a handful of short jaunts through classic desert scenery in the northwest corner of greater Phoenix, AZ
Lake Pleasant Hiking Guide
MAP: you’ll receive a good map at the entrance gate – otherwise, see below
PERMITS: no permits are required, but there’s a $7 entrance fee for regular passenger vehicles.
DESIGNATION: Lake Pleasant Regional Park (Maricopa County)
BEST SEASONS: fall, winter, spring
ELEVATION: average 1,800 ft.
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: Most hikes described on this page begin at the North Pipeline Trailhead. From most points in Phoenix as well as from the north, you’ll generally want to travel I-17 to the Carefree Highway (AZ 74, exit #223A). Travel west on AZ 74 for about 10 miles, eventually turn right (north) on Castle Hot Springs Road, which parallels the west side of the Park.
ROUTE: well maintained trails with signed junctions
Here’s a couple of maps that show the primary trails in the park discussed on this page. These are namely the Pipeline Canyon, Yavapai Point, Cottonwood, Burro, and Beardsley Trails.
The first map shows the north end of the park, whereas the lower map shows the areas farther to the south. You can right-click on the images to view larger versions and download them.
About Lake Pleasant
Lake Pleasant is a man-made reservoir in the northwest corner of the greater Phoenix area. The lake’s waters serve as a major destination for boating and fishing, while a corner of the Regional Park’s shores have been developed with campgrounds and hiking trails.
Before the lake arrived, this was clearly an undulating landscape, punctuated by rocky mesas, canyons, and classic Sonoran Desert. This character still shines through.
The nomenclature of this park was a surprise to me. I’d always assumed the area took on a generic name in the vein of aesthetics – that the park was a “pleasant” place to be. I was pleasantly surprised, rather, to learn that the lake was named for the designer of its first dam, Carl Pleasant.
Creation of the Lake
Lake Pleasant was originally fed by the Agua Fria River, formed by the completion of the Carl Pleasant Dam in 1927. The Regional Park surrounding the lake was later established in 1965.
Today, Lake Pleasant is incorporated into the greater Central Arizona Project. The project is a scheme that was passed in the 1960s to divert water from the Colorado River to southern Arizona.
A new dam was completed in 1993, called the Waddell Dam, and the lake is now about 3 times its original size. Some of its volume still comes from the Agua Fria watershed, whereas more than two-thirds is fed from the Colorado River via an aqueduct as a result of the Central Arizona Project.
The 5 Best Trails
Lake Pleasant has about 9 miles of designated hiking trails.
All are pedestrian-only, but are open to dogs, too!
Watch out for the summer heat – exerting yourself out here in mid-summer is not recommended.
1) The Yavapai Point Trail – 3 miles round trip
As the premier trail at Lake Pleasant, this path climbs 400ft to an excellent overlook, featuring views of the lake and surrounding terrain.
The length of the Yavapai Point Trail itself is one mile, but it’s only accessed via the Pipleline Canyon Trail – so the shortest approach from the north end of the Pipeline Trail is about 1.5 miles, one way (3 miles round trip).
You can make this a longer hike by accessing it via the south end of the Pipeline Trail, extending the hike to about 5 miles round trip.
2) The Pipeline Canyon Trail – 4 miles round trip
The Pipeline Canyon Trail is a nice point-to-point trail that remains mostly level, with the exception of a 200ft incline at it’s south end. This south end, by the way, is my favorite stretch of this trail.
Depending on the water level of the lake, there’s a place where the trail will cross a floating bridge. If the bridge is not in service, it’s simple to follow the wash to the west, away from the lake to find a dry crossing.
A great little hike is to begin at the south end of the Pipeline Trail and connect it with Yavapai Point, for a round trip of 5 miles.
3) The Wild Burro Trail – 4 miles round trip
Named for Lake Pleasant’s iconic wild burros, this is a point-to-point trail that follows the shore of the lake. This trail is 2 miles one-way, and is permeated by the scent of lake water.
Burros reportedly like to hang out close to the shores of the lake, but I don’t thing you’re more likely to see them through here than any other location in the park.
4) The Cottonwood Trail – 2.4 miles round trip
The Cottonwood Trail is a simple, easy trail at the north end of the park’s developed area. It connects the north entrance station to the Pipeline Trail.
5) The Beardsley Trail – 8.6 miles round trip
At 4.3 miles one-way, the Beardsley Trail is easily the longest trail at Lake Pleasant. Unfortunately, it parallels one of the main park roads, staying within sight and earshot of it for much of its length.
The Lake Pleasant Motherlode
A strong hiker can knock out all of these trails in a single day. With a recommended car spot, the point-to-point distance from the north end (at the Cottonwood Trail) to the south end of the Beardsley Trail is 7.5 miles.
Add an excursion up Yavapai Point (and back) to bring the total to 9.5 miles.
Lake Pleasant has two main campgrounds called Desert Tortoise and Roadrunner. Available sites run the gamut from undeveloped to group camping, RV sites, etc. The RV sites have electric hookups, but lack individual dumping stations. For more information about camping, look here.
Camping fees widely vary, dependent upon the range of facilities. Go here for a complete breakdown of all the park fees.
Trip Notes and Additional Photos
I lived in north Peoria for a winter season and make numerous visits to this park’s trails. Here’s some extra photos.