Relaxing getaway at Roper Lake State Park

Natural hot springs tub makes Roper Lake unique

Remember Roper Lake State Park if you’re considering a peaceful Arizona weekend getaway. When we visited in early September, the place seemed almost empty. Except for a group of scouts loading up canoes, there were only a few several travel trailers plus a couple of tents scattered throughout the park — hardly any activity, granted it was a rather rain-soaked Sunday morning. But I have a feeling when the weather’s better, Roper Lake State Park, located 171 miles southeast of Phoenix, is probably buzzing with action. Roper Lake lures visitors for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

Canoeing, kayaking. Add to that: paddleboarding, sail boarding and inflatable rafting. Exploring Roper Lake’s shores for wildlife sightings is one way to unwind. This quiet lake would be a great place for beginners to sharpen their skills on a non-motorized watercraft. Practice kayaking; try out stand-up paddleboarding. Rest assured: No jet skis or high-powered outboards will go whizzing by.

Mount Graham capped with clouds is a backdrop to Roper Lake's beach

Swimming. Roper Lake is one of 12 Arizona state parks with a designated swimming area and it also has a few hundred feet of “beach.” Although we didn’t see any people in the water on this rainy day — the only swimmers were ducks. I guess I could imagine children wading in the sandy shallows as a possibility, but the water looks to be more like a murky pond: muddy, sandy, with plenty of cattails.

Mariah Mesa Trail walkway starts from the hot tub area

Hiking. A short nature trail appears to be the only marked path. The Mariah Mesa Trail is about .75 mile and takes one up to a short ridge, but hikers are rewarded with closer views of views of Mount Graham and Pinaleno Mountains as well as blankets of Graham County farm fields. Walking around other sections of the park, such as along the lake’s edge and campground paths will measure about five miles. Otherwise serious hikers will be drawn to Mount Graham for numerous possibilities.

Picnicking. There’s a large picnic ramada on Roper Lake’s “island.” This location would be an excellent place for the family reunion, church or company picnic. Better bring the rolling cooler and wagon, because no vehicles are allowed in this area; it’s a bit of a toting distance from the parking lot. However, the grassy lawn area is ample enough to start up a game of touch football – just be alert that those long passes don’t get too long, or you’d be swimming out in the reeds for the reception.

Quaint camp cabins have porch swings

Camping. Cute little cabins have bunk beds, heat and a/c inside, and picnic tables, fire pits and porch swings outside. I’m imagining a perfect weekend retreat for relaxation: sitting on the porch swing finally finishing that novel and ‘cozying up’ around the campfire during the evening chill.

Fishing.  Small, quiet and calm, Roper Lake would be ideal waters for teaching children or beginners how to fish. There’s a fully accessible fishing dock, and 30 acres of surface area. Largemouth bass and rainbow trout are the popular catches. The park store has fishing supplies and bait.

Soaking.  Roper Lake State Park comes equipped with its own natural hot springs! It’s actually just one of many in this part of Arizona. But others are either on private land or difficult to reach. I’m estimating the waters in this park tub are about 95-100 degrees — perfect for a short “ah” moment. Imagine relaxing here after a day of fishing, paddleboarding or hiking.

A snowy egret tests the Roper Lake waters

Wildlife watching. As we strolled along the beach, we saw a number of different waterfowl and wading birds, including a snowy egret. Killdeer piercing high notes split the light breezy quiet of our morning. The high country desert scrub geography nestled at the foot of Mount Graham brings many other kinds of wildlife to view during the dusk and dawn.

Stargazing. Of course, you could venture up to the top of Mount Graham for a close-up view of stars, moons and planets or just relax in front of your cabin or in the hot tub and stare at the night sky. Because you’re far from Tucson or Phoenix city illumination, you’ll have a better view of constellations or the over-passing International Space Station.

Only major negative about Roper Lake State Park? It badly needs TLC. We noticed facilities were fair condition at best. Structures, signs and benches need repair and paint; day use areas need cleaning and clearing. We hope — if not the state parks department — maybe the Friends of Roper Lake will act soon to help with upkeep. Unfortunately, at this writing the group’s website was removed.

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Arizona fall getaway option: Rent a cabin, ranch house or group camp

Are you considering a fall weekend family getaway, but want something a little different from typical motel room? You may want to think about renting a cabin! Arizona is full of cabin rentals and the state has a wide variety from which to choose.

Cabins are perfect for large groups or family gatherings for the upcoming fall and winter holidays. I remember every Thanksgiving, a few of my friends, with their extended families would reserve entire ranches, church camps or scout group sites for their four-day November weekends. These out-of-the-way, rural Arizona locations also make excellent destinations for fall weddings.

If you are considering an event for your large fall gathering, the American Camp Association website is a good place to start your search. The ACA site will redirect you to the managing organization’s website. Among these are church camps such as Mingus Mountain Camp or YMCA camps such as Sky Y Camp; both are near Prescott. In recent years, it was possible to reserve scouting camps and cabin sites. For up-to-date information about church and scout camp policies for outside group rentals, it’s best to call the respective administrative offices.  After the applications are approved, fees are paid and liability waivers are processed, you can start packing.

It’s a sure bet that most of these larger group camps or cabin resorts are already booked for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend, but you may want to consider a year-round cabin in Arizona for a weekend in December or early spring.

For commercial cabin resorts, you can simply search online. Popular locations include most of the mountain communities: Flagstaff, Prescott, Pinetop, etc. But if you want more privacy consider less populated areas such as Greer, Strawberry or Heber-Overgaard. For a comprehensive listing, use this link to Arizona Office of Tourism website. Or try these directory sites for Mountain Dream Rentals or Cabin Rentals.ws.

If you’re considering renting a private-owned cabin or mountain retreat with a certain necessary amount of luxury, check websites like www.vrbo.com. Simply enter “Arizona cabin” on the first search box; then narrow the search by region and availability dates. Read reviews, scrutinize photos and add up the nightly rates, security deposits and other miscellaneous costs like cleaning or pet fees. Consider all the features of the cabins and space needed for your group’s size. Many of these cabins are equipped with all the goodies including major kitchen appliances, fireplaces, flat screen TVs, game consoles, home theaters, even hot tubs.

Let’s say you’re looking for something a little bit more rustic… almost pioneer-like… one step up from the Winnebago. Maybe you’re looking for something to put your family in an old-fashioned Christmas holiday mood. Then consider the public lands option. For cabin rentals in a national forest, the easiest way to get information and make a reservation is go to the www.recreation.gov site. Just click on cabins, then Arizona. Or check this listing on the USDA site. For state park cabins, use this site. Some of these public lands cabins can be quite primitive. They may only have the basic four walls, a roof and a bunk to roll out your sleeping bag. Others are a little more comfortable – with decent mattresses, plumbing, heaters, window air conditioner and kitchen appliances. Suggested items for packing are included in most of these websites. I’d still remember to bring my own sturdy broom, small shovel, axe, water bucket, extra garbage bags, firewood and water.

 

Camp cabins at Dead Horse Ranch now have a/c and heat

 

Nightly rates for the public lands cabins are considerably less than privately-owned or commercial cabins. They start about $50 per night for a single room cabin with double bed and bunk to a three-bedroom, three-bath ranch house that sleeps 10 for $200 per night.

Lyman Lake State Park has cabins and yurts available for nightly stays. What’s a yurt? Find out here.

Don’t forget the GPS, mountain bikes, hiking boots & poles, binoculars, cameras, trail and nature identification guidebooks. For those evenings and the odd chance it should rain; keep the kids entertained the old-fashioned way with books, games, music and jigsaw puzzles.

A getaway in a camp cabin or ranch house can be a great opportunity for a couple, family or large group desiring a weekend to get closer to nature or simply get away from a hectic schedule of school and work.