if under age 12 with a permit-holding adult
One-day permits are good for 24 hours, from midnight to midnight. For More Info San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department PO Box 97 San Carlos, AZ 85550 (928) 475-2343
The lake holds the state record for largemouth bass, black crappie, blue gill, channel catfish and flathead catfish.
In spring and summer this can be a topwater haven, if the water is relatively clear. Big crankbaits, spinnerbaits and large worms work well when the bass are shallow. At higher pool levels there is plenty of brush in the shallows for bass and everything they eat. When the levels drop, rocks are the key to locating bass.
The lake provides an excellent climate for boating, water skiing, fishing, hiking and leisurely sight-seeing.
San Carlos offers year-round camping in a wide variety of styles. A camp can be as remote as a visitor wishes. For more information see the contact information below.
To reach San Carlos Lake, take State Route 70 east from Globe for 25 miles, then turn south at Indian Route 3. Stay on that road for nine and one-half miles to reach the Soda Canyon General Store, where you'll find a 60-foot-wide concrete launch ramp within a mile of the dam itself. The lake is a little over 100 miles east of Phoenix and about 125 miles north of Tucson. The San Carlos Apache Tribe has sovereign rights over the lake and the land, and the tribe has managed water recreation since 1968 under contracts with the U. S. Interior Department.