Located in the northern part of Arizona, Pinetop-Lakeside is a small mountain community best known to the locals of Arizona as a mountain retreat. Only 3.5 hours from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, it’s worlds away as far as the temperature and population. In all seasons, this area is an outdoorsman’s paradise, with almost any outdoor pursuit you can think of including hunting, fishing, hiking, bicycling, swimming, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more. It’s the perfect place to explore nature, savor local food and craft beer, and talk to genuinely lovely people. Here are my reasons you’ll fall in love with Pinetop-Lakeside.
Thanks to Visit Arizona for hosting me on my visit to Pinetop-Lakeside. All opinions are my own.
1. The Outdoor Experience At Woodland Lake Park
Woodland Lake Park is known to be the crown jewel of Pinetop-Lakeside. Situated at almost 7,000 feet, the park is an oasis right in town, so you can get away from it all without actually leaving the area. The shimmering waters of the pristine 18-acre lake are a draw for many. Whether you are an angler, a birder, or a walker, you’ll relish in the panoramic views of the lake and the many species of birds and animals the water attracts.
Come here in any season and you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy nature. Spring, summer, and fall are perfect times for hiking, cycling, birding, playing a game of frisbee golf, or catching a game at one of the ball fields. Winter brings more solitude to the park and is a great time to enjoy cross country skiing.
If fishing is your passion, you’ll love trying your luck at the well-stocked lake. Whether casting from the floating dock or in your boat, fish varieties you may find here include rainbow trout, bass and catfish.
If you prefer land over water, enjoy the lake via the new ADA-compliant, hard-surfaced walking path that circles the lake. This 1.02-mile paved path is perfect for jogging or for a leisurely stroll with your pup. The wilderness areas of the park feature miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, so there’s plenty of room to roam here. Families will especially enjoy the ramadas throughout the park, a perfect place for a picnic!
2. Enchanting Accommodations In the Pines
Buck Springs Resort offers cozy cottages nestled in the woods on their 20-acre property. With a serene vibe and a convenient location close to everything in Pinetop-Lakeside, as well as nearby Hon-dah Casino and Sunrise Park Skiing, Buck Springs is a good option for a home away from home in the area.
The immaculate and nicely updated cabins with full kitchens and fireplaces have everything you’d need for a stay here. Your crew will enjoy a cool night by the fire pits outside, toasting marshmallows for s’mores or cooking up burgers on the barbecue. While the kids play in the playground, your furry friend will love the on-site dog park. Everyone will have plenty of space to play outside among the tall pines and breathe in the clean mountain air.
3. Belgian Style Beer At Pinetop Brewing Company
This wine drinker has new appreciation for craft beer after visiting Pinetop Brewing Company. The only traditional Belgian-style brewery in Arizona, Pinetop is an award-winning beer lover’s destination.
Led by local owners Bridget and James, as well as brewmaster John (Cisco) Francisco and his wife, Bonny, Pinetop is a small operation that’s doing big things. With 14 Belgian brews consistently on the menu, you’ll find everything from a dark Dubbel to a light Belgian wit — all unique and with a creative twist.
For starters, go with a beer flight. Since I’m not into dark beers, Cisco recommended both the Belgian wit and the chardonnay blonde. Infused with chardonnay grapes, the chardonnay blonde flavor is something this wine lover can get behind! The Saison earned high marks as well, both from me and from the judges at the Strong Beer Festival where it won the silver medal winner in 2018.
I don’t remember beer ever tasting this good. Maybe it’s the pure mountain water they use in the brewing process. Maybe it’s the special Belgian “candi” sugar that they put into the brew. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s brewed at 7,000 feet! My husband is all-in on dark beer and Pinetop’s grand cru won raves from him.
This gastro pub offers a dynamic menu as well, with offerings specifically designed to pair with the beers. The Brussels and bacon with lightly-charred Brussels sprouts and house bacon all mixed with balsamic is the perfect savory pairing. For a shared main, try one of the pizzas with house-made dough. The Mediterranean honey pizza is a brilliant concoction that I’ve not seen anywhere else. Served with a side of honey and topped with southern European ingredients like artichokes, olives, arugula, and garlic olive oil, this pizza is one to remember.
Enthusiasm is catching, as they say, and the passion that radiates from the owners is part of what makes Pinetop Brewing a special place.
4. Fabulous Fun With Funky The Owl
Get up close and personal with animals at the White Mountain Nature and Wildlife Center. This non-profit educational organization offers the opportunity for students of all ages to learn about the natural habitat of the area. Their events calendar lists a range of activities from classes to nature hikes.
We were thrilled to meet the new star of the show here, Funky The Owl. As part of the new Raptor Flight Show from Land On Sky Wildlife Experiences, Funky, the Eurasian eagle owl, and friends will be part of the formal program that will soon be offered regularly. Until then, the public is welcome to attend the daily free training shows to see this beautiful creature in action. With a wing span of more than 6 feet and gripping strength of more than 400 pounds, Funky is one impressive raptor.
Certified bird trainers Balinda and John are pros when it comes to training birds and have more than 15 years of experience. You can bet on being entertained as well as educated about bird conservation and animal welfare.
5. Multitudes Of Gaming And Entertainment Options
Just minutes from Pinetop-Lakeside, Hon-dah is the perfect home base for your adventures in the area. On-site is a casino, hotel, restaurant, meeting space, and entertainment center.
Walking into the vast entryway, the alpine influence is unmistakable. From the mounted elk over the fireplace to the stuffed mountain lions playing tag on the wall, it’s apparent you’re in the woods here, and you wouldn’t know that there’s a casino right around the corner.
The hotel side of things offers more than 100 pristine rooms along with gargantuan-sized suites for your large group to relax and a beautiful heated outdoor pool and hot tub. The recent renovation of the busy conference center includes an impressive new sound and light system.
At the on-site restaurant, try the chicken fried steak breakfast. Order one and split it — it’s huge! The succulent steak, house-made with prime rib and served with a delicious white gravy along with two eggs and a waffle, is melt-in-your-mouth-goodness.
6. Authentic Green Chili
On the hunt for real southwestern green chili, my quest began at El Rancho, where I indulged in the enchiladas — one beef and one chicken. Served with their craveable green chili, these enchiladas are on a level all their own. Their menu offers many intriguing specialties that I can’t wait to try.
7. Horseback Trail Rides
At Porter Mountain Stables, enjoy a guided, leisurely stroll around the grounds, crossing streams and riding through pine forests. They have the perfect horse, and the perfect ride for everyone.
8. Cute Local Cafes
Pinetop-Lakeside is home to great local eateries like the popular Darbi’s Cafe. Darbi’s very large menu includes entrées like grandpa’s stroganoff with tender slices of steak and beefy mushroom wine sauce served over egg noodles. Or, try an Irish Benedict with corned beef for breakfast. The chicken Caesar salad, full of greens and flavorful grilled chicken, is the perfect light lunch.
9. Enjoy Coffee And Community
A stop into the delightful Arizona Mountain Coffee Company is the perfect start to a chilly morning on the mountain. The homemade coffee cake, moist and light with a delicious streusel topping, really hits the spot, as does the latté. The space inside reminds me of a super cute community hang out space. Paintings adorn the walls, and they even offer weekly painting classes for the community.
Don’t stop at Pinetop-Lakeside, explore the rest of Arizona: