Horseshoe Reservoir, Arizona, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Southwest - Arizona - North Central -

Horseshoe Reservoir, in the Arizona Central Region, is a seldom-visited surprise. Horseshoe Lake, as it is often called, was created in 1946, when a dam was built across the Verde River to create a water storage area for mining, irrigation and municipal water. Downstream, Horseshoe Reservoir feeds Bartlett Lake and eventually the canals that water the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Remote and seldom visited, Horseshoe Reservoir is often nearly dry during the summer months except for the Verde River course. Because of a prolonged drought, water is not stored here during the dry season.

Horseshoe Reservoir isn’t used for many of the usual recreational uses: some camping is available, but water skiing, parasailing and personal watercraft are forbidden; boating speed is limited to 20 miles an hour. This is for safety purposes, as the low water level often exposes rocks just under the surface. There is a boat launch area available in all but the lowest-water periods and visitors are welcome to bring boats for fishing purposes. The most common fish in the lake is carp, followed by goldfish – not exactly a game fish in high demand. The repeated water fluctuations tend to destroy breeding areas for most native game fish. Red shiner, mosquito fish, channel catfish, yellow bullhead, flathead catfish, green sunfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Sonora sucker are present but not in sufficient numbers to be attractive to fishermen. As the water is needed elsewhere, there are no plans to try to develop a fishery here.

The lake is somewhat difficult to access: those with a high-clearance vehicle can travel the nine miles upriver from Bartlett Lake to reach the shore. An unsuspecting visitor may risk vehicle damage if they are not prepared. Many impromptu visitors believe they will see another lake like Bartlett Lake just downstream and may be surprised to find the water level is 80 feet below the high water mark. So, why would the visitor come to Horseshoe Reservoir? There are oh, so many reasons!

Well within the boundaries of the Tonto National Forest, many desert and mountain wildlife make the area home. Visitors may see bald eagles, mule deer, javelina, coyotes, and view many indigenous desert plants, including mesquite trees, saguaro and blooming ocotillo. A hiking trail hugs much of the shoreline. The Mazatzal Wilderness Area is near the eastern shore with a total of 252,390 acres and about 240 miles of trails. The Verde River trail follows the river upstream for 28 miles. Some trails are suitable for horseback riding. Rock hounds often come to search for agates and jasper. Upriver from Horseshoe Reservoir, the 50-mile stretch of the Verde River is a class II-III whitewater rafting river popular with kayakers and canoeists. River runners usually put their watercraft in at the Camp Verde Bridge 58 miles upstream and exercise their skills with the rapids all the way to Horseshoe Reservoir.

Modern Arizona could not exist without reservoirs like Horseshoe Lake, or the canals that deliver water to fields and factories. In fact, Phoenix was settled precisely because of the development of canal systems for crop irrigation. Archaeologists claim that the Hohokam tribe settled along the Salt, Verde and Gila Rivers by 300 AD and built an extensive system of irrigation canals by hand to provide water for their crops and their villages. The villages thrived until a series of floods destroyed the canals in the 1300s, driving the Hohokam from the area. In the 1860’s, a gold rush in central Arizona brought an influx of miners into the area. One enterprising gentleman saw the ruined canals and terraces of the Hohokam and recognized them for what they were. He gathered a group of local investors and began to develop a canal system.The canals were used to irrigate food crops to sell to the miners and the United States Cavalry at Fort McDowell. By 1868, a government survey party noted that a settlement had developed at the site and was locally called Phoenix.

By 1890, the Salt River Project was engaged in building canals and water storage dams to feed the growing city and local farmers. Hydroelectric power generation was soon added to many of the dams along the Salt and Verde Rivers. In 1944, the Phelps Dodge Mining Company paid to have Horseshoe Dam built to assure a steady supply of water to their mines to support the war effort. Within a few short years, the dam was expanded and the cities in the area secured water rights to provide for city water needs. Horseshoe Reservoir supplies water to Bartlett Lake and Dam and from there, feeds the canals that criss-cross the Phoenix metropolitan area. As for the Hohokam? They have left many of their sun-baked, abandoned pueblo-style dwellings in ruins within the Tonto National Forest. The ruins are accessible in several areas. Maps may be obtained from the Ranger Stations.

Not far from Horseshoe Lake, the Agua Fria National Monument is located on the west side of Interstate 17. Some of the best preserved Hohokam ruins are located within its boundaries. Often, visitors gravitate to Bartlett Lake for it’s full contingent of water sports, swimming and fishing, never knowing it is kept full by Horseshoe Reservoir sacrificing its waters. At about 46 miles from Phoenix, summer recreation travelers are common at Bartlett Lake. Few venture beyond to Horseshoe Reservoir.

There are no vacation accommodations within the Tonto National Forest other than camping. The many small towns around the perimeter make up for this lack by providing everything the visitor to the area might desire. The small quaint towns of Carefree and Cave Creek have plenty of vacation rentals and lodgings available. The area is growing, with Carefree in particular developing resort-style, upscale shopping and dining. New condo developments are going up and real estate opportunities abound for both the investor and the retirement buyer. Local private ranches around the area also rent rooms, with some catering to hikers and white water enthusiasts. Why not be the next visitor to see what few have seen? Come to Horseshoe Reservoir and enjoy nature in the desert.

Things to do at Horseshoe Reservoir

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Water Skiing
  • Parasailing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Ruins
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Horseshoe Reservoir

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Flathead Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Sucker
  • Sunfish
  • Yellow Bullhead

Horseshoe Reservoir Photo Gallery

    Horseshoe Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

    divider

    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District

    Surface Area: 2,800 acres

    Shoreline Length: 27 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,950 feet

    Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

    Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 2,026 feet

    Maximum Depth: 142 feet

    Water Volume: 131,427 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1946

    Drainage Area: 5,630 sq. miles

    Spread the word! Share our Horseshoe Reservoir article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


    Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

    Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.