Fed by Tonto Creek from the north and the Salt River from the east, the reservoir stretches 23 miles long and as much as two miles wide. With approximately 19,199 surface acres when full, it's the largest of the four Salt River lakes. Summers at Roosevelt's 2,151-foot elevation are as hot as those in the Valley, but water-skiing and boating attract many visitors. Anglers enjoy the rest of the year. Known as a good bass and crappie lake, Roosevelt also contains catfish and sunfish. Great Basin Canada geese take up residence during the winter at Bermuda Flat on the north arm. Part of this area is closed to the public November 15-February 15, but you can view the geese from the highway.
Theodore Roosevelt Dam
An engineering feat in its day, the 284-foot-high structure is still the world's highest masonry dam. The arduous task of cutting and placing the stone blocks lasted from 1903 to 1911, when President Teddy Roosevelt motored over the Apache Trail for the dedication ceremony. By the late 20th century, engineers worried that the original dam couldn't survive a moderate earthquake or a massive flood, so a new concrete dam was built over the old structure. It now towers 77 feet higher than before and raises the operating high water level by 15 feet. A graceful arched suspension bridge spans the lake just above the dam.
Staff at the Tonto Basin Ranger District office (HC 02, Box 4800, Roosevelt, AZ 85545, 928/467-3200, www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto, 7:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily) in Roosevelt, 1.3 miles southeast of the dam on AZ 188, can tell you about area facilities, fishing, hiking, camping, and boating. The exhibit room has displays of wildlife and illustrates the Tonto Basin's prehistoric Hohokam and Salado and historic Apache residents. A video and exhibits chronicle Theodore Roosevelt Dam's construction and its 1990s modifications. You can purchase annual passes for the Roosevelt Lake recreation sites as well as regional books and maps. A few picnic tables are outside.
Fluctuating lake levels determine which boat ramps and recreation sites will be open, so it's a good idea to check with the Tonto Basin Ranger District office before coming out. The Forest Service offers developed campgrounds, primitive camping areas, and boat ramps along the west shore. Camp hosts can be found at the developed and some primitive camping areas except in summer. Daily fees run $10 single (up to two vehicles) and $15 double for the developed campgrounds, $4 for day or overnight use of primitive areas, and $2 per watercraft. You'll find fish-cleaning stations at Grapevine, Cholla, and Windy Hill. A dump station is on AZ 188 opposite the Cholla Recreation Site.
Horses are welcome at Frazier Campground and adjacent Frazier Group Campground (reserve through the Tonto Basin Ranger District office); sites have water but no showers. A path for equestrians and hikers goes under the highway and connects with Frazier Trailhead for trips to the Arizona Trail and Superstitions. Cottonwood Cove Picnic Site, just before the campgrounds, has free day use. From Roosevelt, drive 0.3 mile southeast on AZ 188 across the bridge, then turn left.
Cholla Recreation Site (5.8 miles northwest of Roosevelt) and Windy Hill Recreation Site (2.5 miles southeast of Roosevelt, then north two miles on a paved road) have campgrounds with water, solar showers, boat ramps, and playgrounds, but no hookups; both also offer long-term camping—up to six months—from October to March. Blevins Picnic Site in Windy Hill Recreation Site is free. Grapevine Group Site (5.5 miles southeast of Roosevelt, then north 2.5 miles) has paved roads, a boat ramp, and showers; reserve through the Tonto Basin Ranger District office. Grapevine Wash (open gate on left just before the Grapevine Group Site) is a primitive camping area.
Vineyard Picnic Area, 3.5 miles northwest of Roosevelt on AZ 188, has free day use. Primitive camping areas include Grapevine Wash (mentioned above), Bachelor Cove (5.1 miles northwest of Roosevelt), Cholla Bay (5.6 miles northwest of Roosevelt), and Bermuda Flat (about eight miles northwest of Roosevelt, but closed Nov. 15-Feb. 15 for the Canada geese).
If you'd like more solitude and don't mind driving on unpaved roads, you can head over to the east side of the lake via the A-Cross Road; this dry-weather route runs between AZ 188 at the north end of the lake (a ford over Tonto Creek may be too high at times) and the Young Road (AZ 288). Salome (SAL-oh-may) Creek in the south end of Salome Wilderness cuts through a narrow canyon, a challenging route for experienced canyoneers, accessible from A-Cross Trailhead.
Diversion Dam Recreation Area, on the Salt River just above its entrance to Roosevelt Lake, offers several access points for river runners who can launch canoes and rafts below the dam. People also come for birding, fishing, and playing in the water. The recreation area has toilets but no drinking water or charge. From the AZ 188-AZ 288 junction 14 miles southeast of the dam and 15 miles northwest of Globe, turn north four miles on AZ 288, then turn left on Forest Road 465. Across the river, Diversion Dam Recreation Area offers picnic tables under the mesquite and a viewpoint of the diversion dam, completed in 1906; a sign explains the importance that the dam and Roosevelt Power Canal had during construction of Roosevelt Dam. The turnoff is on the left, 1.5 miles farther north on AZ 288 and across the Salt River Bridge; the Tonto Basin Ranger District office has a map.
Roosevelt Marina (in Roosevelt beside the turnoff for Tonto Basin Ranger District office, 928/467-2245, www.azmarinas.com) has a primitive campground ($6 plus $2/watercraft), boat rentals (fishing and pontoon), wet and dry boat storage, a paved boat ramp, a snack bar, gasoline for boats, and a store; it may close Mon.-Thursday. Lakeview Mobile Home Park across the highway (928/467-2203) has RV spaces with hookups for $26.
Spring Creek RV Park & Motel (8.4 miles southeast of Roosevelt and 0.6 mile northwest of the Roosevelt Lake Resort turnoff, 928/467-2888) offers rooms at $45 d ($65 d with kitchen), RV sites at $20 with hookups, and a nine-hole golf course. The nearby restaurant, open daily for lunch and dinner, lacks a non-smoking area. Spring Creek Store sells groceries, gasoline, and camping and fishing supplies. Roosevelt Post Office lies across the highway.
Roosevelt Lake Resort (928/467-2276) is nine miles southeast of Roosevelt (or 17 miles northwest of Globe), then east 0.6 mile. Rooms cost $30 s, $35 d; cabins have kitchens (bring your own cookware) and run $35 s, $40 d. Expect to pay more on summer weekends. The restaurant—which fails to provide a non-smoking area—serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, though it doesn't open until 10 a.m. on weekdays.
Rock House Grocery (5.5 miles north on AZ 288/Young Hwy., 928/467-2484) offers provisions, gasoline, and a trailer park (usually full).
In Punkin Center, a village 20 miles northwest of Roosevelt off AZ 188, you can stay at Punkin Center Lodge (928/479-2229); rates for up to four people run $39 ($52 kitchenette). Next door, the Steakhouse (928/479-2627) is open most days for lunch and dinner; there's live entertainment on Friday and Saturday. RV parks are nearby.
On to Salt River Canyon Wilderness