Phoenix Kayaking Tours

While the idea of kayaking in Phoenix might seem like a contradiction to first-time visitors to the desert, or even to many locals, there are actually several places to get out on the water near or within the metro area. There is great kayaking for beginners within a short drive or in some cases even a few blocks! The urban lakes and ponds, like Tempe Town Lake, offer great canoe and kayak opportunities for casual paddlers, and there are places to kayak near Phoenix that are only a short drive from town. Whether using a lake kayak, a river kayak, or even a pedal kayak, a recreational boating experience can be found during a visit to Phoenix.

Places to Kayak Near Phoenix

The reason that Phoenix exists and that Phoenix kayak tours are possible is that the city was founded along the banks of the Salt River. Today, the river is controlled by a series of dams upstream of the city, but the water still reaches the urban core via canals and underground water mains, and keeps the urban lakes full, lawns watered, and agriculture areas productive.

Salt River Kayaking

Salt River Kayaking

Salt River kayaking is still possible after making a short drive to the eastern edge of the city, where a segment of the Salt River is released from dams into a 12 mile stretch of Class I and II- flowing river, with abundant streamside vegetation and wildlife sighting opportunities. This area has an inner tubing concession that operates in the summer. A guest ranch on the river and several in-town facilities offer kayak rentals with a variety of equipment and pricing.

Lower Salt River

45 minutes east of Phoenix. Offers incredible views of towering cliff faces, giant saguaro cactus, wild horses, and other wildlife.

Lower Verde River

1 hour north east of Phoenix. This stretch of river is very wild and logistically challenging to kayak on though it is quite scenic.

Upper Salt River

2.5 hours east of Phoenix. Whitewater kayaking, only open for a couple of weeks in the spring.

Upper Verde River

2 hours north of Phoenix. Those looking for a change of scenery may want to drive to Cottonwood, AZ where you can kayak the upper Verde River.

Lake Kayaking

Lake Kayaking

If the preference is for lake kayaking, The Salt River reservoirs of Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt have miles of shoreline and spectacular scenery. Lake Pleasant northwest of the city also has kayak rentals and camping, and Tempe Town Lake, Chaparral Park, and the Tres Rios Wetlands have a great diversity of habitat and developed access features.

Recommended Types of Kayak for Phoenix

If you aren’t an avid kayaker already, you may have one or two pictures in your mind of what kayaking really is. Many people picture a long sleek ocean kayak slicing through open water, or a short and agile whitewater river kayak cutting through big rapids, maybe you’re even envisioning a canoe where you sit more upright. None of these are a good representation of the kayaking in Phoenix. The waterways near Phoenix can be explored from a variety of types of kayak including inflatable self-bailing kayaks, hard-shelled sit on top kayaks, pedal drive kayaks, and other casual varieties.

When to Go Salt River Kayaking

There is no best season for kayaking the Salt River. Temperatures in Phoenix stay moderate all winter long, but can be quite hot in the summer. Summer kayaking offers more opportunities for swimming, but winter kayaking can offer some of the best chances for wildlife viewing. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Summer Kayaking

Chances to swim and cool off

Fall Kayaking

Water temperatures are still fairly warm and so is the air temperature.

Winter Kayaking

The best opportunities for seeing wild animals like wild horses

Spring Kayaking

The air temps are warmer and cactus and wild flower are often blooming at the river’s edge.

We are often asked if there is a best time of day or week to go? This really depends on the individual kayaker’s preference. If the excitement of sharing the resource with lots of similar-minded enthusiasts is the goal, any summer weekend (or any time the temperature is over 80, which is often) is ideal. To find more solitude, try mid-week or a visit in the cooler winter months. An early morning paddle has the additional advantage of being a more optimal period to see the typically-nocturnal desert wildlife. For those who enjoy casting a fishing line along with their kayaking, many of the local waterways are stocked with trout in the winter season, although warm water species are catchable all year around.

Phoenix Kayaking Tips

Holiday and summer weekends are often very popular times to be on the water, and although this desert city has a lot of places to find a kayak rental, Phoenix is still an urban center with over 4 million people calling it home. Some of the local resources will require an advance-purchase parking pass, and some areas can close entirely to additional entry once a predetermined maximum capacity is reached. And always check with a local information source about current water flows, levels, and administrative concerns. Even though all bodies of water or boatable streams that might be tempting for kayaking near Scottsdale or Phoenix are not open to the public, there are plenty of chances to get out and see the desert in a kayak.