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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Alamo Lake: Start the New Year at an Arizona state park

Instead of sleeping it off on New Year’s Day morning, consider hiking it off. As part of the First Day Hikes program from America’s State Parks, 12 Arizona state parks will be offering guided day hikes on Jan. 1. America’s State Parks began the program 20 years ago to promote outdoor recreation. 2012 is the first year all 50 states will be participating in the program.

Consider making a trip to one of Arizona’s state parks on New Year’s Day for a First Day Hike. Your New Year’s resolution for 2012 might be to visit all of Arizona’s 31 state parks. And if you start at the top of the list, you can check off Alamo Lake for your first state park visit and your First Day Hike. Add a couple of nights’ stay, and your Alamo Lake visit could be your first Arizona getaway of 2012!

Alamo Dam view from the Bill Williams Overlook

Alamo Lake is neatly tucked away from Arizona’s cities in the Bill Williams River Valley, about 36 miles north of Wenden, Arizona. It’s about half way between Wickenburg and Lake Havasu City, “as the crow flies.” There are only two roads into Alamo Lake. Most people will use the paved route north from US Route 60 from Wenden. An alternate route is a dirt road from State Route 93 near Congress.

Alamo Lake is 4900 acres for fishing, boating and water sports

Alamo Lake was created when the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dam on Bill Williams River to protect the Lower Colorado River area from flooding. Alamo Lake became a state park in 1969. When state budget cutbacks were made, the future of Alamo Lake and other state parks was in jeopardy. With the help of nearby communities’ funding and private donations from support groups such as The Friends of Alamo Lake, state park board members voted to allow the park to remain open.

Bill Williams Overlook at Alamo Lake is a nice spot for a picnic

Alamo Lake thrives as a riparian home to many resident and migratory birds such as orioles, tanagers, warblers, owls, eagles and hawks. Mammals seen at the park include coyote, mule deer, javelina, bobcat, fox, beaver and burros. Yes, burros! Miners from the mid-1800s set their burros free when they moved out, overpopulating certain areas of northwestern Arizona. Now they are protected, and populations are managed through adoption programs. Herds of burros have been spotted roaming the hills and washes around the lake, and also walking along the park roadways.

Although there are no boat motor restrictions, fishing is the main reason visitors come to the lake, and largemouth bass is the popular catch. Heavy rains during the late 1970s and early 1980s caused the lake to increase in size. Tent and RV campers will enjoy the lakeside campsites. A small park store stocks all the basic camping fish and boating gear plus bait, licenses, day permits, even the ingredients for “s’mores.” Camping reservations can be made online. Because of its location, far away from city lights, Alamo Lake is a prime spot for stargazing. Each November astronomy enthusiasts converge at the park for the “Night Under the Stars” program.

Long, lonely stretch of highway between Wenden and Alamo Lake State Park

If you’re new to Arizona or a long-time resident who has never before gone northwest of Wickenburg, I recommend making a visit to Alamo Lake State Park. Maybe you’ll consider making the trip for your first hike of the New Year. Here’s a list of all the First Day Hikes at Arizona State Parks for 2012. Great way to start Arizona’s Centennial.