10 Of The Best Places To Kayak In Arizona

Arizona may be in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, and you’d think it would be severely lacking in water. But, despite being so dry, it it has some amazing kayaking locations. Arizona boasts lots of beginner-friendly spots with calm water and beautiful views that are ideal paddling spots for both newbie kayakers and those with more experience.

So, to help inspire you for your next kayaking trip, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best places to kayak in Arizona.

1. Blue Ridge Reservoir

Blue Ridge Reservoir‘ by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you are looking for a kayaking location with gorgeous sceneries, Blue Ridge Reservoir along Mogollon Rim is one of the best options. With its elevation of 6,700 feet above the ground, you can enjoy spectacular views of the canyon walls and forest.

Its peaceful and narrow waters are ideal for beginners or those looking to not work too hard. Another reason we love it is that there is little traffic and motorboats aren’t allowed in the lake. You’ll therefore, have plenty of space to lazily drift through the water or get some practice at your paddling technique. Definitely worth a visit for the calming atmosphere and scenic views of Blue Ridge Reservoir

2. Lone Rock Canyon

Lone Rock Beach – No claim to original U.S. Government works

A list of the best kayaking spots in Arizona wouldn’t be complete without Lone Rock Canyon. Whether you intend to be part of a guided tour or a solo kayak experience, it has a lot to offer. It’s generally got very calm waters which allow you more time to take in the stunning views. If you are a beginner, it is wise to visit in the morning when the waters are calm.

Its impressive towering cliffs make an ideal spot to escape everyday life and enjoy nature. For the thrill seekers, it also provides opportunities for cliff diving on the canyon walls although be careful to do this only where it’s completely safe.

3. Lake Pleasant, Maricopa County

Lake Pleasant‘ by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are looking for a kayaking location near to Phoenix, Lake Pleasant should be at the top of your list. It’s actually an artificial lake created by the Carl Pleasant Dam in the 1920s and like other artificial reservoirs, it has cliffs on the side and canyons that are ideal for kayaks and canoes.

The lake is a popular destination for local tourists and kayaking enthusiasts and so can get a little busy bu it stretches over 11.5 miles so there are lots of spots to explore all along it. For those looking to make a trip of it, there are numerous camping spots along each with beautiful views and opportunities for biking, boating, and hiking.

4. Lower Salt River

Sunrise Reflections, Lower Salt River‘ by Z Glyph is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The Lower Salt River in Mesa is very popular among the Arizona locals. It has lots of greenery, giant cliffs, beautiful waters, and scenic views. There is plenty of desert wildlife to see and as a result it can get crowded, especially in the summer.

Due to its calm and cool waters it’s recommend for beginners looking for a convenient place to sharpen their kayaking skills. It’s also part of the Tonto National Forest, so there are lots of other activities to enjoy all along the river.

5. Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake is the second most popular public attraction in Arizona. As a result, it can get a little crowded, especially in the peak summer months as people look to spend more time outdoors. It’s also a good spot for those that don’t own a kayak with numerous places to rent all around the lake.

6. Lake Powell

It’s safe to say that kayaking in Lake Powell is a thrilling experience. The expansive lake with 170 miles of water should definitely be on, or near the top of your list if you are looking for a truly unique kayaking experience. The shoreline stretches up to 1,900 miles so you can spend a few days exploring it.

At the lake, you can paddle through some amazing spots, including Lone Rock Canyon (that we looked at earlier) and Antelope Canyon. For those that like more structure there are lots of opportunities for approved kayak tours, paddleboard rentals, and fat tire bike rentals.

7. Big Lake, Apache County

Big Lake‘ by Andy Atzert is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Big Lake is a little-known gem in northern Arizona’s White Mountains. True to its name, the lake covers 450 acres and is a very popular spot for anglers due to its healthy trout population and as a fishing hub. Definitely one of the best spots for kayaking fishing in Arizona.

Big Lake doesn’t permit gas engines which although may be an inconvenience to some people, it is a great way to maintain the tranquility and calm nature of the waters (and ideal for paddlers!) All around the lake you’ll see beautiful scenery including views of the mountains and vast forests. The lake’s 9000-feet elevation makes it easy to view the beautiful surroundings and is one of the best places to get away from the stressful city life.

8. Knoll Lake

Up next we have Knoll Lake which is one of Arizona’s pristine mountain lakes. It covers quite a vast area with the lake being 50 feet deep, and spanning 75 acres there is a lot to explore.

Knoll Lake is conveniently located in a secluded forest, making it great for adventurers looking to get away from the city and do some hiking too. The forest surrounding the lake is full of ponderosa pines, which add to its natural beauty and tranquility.

9. Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the World but also one of the most gorgeous kayaking destinations in the world. From the beautiful scenery to whitewater rapids, a kayaking trip along the Colorado River is one you will remember for a long time.

A big part of the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon is whitewater so if you plan on kayaking through it, you should have Class 4 whitewater skills. You’ll also need to get a permit before kayaking it, for more information check out the National Park Service’s website here.

10. Colorado River

Although the colorado river is known for the Grand Canyon, there are many other spots all along it for whitewater kayaking and some that you won’t need to get a permit for. It’s also not just for more experienced kayakers too as the river has been divided into different parts. Each one of them is rated differently by the American Whitewater’s Scale of River Difficulty. 

Summing up Kayaking in Arizona

Even though kayaking in Arizona may not seem like the best idea at first, the state has a huge amount of amazing paddling locations to offer. And, even though the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular options, it is not the only one. The rivers depend on rainfall and molten snow and are perfect for kayaking as they receive lots of sunlight all-year-round. Good luck and stay safe on your next trip.