Blue Ridge Reservoir: Tips for a kayaking and camping adventure you’ll never forget

When I first saw pictures of Blue Ridge Reservoir on the Mogollon Rim of northeastern Arizona, I thought someone made a mistake with their photo captions. I was sure I was looking a pics from northern California or Oregon. I was wrong.

Panoramic view of Blue Ridge Reservoir in Arizona
Blue Ridge Reservoir winds a total of 8 miles through the pine studded Mogollon Rim of Arizona.

“How could a gorgeous, narrow lake that winds for miles through a pine covered canyon possibly exist in Arizona?”

Blue Ridge Reservoir was on my Arizona bucket list for a couple of years before I made my first trip there. It can be a challenge planning a first trip to a place in the wilderness for the first time.

I had so many questions before I went. It’s likely you do also if you’re thinking about heading there. In this post I’ll do my best to answer some of the most common questions that come up about Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Questions about Blue Ridge Reservoir I’ll answer in this post:

  • Where is Blue Ridge Reservoir?
  • When is the best time to go?
  • Do I need a pass or permit?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Is camping allowed?
  • Any tips for first time visitors?

Video: Glimpse of Blue Ridge Reservoir on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim

About Blue Ridge Reservoir

Originally named Blue Ridge Reservoir, the name of the dam and reservoir was officially changed to C.C. Cragin in 2004 as part of the the Arizona Water Settlement Act. Most people still refer to it as Blue Ridge.

Cragin served as General Superintendent of the Salt River Project (SRP) utility company in the 1920s and 1930s. He’s remembered for his vision of using SRP’s water management system to generate hydroelectric power.

  • Blue Ridge Reservoir, officially renamed C.C. Cragin Reservoir in 2014, is a fresh water lake about 9 miles from the “town” of Clint’s Well, AZ on the Mogollon Rim
  • Created in 1965 when a dam was built to meet the water needs of the town of Payson and Gila County
  • East Clear Creek is the primary water source for the reservoir
  • Measures 8-miles from end to end
  • Average depth is 147 feet (44 m)
  • Sits at elevation of 6,720 feet (1.1 km)
  • Stocked with rainbow and brown trout
  • Boating is restricted to human-powered craft such as canoes and kayaks and motors 10 horsepower or smaller
  • Freezes over in the winter, unlike most Arizona lakes

Where is Blue Ridge Reservoir?

Blue Ridge Reservoir is located on the Mogollon Rim of Arizona in the vicinity of the “populated place” of Clint’s Wells, AZ. It’s a stop on Highway 87 not even big enough to be considered an unincorporated town. There’s basically and a small convenience store with gas pumps, a restaurant and a trailhead. I couldn’t even get cell service on T-mobile.

My point? It’s out in the sticks. See Blue Ridge Reservoir on a large Google map.

sign pointing to Blue Ridge Reservoir
About 6 miles north of Clint’s Well AZ on Hwy 87, you’ll see this sign directing you to Blue Ridge Reservoir. It’s just after mile marker 295.

When is the best time to go to Blue Ridge Reservoir?

Unless you want to go ice fishing, May through September are the best months to visit Blue Ridge Reservoir. The water is pretty cold and only suitable for contact with skin during the summer months.

Do I need a pass or permit to access Blue Ridge Reservoir?

No. This is one of the most remarkable things about Blue Ridge Reservoir. Unlike many of the other beautiful locations with unmatched natural wonder around Arizona, no pass or permit is required to access the lake.

Glassy calm water of Blue Ridge Reservoir reflects the scenic trees and sky above
Glassy calm water of Blue Ridge Reservoir reflects the scenic trees and sky above
Glassy waters of Blue Ridge Reservoir
Since Blue Ridge Reservoir is well protected from wind by the high, tree-lined canyon walls, the water surface is generally pretty calm.

How much does it cost to access Blue Ridge Reservoir?

Nothing. There is no pass or permit needed. No charge to launch boats either.

If you decide to camp in nearby Rock Crossing Campground, which I highly recommend, you’ll need to pay a nominal fee per night. But reservations are not required – or allowed. Keep scrolling for more info about camping.

Blue Ridge Reservoir parking area
This parking lot is located a couple hundred yards up a steep dirt road from the boat ramp & loading/unloading area. Parking is free. There’s a 2-stall vault toilet and adjacent dumpster.
Blue Ridge Reservoir boat ramp and loading/unloading area
This boat ramp is the only place at Blue Ridge Reservoir to launch your craft. If you take a right from the ramp, you can go about 3 miles on the water. If you go left, you can go 5 miles.

Is camping allowed at Blue Ridge Reservoir?

There isn’t an actual campground at the reservoir itself. That said, there are ample camping opportunities in the area.

Dispersed campsite off FR-751B, near Blue Ridge Reservoir
Here’s an example of a dispersed campsite found just off FR-751B, about a mile before Rock Crossing Campground. Note the only amenity is a stone fire ring.

Camping options at Blue Ridge Reservoir

  • Rock Crossing Campground is a well-maintained campground managed by the U.S. Forest Service located two miles from the boat launch ramp at the lake. Each campsite has a picnic table, tent pad and fire ring. There are several vault toilets and water spigots located throughout. At the time of this post the cost was only $8 nightly. You can pay cash upon arrival. Reservations are not accepted.
  • Dispersed camping options exist along nearby forest roads in great supply. You’ll see some along FR 751, after you turn off Hwy 87. If those are occupied or you want a little more privacy, take a left on FR 751B at the second message board and head north a mile or so. You can set up camp in any of the established sites. Campfire rings made of stone are the only “facilities” you can expect with dispersed camping.
  • Camping on the lake shore requires a little more thought and planning. Basically, you load your camping gear and supplies in your boat, kayak or canoe and head out on the water in search of a spot to do your thing. There are no established sites, so this option is as primitive as it gets. Given the delicate nature of the forest, it’s important to leave your campsite exactly as you found it.
Primitive campsite at Blue Ridge Reservoir
One of several primitive campsites accessible only from the lake at Blue Ridge Reservoir

Regardless of where you decide to camp, please adhere to the number one rule of Leave No Trace ethics and pack out anything you pack in.

Any tips for first time visitors to Blue Ridge Reservoir?

I have three key tips for anyone considering visiting Blue Ridge Reservoir for the first time:

  • Go as soon as you possibly can, before access to the area is restricted by permits or fees. That’s what tends to happen over time as areas become more popular.
  • Plan your trip during the week to avoid crowds. The boat ramp can get pretty busy on weekends. So busy that Forest Service workers often close the entrance gate when the main lot gets full. They allow one car at a time to enter when one car leaves.
  • Build in time to explore the Arizona Trail. There’s a small parking area along FR-751 about 2 miles before you reach Blue Ridge Reservoir. Head north or south for as far as you want to see why people travel to Arizona from around the world to check this trail off their bucket lists.
Arizona Trail directional sign
The world-famous Arizona National Scenic Trail travels right through the forested area near Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Ready to go check out Blue Ridge Reservoir for yourself? Tap the map below.

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2 Comments

  1. Looks like a beautiful lake. I’d not heard of it. Growing up, we did a lot of fishing in the NE part of AZ, around Pinetop and Greer. I haven’t explored the Payson area as much.

  2. I really fell in love with Blue Ridge at first sight. Planning to be in the Greer area in September. The pics I’ve seen remind me of Colorado.

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