The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about New Mexico is Wild West high desert. Water, especially lakes, is not usually part of the picture. There are, however, a number of lakes in New Mexico, blowing the stereotype of dry and arid right out of the water (pun intended). Movoto shows homes listed for sale by the name of the specific lake area of New Mexico.

Which lakes you consider to be the best lakes depends mostly on your reasons for going there. Forty-seven percent of New Mexico is publicly-owned land, and the availability of lakefront property is very limited. Almost all the lakes in New Mexico are part of the State Parks and Recreation system, and so are on public lands. Private lakefront property in New Mexico is rare to nonexistent, except on Conchas Lake, north of Tucumcari. Vacation homes mostly sit on land within a mile or so from the lake itself. Camping, vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfasts, and cabins are available at or near all the lakes for short-term stays.

All the lakes are at least an hour east, south, or north of Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. Most of New Mexico's lakes are actually reservoirs, built when a nearby river was dammed to provide water for a region. Lakes are pretty much known for the activities they support, either at the lake itself or in surrounding areas. Here's a quick breakdown of the lakes in New Mexico.

Abiquiu Lake

best lakes in New Mexico

An hour north and west of Santa Fe, this lake's environs were made famous by the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. It is also known for its narrow fingers, which extend into nearby canyons. During the summer months, Abiquiu Lake hosts families and family-oriented activities, including boating, wakeboarding, camping, and fishing.

Bottomless Lakes

These are actually eight sinkholes full of water in the southeast part of New Mexxico. Only one, Lea Lake, allows swimming. This area is best known for its hiking trails, which host some remarkable quartz crystals, known as "Pecos Diamonds."

Brantley Lake

best lakes in New Mexico

Situated twenty minutes from Carlsbad, NM, this small-ish, relatively new lake is not greatly used because not many people know about it. This lake is more family-oriented than anything else, and hosts a number of outdoor activities, both seasonal and year-round. It is close to Carlsbad Caverns, a National Park known worldwide for its limestone cave rock formations.

Caballo Lake

South of bigger neighbor Elephant Butte Lake, this more primitive getaway is close to the cities of Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences (known better as T or C). The lake itself is wholly on government land, so there is no commercial development or privately-owned shoreline real estate. During the week, the lake is almost deserted, which makes for a quiet and peaceful experience. Caballo Lake is also known for its fishing.

Cochiti Lake

Just under an hour's drive north from Albuquerque, it is best known for its family-oriented environment. Like many of the state's lakes, it's located on an Indian (Cochiti Pueblo) reservation, so private real estate is not available.

The Tent Rocks nearby offer hiking and exploring in a visually arresting area.

Conchas Lake

Eighty-six percent of the shores of this lake is privately owned. Approximately 176 miles east of Albuquerque, north of Tucumcari, NM, this lake is far enough away to feel remote, but close enough to the major city in the state to reach an international airport. Although real estate turnover is low in this area, it's worth the time to start a search for a vacation home here.

El Vado Lake

Originating as a reservoir, this northern lake offers both winter – angling and hunting - and summer activities – swimming, boating, camping, bird-watching, fishing, and hiking are among the more popular. Heron Lake, six miles away, also offers nature-loving hiking trails.

Elephant Butte Lake

best lakes in New Mexico

The biggest lake in New Mexico, situated about 147.5 miles south of Albuquerque, this lake is famous for its many and varied outdoor activities. Swimming, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and other outdoor sports can be indulged in at Elephant Butte Lake. It's actually a huge reservoir, built during the early part of the twentieth century, and has a ton of history attached to it. In fact, the original administration building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fenton Lake

Small and also man-made, this lake hosts excellent fishing. Camping, hiking, bird-watching, and boating are also available. All other activities and services are located in surrounding towns.

Navajo Lake

This lake straddles the New Mexico-Colorado state line, with recreational services available from both states. The New Mexico side sits completely within the Navajo Reservation. A certain amount of cultural sensitivity is an absolute must when enjoying the amenities to be found at Navajo Lake. Anyone in this area, whether on vacation or an extended stay, will find outstanding fishing and guided fishing, boating, hiking, camping of all kinds (including RVs), rest rooms, and even shower facilities. Traveling south, other amenities are also available in a number of northern New Mexico towns.

Santa Rosa Lake

Near the city of Santa Rosa, this lake offers a variety of outdoor sports, including camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and nature viewing. The lake itself is a flood-control and irrigation reservoir.

Ute Lake

Northeast of Tucumcari on Route 39, Ute Lake is a go-to place for just about any outdoor water sport you can think of. Another reservoir, which was built entirely with state funds, it serves as irrigation and flood-control of the Canadian River. Vacation home properties are available near Ute Lake, but not on the waterfront.