Peña Blanca Lake

Reach these sparkling waters in Southern Arizona just west of Nogales.

Along Highway 289 on the remote route to Peña Blanca Lake, visitors would benefit from more road signs. Roadrunner Crossing. Coyote Crossing. Cow Crossing. In this isolated area, wildlife sightings are as common as encounters with fellow travelers. Be on the lookout for open-range cows lounging in or chowing down on the desert grasses that grow right up to the side of the highway. The lake is nestled in Peña Blanca Canyon surrounded by the Atascosa and Pajarito mountains — ranges topped with ridges of white cliffs or peñas blancas.

Get on the Water

Saguaro-studded hills and high-desert grasslands lead to this craggy canyon lake. Boat rentals are not offered in this remote area, so visitors are encouraged to bring their own kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. Small motorboats are also allowed but few visitors choose to disrupt the natural peace and quiet enjoyed here. Fish from the dock or the floating fishing piers, or venture onto the lake to find a sweet spot. Anglers head here to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish and channel catfish plus rainbow trout that are stocked in the cooler months.

Hike In

The Peña Blanca Lake Trail winds along the western shore of the lake and is an easy 1.5-mile round trip that leads to the dam and back. When water levels are low, hikers can bushwhack their way past the dam and around the entire perimeter of the lake, but the trail is often overgrown and may require a quick swim to pick up the route. Head west on Highway 39 to reach Atascosa Lookout Trail, a more challenging 4.5-mile out-and-back route that climbs to a summit overlooking the mountain ranges of Southern Arizona and neighboring Mexico. The highway turns to dirt just west of the lake and passes abandoned mining sites and historic ranching properties before reaching the trailhead.

Visit Nogales

Head a few miles south to experience the border town of Nogales, where visitors can get a glimpse of the Mexico experience without crossing the border. On the Arizona side of the border, visitors shop for imports and tour historic structures. Visit the 1904 Santa Cruz County Courthouse and the Pimeria Alta Historical Society Museum located in the former 1914 city hall building — an ornate beauty with a clock tower. Plus, many Nogales restaurants serve up dishes as authentic as those prepared south of the border.

For More Information

Nogales Ranger District
303 Old Tucson Rd
Nogales, AZ 85621
(520) 281-2296

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