We may be several hours from the California coast, but that doesn’t mean us Arizonans need to give up beach days. In June my older brother came to visit and we took him out to explore the desert! As we were paddleboarding across Lake Saguaro, I told him, “…growing up I would have never thought that I’d become a ‘lake person’, but this is my happy place!”. And you know, I think my boys love the lake just as much as I do.
In the last few years, we’ve spent many days along the lake shores. We’ve rented a boat for the weekend on Lake Havasu, camped overnight at Lake Apache, and have done countless day trips to Saguaro Lake. Here are some of my recommendations on how to have a perfect lake beach day!
- Pack the night before – During the summer, we try to leave as soon as our boys are awake to beat the heat as much as possible. I find it really helpful to pack the night before. Some essentials: sunscreen, shade, plenty of water, hats, sunglasses, swim diapers (if applicable!), shoes that can get wet for the kiddos and adults, towels, change of clothes, trash bags (pack it in, pack it out!), and anything else you family will want for a full day of fun. We bring a shade structure that we picked up at Costco and blankets to lay on the sand with folding chairs so we have a place to sit as well.
- Plan your destination and be flexible! It’s always good to do some research and plan ahead about where your family is looking to spend the day! But especially during some of the cooler months, some of the popular beach areas can be busy. Try to have a few backup plans just in case, but don’t worry — there’s plenty of water for everyone to enjoy! We love Butcher Jones Recreation Site at Lake Saguaro for an easy day out (it’s about 40 minutes from Gilbert). We’ve also explored Canyon Lake and Apache Lake and love them both — but they’re a bit further.
- Be prepared to buy a Tonto Pass. Depending on your destination, you might be required to have an $8 Tonto Pass for day use parking, and often times, these aren’t available for purchase on site. Stop at a local store on your way up to the lake to purchase your pass ahead of time to avoid the stress. (We try to always keep a fresh Tonto Pass in our car just in case we go on a spur of the moment adventure, or forget to stop on our way up!).
- Don’t forget the snacks. If your kiddos are anything like mine, snacks are always a win. I often pack a combination of fruit (bananas and mini-oranges travel well!), cookies (Oreos are the favorite in our house), and sandwiches. For our family, going to the lake is special, so sometimes the boys get to have treats that we usually don’t keep at home.
- Leave the devices at home. Of course, you do you, but one of my favorite things about our lake days is that we are often without cellular service. It’s so refreshing to leave Instagram, work-emails, and everything else behind and just enjoy several hours of genuine, quality time with my favorite people.
- A shovel and bucket provide hours of entertainment. Our first couple trips to the lake, I would stress about what we needed to pack or bring to keep the boys busy. Honestly, now I bring a shovel and a bucket… for them to share. We recently got a pair of paddleboards that the boys love being on. But other than that, I’ve found that the less I bring, the more fun they have because they explore, play with rocks, splash around, and take in the adventures of the lake more. (If you are planning on paddleboarding or using any watercraft, remember that Arizona law requires children to have a life vest).
- The more the merrier! We love bringing friends to enjoy days at the lake with us! It’s great to share the fun, and it can be a little bit less daunting if you have more adults to keep an eye on the littles in the water. If your family prefers to go alone, that’s totally fine! We enjoy the quiet time, and we’ve also enjoyed meeting new people at the lake too.
- Let it go. I’m really a stickler at home about our schedules, what we eat, and keeping my boys clean. Spending days at the lake has taught me to loosen up a bit. For us, lake rules are different than our house rules. The boys know this, and we know this. It allows us all to relax a bit. The boys eat more cookies than they should get dirt EVERYWHERE, and the only nap they usually get is in the car on the way home. And you know what? It’s totally fine and we are all better for it.
I love Arizona and all that our beautiful state has to offer. There are so many lakes to explore, and I know our family can’t wait to see the rest of them. If you and your crew make it out this summer, please share photos and your tips with us! Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget that water and sunscreen!