When most people think of New Mexico, they imagine scorching deserts and tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. While there is plenty of that, this Southwestern state also offers a surprising number of lakes and reservoirs to enjoy. If you’re looking for New Mexico vacation rentals that let you have fun on the water while also taking in the area’s natural beauty and unique culture, then check out these great spots.

1. Elephant Butte

elephant butte
Source: Flickr / Birdie Jaworski

Named for an oddly shaped hill that rises above the water, the largest lake in New Mexico draws in locals and visitors alike. Fishing aficionados in particular tend to flock here, since it is known for record-breaking bass. Elephant Butte Lake is a particularly good choice if you enjoy swimming, as it has miles of sandy beaches to enjoy. Vacation rentals are available in the nearby towns of Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences. Elephant Butte has a rustic, country-style atmosphere, while Truth or Consequences is more of a resort town due to the hot springs and spas in it.

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2. Cochiti Lake

cochiti lake
Source: Flickr / sugarbear96

If you want easy access to big city amenities, Cochiti Lake is a great place to plan your trip around. This beautiful lake is located about 45 minutes from Albuquerque and 30 minutes from Santa Fe, so you can stay in either one. The small, quiet towns of Cochiti Lake and Pena Blanca are just a few miles from the lake if you prefer a more laid-back atmosphere. The lake itself offers a swim beach, no-wake boating, windsurfing, and fishing, as well as hiking in the surrounding park.

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3. Quemado Lake

quemado lake
Source: Flickr / Gila National Forest

Located in the Gila National Forest, Quemado Lake offers almost any kind of outdoor activity you might want. The surrounding forest is home to a large herd of elk that often visit the lake, as well as countless other animals. It has excellent trout fishing year round, and during the summer you can also fish for channel catfish and small-mouth bass. If you enjoy hiking, be sure to check out the Overlook Trail, which takes you into the surrounding mountains for a spectacular view of the lake. The closest town is also called Quemado. Its small size means that amenities are limited, but there’s a small cafe and a grocery store so you can pick up supplies to cook in your vacation rental.

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4. Santa Rosa Lake

santa rosa lake
Source: Flickr / Deborah Lee Soltesz

There are numerous lakes in and around the town of Santa Rosa, but Santa Rosa Lake offers the most varied activities. It’s common to see people doing everything from paddleboarding to waterskiing, as well as fishing and swimming. The surrounding park also offers excellent hiking, and birdwatchers flock to the area. The town of Santa Rosa is full of vintage charm, including plenty of old-fashioned neon signs and a historic car museum. This family-friendly town offers plenty of restaurants to choose from, and during the summer kids love playing on the floating playground in Park Lake.

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5. Fenton Lake

fenton lake
Source: emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/fentonlakestatepark.html

The peaks of the Jemez Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the clear, cool waters of Fenton Lake. This high-mountain lake is too cold for swimming, but it is perfect for people who want to fish or kayak in a peaceful mountain environment. Only non-motorized boats and small craft equipped with electric trolling motors are allowed. It is only a short drive from the quirky town of Jemez Springs, which has an eclectic mix of bohemian bars, family-friendly cafes, and upscale spas. You can also find quiet cabins tucked away in the mountains outside of town if you prefer a more rustic vacation rental.

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6. El Vado and Heron Lakes

a mountainside lake
Source: Flickr / tochichi

These two lakes are close to each other but offer vastly different experiences. Heron Lake has a no-wake policy that makes it the most popular choice for kayaks and canoes, as well as small sailboats. El Vado Lake doesn’t have any speed or wake restrictions, so people with motorboats tend to congregate there. The two lakes are connected by a 5.5-mile hiking trail that offers unforgettable sights, including a view of the Rio Chama from a suspension bridge over the river. Nearby towns, such as Tierra Amarilla and Chama, have an artsy, old-fashioned feel.

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7. Abiquiu Lake

abiquiu lake
Source: Flickr / IberianExplorer

The region surrounding Abiquiu Lake has long been a favorite spot for artists, and it’s easy to understand why when you visit. Gorgeous red hills, dark pinion trees, and pale sage surround the clear waters of the lake, providing the perfect backdrop for a day spent fishing or boating. There are no swim beaches on Abiquiu Lake, but there are plenty of access spots for swimmers, as well as cliffs that more adventurous visitors frequently jump from. The town of Abiquiu has a rustic atmosphere that’s perfect for a romantic getaway.

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8. Navajo Lake

navajo lake
Source: Flickr / -ted

Navajo Lake is the second-largest lake in the state, and it offers a wide array of activities to enjoy. Swimming and cliff diving are popular activities, and there plenty of boat ramps to let you put in almost any size or type of boat ranging from kayaks to speedboats. If you don’t have your own watercraft, the two full-service marinas offer rentals. This lake also offers top-notch fishing and has several wheelchair-accessible fishing spots. Nearby towns include Farmington, Aztec, and Bloomfield, which tend to be quiet, family-friendly areas.

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9. Bottomless Lakes

lea lake
Source: Flickr / Joel Deluxe

Hidden in the hot, dry desert of southern New Mexico lies a chain of nine small lakes. These unusual lakes are actually massive sinkholes filled with water, and they offer a unique experience. Their fragile nature means that use is somewhat restricted, but non-motorized boating is allowed on most of the lakes. Fishing is also allowed in some, and you can swim in Lea Lake, which is the largest. Lea Lake has a large, sandy swim beach, and it reaches an astonishing 90 feet at its deepest points so it is popular among scuba divers. Bottomless Lakes State Park is just a few minutes’ drive from Roswell, a quirky town with family-friendly activities including a museum dedicated to the famous UFO crash that occurred nearby.

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10. Brantley Lake

brantley lake
Source: emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/brantleylakestatepark.html

If you find yourself itching for a little more speed after visiting Bottomless Lakes, head a bit farther south to Brantley Lake. This large reservoir is a popular spot for speedboats, jet skis, and other motorized craft, although kayakers can still find quiet areas to paddle through. The shallow shoreline offers plenty of places to swim, and fishing is allowed. Brantley Lake is close to the town of Carlsbad, which is a popular vacation spot for families planning on visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

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