When you think of Phoenix, Arizona, your mind probably takes you straight to the desert, and for the most part, this is true. Phoenix sits on the Sonoran Desert and has sweltering summers and cool winters, providing the perfect paddle boarding conditions on one of the city’s stunning waterways.
So, where are the best places to paddle board in Phoenix? And is it worth packing up your SUP and heading out there?
In short, the answer is yes! Keep on reading for our top 10 unforgettable places to paddle board in and around the city of Phoenix.
Lake Pleasant has 10,000 acres of flat serene waters lined with desert sand, cacti, and rocky cliffs that are popular by SUP fishermen and yogis who enjoy enhancing their skills out on the water.
The lake is a popular camping destination, and many camp and RV sites can be found dotted along the water’s edge. As the water at Lake Pleasant is flat all year round, it is the perfect place for new paddlers to practice the sport of SUPing.
Sunset is the most popular time to visit Lake Pleasant and for very good reason. The sky turns from blue to orangey-pink, and because the lake is situated far away from any light pollution when the sun goes down entirely, the skies light up with the stars of the Milky Way.
The Lower Salt River has become a popular destination for all types of paddlers. The summer months especially see an influx of kayakers, paddle boarders, and tubers head to the water to refresh from the Arizona sun.
The waters in the river are relatively slow, so paddlers of all abilities will be able to practice their SUP skills and enjoy the vegetation and towering rocks that line the river’s edges.
During the early morning and evenings, when the river is the most enjoyable to paddle, wild horses, bald eagles, hawks, and other bird species can regularly be spotted in the skies that light up pink at sunset.
Most paddlers launch their boards from the Water Users’ Recreation Area along the SR 87 Beeline Hwy and paddle the 4 - 5 hour route to Granite Reef.
The Upper Salt River provides entirely different water conditions to the lower half, and for all the experienced white water SUPers out there, you won’t want to miss it.
Water speeds vary in the river as the water flow is controlled by the Stewart Mountain Dam. During the summer months, the water speeds are drastically higher than those in winter, and during this time, the Upper Salt River sees an increase in white water paddlers.
When the water flow in summer is higher, you can launch your SUP from Coon Bluff and paddle through some intense rapids, and for a launch point that is suitable all year round, start at Phon D Sutton. Phon D Sutton receives added water flow from the Verde River to give you an extra boost when the water speeds are lowered in winter.
Bartlett Lake is Phoenix’s second-biggest lake and only an hour’s journey from the city center. The lake has become a hot spot for paddlers of all types because of its tranquil waters that are encircled by mountains and cacti.
Bartlett Lake is also a haven for SUP anglers, and fishing for bass, catfish, and crappie isn’t an uncommon sight. If you’re new to SUP angling, check out our article A Beginners Guide to SUP Fishing that’ll help get you out on the water, enjoying the opportunities places like Bartlett Lake have to offer.
You should also keep an eye out for bald eagles, pelicans, hawks, and vultures that frequent the skies surrounding Bartlett Lake.
Many SUP schools and rental businesses have set up shop, and camping facilities on the west side of the lake can turn your SUP trip into a weekend adventure.
Tempe Town Lake was formed by the Salt River and provides paddlers with more than 2 miles of city view waters to paddle on.
The lake has numerous launching points and you can set up your board and start paddling from the boat beach, marina, lawn area, or boat ramp.
Weekly exercise and SUP meetups happen on the lake, which is perfect if you want to meet like-minded people. Because the lake is directly in the city center, it’s an excellent spot for an after-work paddle if you don’t have the time to branch out any further.
To paddle on Tempe Town Lake, you need to purchase a permit at the Pyle Adult Recreation center or the Tempe Public Library.
Saguaro Lake is a man-made reservoir in Phoenix and has 22 miles of cacti-filled canyon shorelines that glow gold during sunset and sunrise.
Due to its close proximity to Phoenix city, Saguaro Lake is a popular destination for locals who are looking to cool off in the summer heat and practice a wide range of watersports.
Boat ramps can be found dotted around the lake, as well as docks and beaches that you can use to launch your SUP.
Wild horses are known to frequent the area, and SUP anglers can cast their rods and fish for bass, catfish, and trout.
Canyon Lake in the Tonto National Forest is less than a 40-minute drive from downtown Phoenix and has 28 miles of red rock canyon shorelines.
Coves hidden throughout the lake are prohibited by motorboats and are ideal spots for paddlers or SUP anglers catching bass, trout, and catfish.
The sunsets at Canyon Lake are much like other parts of Phoenix, and the sky glows orange as the sun lowers over the canyons.
Campgrounds and recreational areas surround the lake, so you can make a day or weekend trip out of your paddle.
You can find 200 miles of water suitable for paddling at the Verde River, but the most favored section of the river is its northern end.
A designated paddling trail between Haydorn Lane and Tuzigoot Bridge is 7 miles long and has many access points where you can launch your board and paddle downstream.
As you paddle down the river lined with vegetation and rocky cliffs, you can catch glimpses of the river’s growing otter population among other wildlife species that call the river home.
Experienced paddlers can head to Verde Falls rapids to take on some of the river’s whitewater.
In 1927, the Apache Lake was formed after completing the Horse Mesa Dam, and both motorized and non-motorized boats can enjoy the breathtaking canyon walls surrounding the flat blue waters down below.
Fishing for trout, bass, and catfish is extremely popular at Apache, and paddle boarders can launch their SUPs from the Burnt Corral Recreation Site and Apache Lake Marina.
Roosevelt Lake was created as part of the Salt River dam and has calm waters throughout the year, which are great for new paddlers.
During the fall and winter months, migratory birds like Canada geese, bald eagles, and osprey can regularly be spotted flying above the waters and resting in the nearby trees.
Fishing and water sports of all kinds are popular on the lake, and campgrounds fill up quickly in the summer months. You can find easy access to the water at the boat ramp next to the Schoolhouse Point or Grapevine Point and Windy Hill.
Although Arizona is vastly made up of desert, many paddle destinations throughout the state are 100% worth visiting. Some of these places include:
You can paddle on both the Lower and Upper Salt River, but the conditions between the two differ immensely.
The Lower Salt River is great for beginners and young paddlers as the waters are relatively flat and slow-moving all year round.
The Upper Salt River, on the other hand, especially in the summer, sees rapids and fast-moving water that is controlled by the Stewart Mountain Dam.
If you choose to paddle down the Lower Salt River, there is a popular stretch of water from the Water Users’ Recreation Area to Granite Reef that takes roughly 4 - 5 hours to paddle.
Launch your board from Coon Bluff or Phon D Sutton for faster rapids in the Upper Salt River.
Arizona is home to a selection of waterways, most of which are surrounded by red-rock canyons and cacti. You can also find faster moving waters throughout the state, and some of the most popular and best places to paddle board in Arizona include:
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