Parker Canyon Lake is another beautiful mountain lake in southern Arizona, and getting there is half the adventure. Whether you take the easy route coming south on 83 (2 miles dirt roads close to the lake), or the more adventurous trip across the Coronado National Forest (13 miles dirt roads, but incredibly scenic)it will be exciting to reach this lake. (The park itself as well as the boat launch, marina, and parking lot are all paved, I don't understand why they didn't just finish paving the road to the lake, but I digress).
Anyway, launching from the marina you will initially think this is a very small lake, but if you choose to paddle the circumference of the lake as I did, you will find it a longer paddle than expected due to the numerous small canyons and inlets around the lake. As you round the lake you will see the terrain on shore vary from rocky cliffs, to desert, to pine forest, and even to some marshy areas.
There is abundant wildlife, with the highly amusing diving duck often surfacing right next to your boat, startling both you and the duck. I also saw deer, peccaries, Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, and the largest Osprey I've ever seen (I initially thought it was a bald eagle due to its size).
The water is immaculately clear (the park signs advertise it as the cleanest water in Arizona) and I could observe many fish below the surface. While, like any other kayaker in Southern Arizona I continue to be frustrated by the lack of big water in the area, doing the circumference of this lake took about an hour and a half, and its six thousand foot elevation made it a decent workout to boot. Overall it was a fun paddle and will be very satisfying to anyone willing to make the trip.
While getting to the lake does require travel on dirt roads, they are not particularly harsh, I saw a guy make it in a dodge caravan. Just avoid it if it is a rainy day.
There are two campgrounds on the lake shore, as well as several others scattered through the adjacent Coronado National Forest.
From Tucson, take I-10 east approximately 20 miles to State Route 83 (exit 281) and turn south 50 miles through Sonoita to Parker Canyon Lake.