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U.S. Forest Service

Southwestern Region Viewing Area


Bartlett Reservoir and its surrounding saguaro (<em>Carnegiea gigantea</em>) studded landscape. Bartlett Reservoir and its surrounding saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) studded landscape. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

A trio of interesting desert plants with Bartlett Reservoir in the background. A trio of interesting desert plants with Bartlett Reservoir in the background. The plants are from left to right jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and teddy bear chollo (Opuntia bigelovii). Photo by Charlie McDonald.

A blazingstar (Mentzelia sp.). A blazingstar (Mentzelia sp.) flowering in mid-December. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

A hiking trail goes between these two giant saguaros. One of the hiking trails near the lake goes right between these two giant saguaros. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Bartlett Reservoir

Forest: Tonto National Forest

District: Cave Creek Ranger District

Description: When you turn onto Bartlett Dam Road from Cave Creek Road on the way to Bartlett Reservoir, the surroundings change instantly from suburban neighborhoods to natural Sonoran Desert mountain scenery, and the landscape stays this way for the next 13 miles to Bartlett Reservoir. There are many places you can safely pull off the highway and take a look. Try stopping at a desert wash and taking a short hike up one of the gravely drainages.

Bartlett Reservoir is in saguaro cactus country. These stately giants are the Sonoran Desert’s icons even though they grow in a fairly narrow zone of desert habitat above the valley floor and below the freezing cold of the higher mountains. They abound in all sizes around the reservoir, from juveniles hiding under the palo verde trees to huge multi-armed adults up to 40 feet tall.

There is good plant viewing here year-round. During the summer (May-September) it is best to go out in the morning and evening to avoid the mid-day heat. During fall and winter (October-February) the temperatures are pleasant and there will be a few wildflowers even in the coldest months. Of course, the cacti and shrubs are the stars of the desert landscape and viewable any time. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to visit during a wet spring (March-April) and be treated to one of the desert’s superb wildflower displays.

Safety First: Heat and low humidity are real hazards for people unfamiliar with desert climates. A person can lose up to 5 quarts of fluid a day and it is easy to become seriously dehydrated without realizing it, so drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel very thirsty. Temperatures can exceed 100 degrees anytime from April through October. During hot months, try to get out in the early morning before the intense heat of the day. When hiking, even if only a short hike, take a day pack with water, snack foods, protective clothing, compass, flashlight, and first aid kit. Always carry extra water in your car. To avoid sun injury, wear light loose clothing, use sunscreen on exposed areas, wear a hat, and have sunglasses.

Directions: Bartlett Reservoir is 20 miles east of Carefree, Arizona, which is a northern suburb of Phoenix. From Carefree, take East Cave Creek Road northeast to the Bartlett Dam Road junction. Turn right on this paved highway; it is 13 miles to the reservoir. The Cave Creek Ranger District office is just east of the junction of Cave Creek Road and Bartlett Dam Road. This is a good place to stop for information and to purchase your day-use pass ($6.00/vehicle/day).

Contact: Tonto National Forest, Cave Creek Ranger District, 40202 North Cave Creek Road, Scottsdale, Arizona 85262. Phone: (480) 595-3300.

Closest Town: Carefree, Arizona.