For first time travelers on the Apache Trail its always a shock to be rolling along through the cliff walls and Saguaros and then suddenly discover a massive water filled canyon, blue as the desert sky and reflecting its towering bluffs like a mirror.
What they have come across is Canyon Lake, 950 acres of water, 130 feet deep, captured by the building of the Mormon Flat Dam in 1925. Only 51 miles from Phoenix, including the 14 miles from Apache Junction along the Historic Apache Trail (Hwy 88) it is one of Arizona's most scenic overviews and the destination of sight-seers, boaters and fisherman from all over the world.
Administered as part of the Tonto National Forest, Canyon Lake offers a full service camp ground and marina with paved access, boat rentals and beaches with rainbow trout, bass, crappies and sunfish in its coves. There is also the Lakeside Cantina, a great place for lunch or enjoying a drink on its balconied veranda with a magnificent view of the lake.
Perhaps its most famous as the home of the Dolly Steamboat, a 103' replica of the sternwheelers that once were Arizona's principle means of travel on her main waterways. Owned and operated by the Grimh Family for over 20 years, the eerie whistle of her steam horn and her silently glide across the undisturbed water is one of the reasons "The Dolly" has consistently been voted as a "Best Thing To Do in Arizona".
The one and a half hour sightseeing cruise travels under the cliffs and around small islands with guests either shaded inside the spacious cabin or outside on deck, They are advised to keep their cameras and binoculars handy for Big Horn Sheep, bald eagles, hawks and even the occasional mountain lion are frequent visitors along the shore. Cruise tickets are $20.00 for adults and $12.00 for children 5-12. Those under 4 come aboard free.
A further option is the Twilight Dinner Cruise. This travels on a bit longer and further for a 2 1/2 hour adventure including diner and beverage. The menu varies but usually offers Filet Mignon, Prime Rib, BBQ Rib or Rib Eye Steak with options of Grilled Chicken, Vegetarian Pastas, Baked Potatoes, Apple Pie and your choice of coffee, iced tea or lemonade. You are allowed to bring along your own beer or wine but amounts are restricted to (2) beers or (1) six ounce plastic bottle of wine.
The Dinner Cruise including all the above is listed at $65.10 with children 5-12 $44.15. Once again kids under 4 ride and eat for free. The Dolly also offers an evening Astronomy Cruise and a Narrated Lunch Cruise.
For information on departure times, charters, weddings or reservations (which are highly recommended as the Dolly regularly leaves the dock full) you may call 480-827-9144 or visit www.dollysteamboat.com where you may also make reservations on line.
To reach Canyon Lake from the Phoenix-Mesa area travel #60 E towards Globe and exit at the Idaho Exit in Apache Junction. Take a left and follow Idaho (and the signs directing you to Canyon Lake) to Hwy.88 and turn right. Canyon Lake is 14 miles.