5 Stand-up Paddleboard Spots Near Scottsdale

Jan 2021
two people on stand up paddleboards on the Salt River in Arizona

Stand-up paddling has taken many forms as our creativity continues to evolve the sport. Surfing, yoga, and even relaxing in a hammock(seriously) have emerged as some innovative ways to enjoy a day on your SUP. Don’t be fooled though, there’s no need for fancy tricks to have a good time paddle boarding. At its essence, paddle boarding is simply a great way to get out on the water, move you body, and maybe discover a cove or creek you haven’t been able to access from land or other watercraft. There are many beautiful lakes and river spots to paddle near Scottsdale and this list of 5 only scratches the surface. These are some of the most enjoyable places to paddle less than an hour from Scottsdale Arizona.

Cruise Coves at Saguaro Lake

  • Distance: Up to 8 miles
  • Time: Plan for at least 2 hours on the water
  • Best For: All levels of skill and endurance

Of the Salt River’s major reservoirs, Saguaro Lake is the closest to Phoenix. The lake is much loved by Phoenicians and has heavy visitation year-round who flock to the lake for boating, fishing, swimming, and paddling. The most easily accessed and popular “put in” location to begin your paddling adventure is Butcher Jones Recreation Site. This beach serves as an ideal place to safely launch a SUP and explore the shoreline coves. Countless coves and beaches are sprinkled along the north end of Saguaro Lake, providing many places to stop and enjoy the views and enjoy a picnic lunch. If you’re experienced and looking to plan a full-day paddle adventure, head four miles up Saguaro Lake and  along the shoreline you will find Saguaro Cove 1. This cove can also be accessed by 4×4 vehicles, if the dirt roads are open to traffic. Headwinds and strong wake can make this 8-mile round trip paddle difficult but well worth the effort. Like most paddle boarding near Scottsdale, the fun lies in the journey and with or without a clear destination, Saguaro Lake is best enjoyed at your own pace.


Big Views at Lake Pleasant

  • Distance: 3 miles out and back
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Best For: All levels of skill and endurance

Like most lakes in Arizona (excepting only two), Lake Pleasant is a human made damned reservoir. Unlike most lakes in Arizona however, Lake Pleasant is a large and open lake with extensive shoreline. The Lake Pleasant Recreation Area supports almost every way to have fun on the water. In addition to common motorized boat traffic, Pleasant is known for activities from scuba diving to windsurfing, and still offers some of the best paddle boarding near Scottsdale. Launch at Castle Creek boat ramp via Castle Hot Springs Road and head north up the shoreline into the Castle Creek arm of the lake. One and a half miles of paddling brings you to the mouth of French Creek, a nice location to stop along the shore for a rest or some exploration before turning around to complete your paddle. This remote stretch of lake offers a sense of seclusion seldom found near Lake Pleasant’s more popular beaches.

Looking for more at Lake Pleasant? Launch from the same ramp and explore the northeast Agua Fria arm of Lake Pleasant Recreation Area.


Avoid the Motors at Canyon Lake

  • Distance:1.3 miles out and back
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Best For: Beginners, all levels

At Canyon Lake, located about an hour east of the Valley of the Sun, there is an area restricted to non-motorized vessels only which creates a sort of haven for those looking for pristine paddle boarding near Scottsdale. Follow the Apache Trail (AZ Highway 88) to Canyon Lake and as you begin to carve along the cliffs above the water, stay alert as you cross the first one-lane bridge and take a right towards to Boulder Recreation Site. This recreation site offers calm water and lush greenery as you turn away from the main body of the lake and paddle towards the mouth of La Barge Creek. This section of calm flat water is perfect for beginners or those who want to take in some incredible scenery without traveling far. If you want to add a bit more distance while stand up paddling at Canyon Lake, head northeast from Boulder Recreation Site and under the bridge past the Canyon Lake Campground to Tortilla Creek. Tortilla Creek narrows quickly and offers about 1/2 mile of additional paddling.


Paddle the Shores Of Bartlett Lake

  • Distance: Variable
  • Time: Variable
  • Best For: All levels of skill and endurance

Bartlett Lake is a reservoir created by a damn on the lower Verde River and is easy to reach in about an hour’s drive from downtown Scottsdale. A scenic drive down Bartlett Dam Road to Rattlesnake Cove is a great way to get the feel for the landscape ahead of launching your SUP. This cove is scenic launch point for exploring other parts of the lake as well as a great place to stay and play. Set up on the beach and enjoy swimming and paddling the cove from end to end. If you venture further into the lake, stick to the shoreline north of the cove and you’ll find many scenic spots ideal for picnicking, swimming and wildlife viewing.

Easy Currents at the Lower Salt River

  • Distance: 2-4 river miles roundtrip
  • Time: Between 3-4 hours
  • Best For: Intermediate paddlers. Although the river isn’t too powerful, paddling against the current can be strenuous especially with the presence of a headwind.
Stand up paddleboarding on on the Salt River with Red Mountain behind


The lower Salt River is located just 45 minutes from Scottsdale near Mesa, Arizona, and offers some of the most wild and scenic spots in Central Arizona to paddleboard. Depending on your paddling ability and endurance, there are a few ways to customize your day on the river. You can launch your stand up paddleboard at the Granite Reef Recreation Site, which is the last closest recreation area to Mesa, Phoenix, and Scottsdale. The Granite Reef Recreation Site is just upriver of the Granite Reef Dam which creates a wide flatwater area that resembles a lake more than the river. From here, many paddleboarders head up-river against the flow of the lower Salt River to enjoy an out-and-back adventure. There are many places to stop and take a break on beaches scattered along the way. Four river miles separate Granite Reef from the next recreation site upriver, called Phon D Sutton. Advanced paddlers sometimes paddle downriver from Phon D Sutton and organize a car shuttle to get from the end point back to the beginning of their adventure where they had parked. Either way, as you paddle along look out for wild horses quenching their thirst, bald eagles perched high in the trees, harris’s hawk, rattlesnakes, or even big horn sheep, just to name a few of the species that make their homes nearby. 


Bonus: Tempe Town Lake

Trade the natural for the urban and launch your SUP in Tempe Town Lake. If you don’t want to travel out too far to put your craft in the water, enjoy a few hours of paddling on this Salt River reservoir in the center of the Phoenix metro area. Tempe Town Lake lies in the Salt River bed where it runs east to west at the juncture of Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. It is damned on the east and west ends of the lake to create a scenic waterway surrounded by walking and biking paths, sand volleyball courts, and shops and restaurants close by. All boaters need a Tempe Town Lake permit to paddle here, $10 for the day or $25 for the year. Swimming is prohibited.


Important to Remember

  • Many of these parking areas require that you display a Tonto Pass ($8), which can be purchased from many gas stations, local REI stores, or vending machines at some recreation sites. See complete list of Tonto Pass vendors. You do not need a watercraft permit sticker for a non-motorized SUP. 
  • On all of these routes, be prepared to spend a full day in the sun so come prepared; always carry sunscreen, sun protection, sufficient drinking water, and first aid.
  • Give yourself adequate time to explore and bring supplies for longer than you think you’ll need. You don’t want to discover a irresistible spot and let your hunger pangs return to your vehicle. Pack a lunch and anything you need to keep your belly full and stay safe.