Carefree Desert Gardens

A shady spot in Carefree Desert Gardens.

Carefree brings to mind “Sonoran Desert Living at its Finest” and the natural beauty of Sonoran Desert vistas. Did you know the Town is also the gateway to the Bartlett Lake recreation area and the summer fun that is synonymous with a day or long weekend visit?

Bartlett and Horseshoe Lakes are located along the Verde River within the Tonto National Forest, approximately 20 miles east of the Carefree town center and offer boating, picnicking, shoreline camping in Arizona’s natural desert terrain, fishing, glimpses of diverse wildlife, and views of many indigenous desert plants, including majestic saguaros and blooming ocotillo. Visitors and residents alike are often surprised to learn the Verde River and even bald eagles are so nearby. The beautiful drive from Carefree to Bartlett Lake along Cave Creek Road and then Bartlett Dam Road are worth the trip. Or rent an ATV at Time to Ride AZ in Carefree, the closest self-guided ATV rental shop to the Tonto National Forest. Bartlett Dam Road snakes through the desert offering the occasional view of distant Weaver’s Needle nestled deep in the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks.

Bartlett Dam, named for Bill Bartlett, the chief government surveyor on the project, was built by the Bureau of Reclamation and is part of the Bureau’s Salt River Project (SRP) with SRP paying 80 percent of the cost and the Bureau of Indian Affairs paying 20 percent. Bartlett Dam construction commenced in 1935, well before Carefree was even a concept, when much of present day Carefree was a goat farm. When completed in May 1939, Bartlett Dam was 286.5 feet tall and 800 feet long, and the highest multiple arch dam in the world. In an odd way, it is only fitting that 20 years later one of the world’s largest Sundials would be erected in the heart of Carefree.

Recently, there has been talk of enlarging Bartlett Lake to make up for silt filled Horseshoe Lake and as a means of capturing more sudden river flow surge water for later use. From a recreational perspective, this would mean a future larger lake and even more recreational opportunities.

The summer may be hot, but we are fortunate to be in such close proximity to the lakes. Even an airconditioned car ride will feel like a mini vacation. And, on the return trip, after seeing what was once the largest dam of its kind, ease your way back to civilization with a stop in the walkable Carefree Town Center, admire one of the largest sundials, take a short stroll through our Desert Gardens, galleries and shops, sit down at one of our many diverse restaurants for an enjoyable meal, and then think of the wonders that are so surprisingly nearby. We are along the way.

After all, Carefree is the “Gateway to the Lakes” and “Sonoran Desert Living at its Finest!”

Written By

Vice Mayor, Town of Carefree

John Crane is Vice Mayor of the Town of Carefree. Learn more about Carefree:; 480.488.3845


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