Patagonia Lake State Park
Text and Photos by Janet Webb Farnsworth
Southern Arizona has a treasure in the desert: Patagonia Lake State Park. Located approximately twelve miles north of Nogales, this two hundred sixty five-acre man-made lake is one of the prettiest of Arizona's desert lakes.
The drive to the park takes you through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca and scrub oak. The park elevation, in the Upper Sonoran life zone, ranges between three thousand eight hundred and four thousand two hundred feet above sea level. Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park, providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.
Not only is Patagonia Lake scenic, it offers a variety of recreational activities. Visitors enjoy water skiing and fishing on the two-and-a-half-mile-long lake. Fishermen catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish as well as trout, which are stocked every three weeks from November until late February. A ten-year-old boy from Tucson caught the largest green sunfish in America at Patagonia Lake. The best time for fishing is at about sunrise or around dusk. There is a handicapped-accessible fishing dock.
Camping, picnicking, hiking and bird watching are other favorite activities. Camping facilities include seventy two developed sites, thirty four sites with water and electric hookup, and twelve boat access sites. The main campground restroom has showers. There is a roped-off swimming area, and there are covered picnic ramadas with tables and grills. The marina store is open seven days a week for fishing licenses, bait, ice, boat rentals and a few miscellaneous supplies.
Patagonia Lake is ringed with trees and desert vegetation. A beautiful arched wooden bridge allows hikers to walk from one peninsula to another. A small visitors’ center has interesting displays, a video and friendly personnel. Summer weekends are busy, and the campgrounds are usually full by 5:00 p.m. on Fridays from May through October. The gate to the park closes at 10:00 p.m. It opens at 4:00 a.m. If you plan a summer visit, try for weekdays or arrive early on Friday. Summer temperatures range from ninety to near one hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the day to sixty to sixty five degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Patagonia Lake State Park hosts a Mariachi Festival in March. A number of Mexican Mariachi bands perform, and there is a variety of food vendors and arts and crafts booths.
Birding is a favorite activity in the park, where over three hundred different bird species have been identified. Unusual species such as green kingfisher, thick-billed kingbird, gray hawk, violet-crowned hummingbird and rose-throated becard draw birders from all over the world.
The park offers birding tours by pontoon boat every Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. Sign up early. The tours are led by an experienced boatman, although he may not be an expert on birds. Bring your own binoculars and bird book. There is a minimum of four and a maximum of nine participants per tour. More than one tour may be offered per day. If you have a whole group, call 1-520-287-2791 to schedule a tour. Tours leave from the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area Office within the park.
Ranger-led birding hikes are free. Make arrangements ahead of time by calling the park. A minimum of four hikers must sign up before hikes will be conducted. There is also a slide show on Saturday afternoons at 2:00 p.m.
North of Patagonia Lake State Park, near Sonoita, is The Nature's Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. It is one of the prime riparian areas in southeastern Arizona. The preserve protects a cottonwood-willow riparian forest that includes some of the largest (over one hundred feet tall) and oldest (one hundred and thirty years old) Fremont cottonwood trees. Rare and sensitive plant species are found here, and four native fish species live in Sonoita Creek. Mammals found in the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve include bobcat, javelina, white-tail deer, mountain lion, coatimundi and coyote.
Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park.
To reach the park, follow Highway I-10 east from Tucson to Highway 83. Turn south and drive to Highway 82, eight miles past the town of Patagonia. Turn south and continue until you reach marker post 12, take Lake Patagonia Road four miles southeast to the entrance. From Nogales, follow Highway 82 twelve miles northeast to marker post 12, then follow Lake Patagonia Road four miles to the entrance.
In Patagonia/Sonoita, there is one motel with 43 units, five B&Bs and two guest ranches. In Nogales, there are motels, with something for every taste and price range. For a complete list and to check availability or make reservation on line Click Here
Entrance and camping fees apply.
Please call park for current fee information.
For additional information, contact:
Patagonia Lake State Park
400 Patagonia Lake Road
Patagonia, Arizona 85624
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