Rainbow Lake, Arizona, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Rainbow Lake.

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Rainbow Lake visitor and community guide

Lake Locations: USA - Southwest - Arizona - Northern -

Located in Arizona’s resort community of Pinetop-Lakeside, Rainbow Lake’s shores are lined with second homes and private lakeside vacation properties. With limited public access, Phoenix and Tucson residents can leave the rush behind and quietly melt into Navajo County’s countryside. Surrounded by the scenic White Mountains in east-central Arizona, life at Rainbow Lake offers a combination of nature at its best and healthful activity in a small-town atmosphere.

In the mid-to-late 1800s Mormons settled a number of communities in Arizona, including Lakeside. In 1903 the settlers impounded Walnut Creek to create Rainbow Lake, part of Silver Creek subwatershed and Little Colorado watershed. Walnut Creek receives its water from a combination of sources – Adair and Big Springs and a diversion from Billy Creek. Water leaves Rainbow Lake through ditches also built in 1903. The lake’s maximum depth of 14 feet and average depth of seven feet are now maintained by the Show Low Pinetop Woodlands Irrigation Company.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department oversees maintenance of Rainbow Lake’s 116 acres. The state also owns a small campground near Rainbow Lake. While the campground is not directly on the waterfront, it is only a few hundred yards from Rainbow Lake dam. Restrooms, potable water and firewood make up the basic amenities. Boaters will find the only public boat ramp, paved parking lot and handicap accessible fishing pier at the northern end of the lake, also near the dam. Because the majority of Rainbow Lake’s shoreline is privately owned, or shallow with weeds and grasses, fishing is best enjoyed by boat. Fish species include rainbow trout stocked in the spring and early summer, largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill and green sunfish. Illegally introduced northern pike are also found in Rainbow Lake. Anglers over the age of 13 will need to purchase an Arizona fishing license with trout stamps. The stated daily catch limit is “six trout for licensed anglers and three trout for unlicensed anglers age 13 or less.” To maintain the residential atmosphere of the lake, boats are restricted to a maximum 10 horsepower gas motor. For a complete vacation package, boat rentals and private piers are available at select Rainbow Lake resorts.

Within Arizona’s Northern Tourism Region and immediately north of Rainbow Lake, Woodland Lake Park also provides excellent fishing opportunities. Woodland Lake is found in a 583-acre park considered to be the “crown jewel” of Pinetop-Lakeside. Facilities found in this family-friendly park include tennis courts, softball fields, volleyball courts, picnic tables with shelters and nearby playgrounds. The park’s four-mile trail is open for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.

A few miles northeast of Rainbow Lake, Scott Reservoir lies within Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. In addition to stocked rainbow trout and channel catfish, this 80-acre lake holds generous populations of brown trout, largemouth bass, green sunfish, blue gill, black bull head, and carp. A boat ramp with barrier-free restrooms has been constructed along the lake’s western shore. For those interested in the outdoors, a small campground with restrooms, tables and fire rings provides the peace and calm of a forest retreat while remaining close to Pinetop-Lakeside city limits.

Tha Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests cover over two million acres with some of the country’s largest stands of ponderosa pines and dramatic geologic features. Just 12 miles north of Rainbow Lake, at the town of Show Low, the Mogollon Rim marks the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. At elevations reaching 7,600 feet, canyons, cliffs and rolling terrain provide excellent viewpoints for hikers, wildlife watchers and photographers to capture the scenery or glimpses of antelope, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, small mammals, and reptiles. Almost 1,000 miles of hiking trails are found within the combined forest land including four National Recreation Trails: Eagle, Blue Ridge, Escudilla, and General George Crook.

An hour’s drive north of Rainbow Lake will take you to the spectacular Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. The world’s largest concentration of petrified wood is contained within the park’s 342 square miles. At the northern end of the park the colorful remains of pine logs lie among hills and mountains “painted” by layer upon layer of colored rock. In addition to the geologic history found in the park, petroglyphs and archeological sites tell the ancestral history of the Navajo and Hopi Nations.

Bordering the town of Pinetop-Lakeside and only blocks west of Rainbow Lake is the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Covering over 2,600 square miles, the land is held by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The Apache Office of Tourism offers access to rafting, camping, fishing, hunting and skiing. Indoor attractions include a casino and cultural museum at Fort Apache Historic Park.

Lakefront property swept with refreshing cool mountain breezes is a rare commodity in Arizona. Place that lake in a small community of 5,000 people with family-friendly parks, intriguing historical attractions, winter skiing, and spectacular scenery, and you have created the perfect escape. Located 190 miles northeast of Phoenix and Tucson, Rainbow Lake vacation rentals and real estate properties make it possible for you to call the White Mountains home for a week or a lifetime.

Custom Rainbow Lake house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

Things to do at Rainbow Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Tennis
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Playground
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Rainbow Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Brown Trout
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Rainbow Lake

The Rainbow Lake map shown above is a simple and stress-free way to search for trip accommodations. But if you want to take a deeper dive to find the ideal waterfront home, cabin, condo, hotel or resort, visit our favorite lodging partners by clicking the buttons below.

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Rainbow Lake photo gallery

New photos coming soon!

Rainbow Lake statistics & helpful links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Show Low Pinetop Woodlands Irrigation Co.

Surface Area: 116 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,760 feet

Average Depth: 7 feet

Maximum Depth: 14 feet

Water Volume: 800 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1903

Water Residence Time: 139 days

Lake Area-Population: 4,765

Drainage Area: 8 sq. miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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