Arizona has a lot of deserts, but it also has an abundance of rivers and lakes perfect for adventure-seeking paddlers like yourself.
Here are 10 of the best places to go kayaking in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon
One of the leading wonders of the world also makes for a great kayaking trail. Located on the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is known for whitewater rapids and beautiful scenery. But you must have an unfailing river roll and solid Class 4 whitewater skills. You’ll also need a permit.
The Colorado River runs throughout the year, but each season offers different experiences. In the hot summer months, the river is fed by flash floods from various side canyons, and the water is brownish. The average daily temperatures soar above the 100 marks, and afternoon thunderstorms are typical during fall. But while summer flows are high, springtime flows are often the lowest. During spring, the water is colder, with 60-90 Celsius daily averages. Wildflowers are also common during spring.
Start at Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek; this is a 227-mile journey that may take up to 3 weeks. Bring your camera along to snap photos of towering cliffs, brightly lit by the early morning or late evening sun.
Known for the Grand Canyon, there are many whitewater kayaking spots on the Colorado River, too. Whether you are an armature or an experienced paddler looking to float in calm, peaceful waters, surrounded by beautiful sceneries, this is the right place. You won’t even need a permit to kayak in some spots on the river.
Just start at Lee’s Ferry and paddle upstream to the Glen Canyon Dam. It’s a 5 miles stretch known for deep and clear water that’s habitat to German brown and rainbow trout. It’s common to see them swimming in schools alongside kayaks. Another beautiful feature is the sandstone canyon wall that rises 1000 feet on both sides of the banks throughout your trip. Its color varies from red to pink.
You can hire a boat to meet you at Lee’s Ferry and take you upstream to the dam and leave you there to ride back down on your own at five mph. Alternatively, you can bring your own kayak. Expect no significant hazards, just a few unpredictable but totally manageable currents and some motorized boats on the waters.
More info on paddling the Colorado River in Arizona
Blue Ridge Reservoir
Flowing 6,700 feet elevations above the ground along Mogollon Rim, the Blue Ridge Reservoir offers gorgeous views of the surrounding pine forest and canyon walls. The lake’s official name is C.C. Cragin, named after its 1920-1930s General Superintendent, but most locals still call it the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
Winding for miles and miles through a pine-dense canyon in Northeastern Arizona, the waters are narrow and peaceful, making it ideal for people of all skill levels. Another good thing is that motorboats are not allowed, meaning there is little traffic and ample space to lazily float through the reservoir or put your paddling skills at work.
Visit the reservoir anytime from May through September for calming atmospheric and picturesque views away from the city’s hot temperatures. You don’t need any permits!
More info on the Blue Ridge Reservoir
The Emerald Cave on the Black Canyon Water Way along the historic Colorado River offers magical kayak experiences. Start this leisurely trip at Willow Beach Marina and paddle north for 3 miles, stopping at picturesque outlooks and various historical sites such as the Willow Beach Gauging Station.
This trail leads through volcanic canyon walls that tower 900 feet off the ground, massive volcanic boulders, and sparkling emerald waters. At the end of the 3 miles lies the Emerald Cave with its yellow, black rock brilliantly lit by the southwestern sun and reflections from the river.
Turn back to complete your journey and rest on a remote beach to enjoy your lunch while watching exciting wildlife activity unfold at the shorelines of both Arizona and Nevada. Expect to see bighorn, ospreys, great blue herons, and eagles peeking over the towering cliffs. Willow Beach also offers canoeing and swimming activities. There’s also a great fishing pier and marina. Rent a boat or bring your own to relax in the calm and peaceful waters.
More info on the Emerald Cave in AZ
Beautiful lake, picturesque mountains, and flawless conditions! A solo kayak trip through Saguaro Lake offers the opportunity to take in the Arizona natural landscape. You can book a rental or bring your own kayak for a ride on the lake at a preferred pace while lingering at various locations for the best views of wildlife and the river,
This is a trip to enjoy with your buddies; Saguaro Lake is the right size to explore under just 2 hours by kayak. Towering cliffs and a lot of inlets make the hidden dessert oasis very interesting.
The lake gets busy on weekends, so arrive early, around 9:30. Expect to see some Heron, Bald Eagle, mountain sheep, and a variety of snowbirds. But you must be okay with self-guided river excursions!
A ride down the Lower Salt River offers an opportunity to explore Arizona’s largest forest, the Tonto National Forest. Set your kayak at Saguaro Lake and paddle along the lower section of Salt River, lingering at various places to explore natural scenery and native wildlife, including wild horses and gorgeous cliffs.
This trip offers the best escape during the hot summer months. As you float in the cool waters below towering high cliffs, keep your eyes wide open for the best the Sonoran Desert has to offer. Apart from herds of wild horses, expect to see great blue herons, deer, bald eagles, and ospreys. A sit-on kayak is the best for exploring this scenery. The river flows steadily with just a few ripples to get you soaking wet.
You can explore the upper portion of the river and tackle miles of Class III to Class IV waters through the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s forest and habitat. This is a 45-mile excursion that may last up to 5 days. Bring your fishing tools along and try your lac at some fish.
Lake pleasant in Maricopa County is a great kayaking spot near Phoenix. This artificial lake was created in the 1920s when Carl Pleasant Dam was built.
Like many waterways in Arizona, it is surrounded by towering cliffs and side canyons that are an attraction to canoe and kayak lovers. You’ll often find locals and tourists alike floating on the lake or practicing their paddling techniques in the waters that stretch over 11.5 miles. The lake offers biking, boating, camping, and hiking activities, too.
More info on kayaking Lake Pleasant
Tempe Town Lake
Tempe Town Lake is located at the Phoenix Metropolitan center and offers a great escape from the busy city. Indeed, it’s the number two popular attraction in Arizona. Get into your kayak and start drifting away out from the lake’s shoreline for a quiet time from the metropolis.
No experience is needed; the water flows gently.
Best take the trip at night flanked by a bright moon overhead and twinkly lit buildings beneath for a magical experience.
More info on the Tempe Town Lake
Lake Powell spans over 170 miles with a shoreline that stretches close to 2000 miles, making it a perfect spot if you want to go on an excursion for a few days. Paddling through the lake takes you through amazing spots such as the Lone Rock Canyon and the beautiful Antelope Canyon.
The Lone Rock Canyon is known for scenic overlooks, side cliffs, and slot cliffs, while the Antelope Canyon is one of the most popular canyons in the country. Bring your camera along to take some beautiful pictures of the scenery. On the west side of the lake, the water is crystal clear, and there are plenty of nice beach areas if you want to rest and enjoy a quiet picnic.
Located in a quiet forest, Knoll Lake spans 75 acres and is 50′ deep. Surrounded by dense ponderosa pines, this mountain lake offers a great escape into tranquility and natural beauty. If you are looking for an unforgettable adventure away from the busy city, this is a great spot; just bring your inflatable kayak along.
Main attractions include boating, photography, sightseeing, and wildlife viewings. Expect to see an array of birds such as Cinnamon Teal, Western Bluebird, and Bald Eagle, among others. Fishing is also big here if you plan to catch some brown, brook, and rainbow trout. But if the fish are finicky, head over to the Mogollon Rim, a 2000 feet escapement on the plateau’s southern edge. Watch as it drops from low deserts to cool highlands in majestic splendor!
I hope you enjoyed see the best places to kayak in Arizona. If you know of any other paddling locations, please leave me a comment below.
If you own a paddling rental company at any of these locations and would like to be mentioned on this page, please get in touch.