LAKE COUNTRY LOOP DRIVE
If you keep stops brief, you can view the entire lake district in one full day's drive. Start out heading north from Apache Junction on State 88, which, from here to State 188, is also known as the Apache Trail, a scenic drive that twists through canyons and mountains. Wind past 10-mile-long Canyon Lake, and if you're not picnicking, stop for chili or burgers at the eponymous restaurant in Tortilla Flat, once a stop for the dam's supply wagons and now an unabashedly fun tourist attraction. Continuing northeast from Tortilla Flat, where State 88 becomes an unpaved road, you'll pass narrow, 17-mile-long Apache Lake before coming upon the looming vision of Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Roosevelt Lake stretches out in the rolling desert hills to the north. Head to Saguaro Lake, also 10 miles long, and metro Phoenix via State 188, then State 87. If you time things right, you'll make Saguaro Lake close to sunset. Find a beach site, picnic table, or parking spot, then watch the late light color the distant cliffs a fiery orange and the lake a silver blue.
Go weekdays to avoid crowds. This area is remote; get gas and supplies before leaving town. All services at each lake are located at the marina unless noted.
COST: $4 per vehicle for developed picnic areas, from $10 per day for camping at Roosevelt and Apache Lakes' campgrounds.
CONTACT: Apache and Roosevelt Lakes (928/467-3200); Canyon and Saguaro Lakes (www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto or 480/610-3300)