Best Places For Kayaking In Arizona – Rivers, Lakes, and more

Arizona, with its well-known desert climate, may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about kayaking destinations, but it has a surprising number of options for kayaking enthusiasts. The state is fortunate to have a mix of permanent and seasonal rivers that are fed by melting snow and rainfall, providing a picturesque view against the bright and sunny backdrop throughout most of the year. Additionally, Arizona boasts numerous freshwater lakes that are ideal for kayaking. Many of the state’s rivers have been dammed, resulting in large freshwater lakes and reservoirs that can be enjoyed by kayakers year-round. And let’s not forget that Arizona is home to the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, which offers a unique kayaking experience that few other places in the world can match.

These are the 10 best spots for kayaking when you visit Arizona.

A picture of trees and water of Blue Ridge Reservoir

1. Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Nestled at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Blue Ridge Reservoir is an idyllic haven for kayaking enthusiasts looking for a serene escape in Arizona. This pristine body of water is uniquely motor-vehicle-free, guaranteeing a peaceful and quiet kayaking experience unlike any other.

Located amidst the lush forests and towering mountains, Blue Ridge Reservoir provides breathtaking panoramic views that serve as a perfect backdrop for your outdoor adventure. The reservoir sits adjacent to the spectacular canyon walls of the Mogollon Rim, offering an unrivaled vantage point for soaking in the beauty of Arizona’s natural landscapes.

Not only does this location promise exceptional scenery, but it also boasts favorable weather conditions ideal for kayaking. Its high-altitude setting often results in moderate temperatures and clear skies, making it a year-round kayaking destination in Arizona you won’t want to miss.

In addition to its outdoor allure, Blue Ridge Reservoir is a photographer’s dream, with majestic mountain vistas and dense forest scenery that offer plenty of opportunities for capturing that perfect shot. Whether you’re an amateur kayaker or a seasoned pro, this reservoir delivers an unforgettable experience, complete with tranquil waters and visually-stunning surroundings.

So, if you’re searching for the best places to kayak in Arizona, Blue Ridge Reservoir should undoubtedly top your list. From its calm waters to its awe-inspiring views, it promises a kayaking journey that combines outdoor recreation with the tranquil beauty of nature.

great view of the amazing lone rock canyon

2. Lone Rock Canyon

For those seeking a one-of-a-kind kayaking destination that stands out not just in Arizona but across the United States, Lone Rock Canyon is an experience you won’t soon forget. This dramatic landscape is an outdoor lover’s paradise, offering awe-inspiring panoramic vistas at every twist and turn of your paddle.

The towering canyon walls provide a mesmerizing backdrop as you glide through the calm, crystal-clear waters. Lone Rock Canyon is particularly well-suited for beginners, offering tranquil conditions that make for an ideal introduction to the sport of kayaking.

Situated in a breathtaking natural setting, the canyon offers various activities to suit all kinds of adventure enthusiasts. For kayakers, the tranquil waters and stunning views provide an unparalleled experience, perfect for both relaxation and adrenaline-pumping exploration. Whether you’re navigating through narrow waterways or enjoying the wide expanses of the lake, the stunning scenery is guaranteed to leave an impression.

In addition to its natural beauty, Lone Rock Canyon is a photographer’s paradise, featuring striking contrasts between the deep blue waters and the vibrant red canyon walls. So don’t forget to bring your camera along to capture the picturesque moments that abound in this extraordinary locale.

If you’re on the hunt for the best kayaking spots in Arizona, or even the entire country, Lone Rock Canyon is a must-visit. With its serene waters, captivating scenery, and beginner-friendly conditions, this destination offers a kayaking experience that effortlessly combines the thrill of adventure with the peace of nature.

scenic view of lake pleasant

3. Lake Pleasant

For those new to Arizona’s vibrant outdoor scene, Lake Pleasant offers an exceptional kayaking destination that encapsulates the state’s natural beauty. Spanning a generous 11.5 miles, this expansive lake is a treasure trove of scenic spots that are best explored with the guidance of a knowledgeable tour guide.

Lake Pleasant is more than just a body of water; it’s a community hub for kayaking enthusiasts. It’s a local favorite, making it an ideal setting for social kayakers to meet and share experiences with like-minded individuals. The lake buzzes with a sense of community, and you’re sure to find fellow adventurers who are as passionate about kayaking as you are.

As you paddle through Lake Pleasant’s radiant waters, you’ll be captivated by the stunning natural landscape that surrounds you. From the shimmering surface of the lake to the rolling hills and lush foliage, the area offers a feast for the eyes as well as the soul. The picturesque setting makes it an excellent spot for photography, allowing you to capture the essence of Arizona’s natural beauty in every frame.

Whether you choose to explore the lake solo, or opt for a guided tour to discover its hidden gems, Lake Pleasant assures a delightful experience for all visitors. The lake’s inviting atmosphere and scenic beauty make it a must-visit kayaking destination in Arizona, perfect for both novice paddlers and seasoned experts.

So, if you’re compiling a list of the best places to kayak in Arizona, Lake Pleasant unquestionably deserves a spot. It offers the perfect blend of social interaction, natural beauty, and outdoor adventure, ensuring a memorable kayaking experience for all.

4. Lower Salt River

For kayakers seeking more than just a paddle through calm waters, Lower Salt River offers an extraordinary adventure that extends beyond the kayak. The area is teeming with diverse wildlife, giving visitors a unique opportunity to connect with nature in a profoundly intimate way. If you’ve never had the chance to witness a wild horse in its natural habitat, Lower Salt River might just make that dream come true.

But it’s not just the fauna that makes this destination special. The landscape itself is a spectacle to behold. Majestic cliffs draped in lush, green foliage tower over the river, creating an awe-inspiring backdrop for your kayaking journey. The contrast between the vibrant greenery of the Tonto National Forest and the rugged cliffs is nothing short of breathtaking, especially for those visiting the area for the first time.

Should you wish to take a break from kayaking, Lower Salt River offers other engaging activities to enrich your outdoor experience. Angling is a popular choice, providing a different but equally rewarding way to enjoy the natural beauty of the river. Cast a line and soak in the serenity as you await your catch, all while marveling at the flawless scenic beauty that surrounds you.

Navigating through Lower Salt River, you’ll find that the verdant Tonto National Forest adds another layer of enchantment to your adventure. The forest’s unspoiled beauty complements the river’s allure, making for an unforgettable experience as you paddle through this natural paradise.

So, when you’re compiling your list of the best kayaking destinations in Arizona, don’t overlook Lower Salt River. With its rich biodiversity, stunning landscapes, and diverse range of activities, this river offers a holistic outdoor experience that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.

5. Upper Salt River

The Upper Salt River in Arizona is a great destination for kayaking and canoeing as it winds its way through the Tonto National Forest, offering beautiful scenery and a chance to see various wildlife. The river is known for its clear, blue water and white sandy beaches, making it a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing as well.

Kayakers of all skill levels can enjoy the Upper Salt River, as the river offers a range of difficulty levels. Beginners can paddle downstream on the lower section of the river, while more experienced kayakers can take on the rapids and white water of the upper section.

It is important to note that the Upper Salt River is a popular spot for kayaking and can get crowded during peak season, so it’s best to plan your trip during the week or early in the morning. Additionally, be aware of the potential for flash floods, which can occur quickly and without warning. Always check the weather forecast before heading out, and be prepared for any emergencies.

It’s also important to note that the Upper Salt River has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River, which means that it is protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and is managed to preserve its free-flowing condition, unique geology, and diverse plant and animal communities. As such, it is important to follow the rules and regulations set by the Forest Service to ensure that the river remains protected for future generations to enjoy.

Overall, kayaking in the Upper Salt River in Arizona is a great way to experience the beauty of the area and take in the natural beauty of the Tonto National Forest.

6. Big Lake, Apache County

Nestled within the picturesque White Mountains of Northern Arizona, Big Lake remains a hidden gem for those seeking a serene kayaking adventure. Despite its remote location, it offers some of the most tranquil kayaking experiences in the state. The lake spans 450 acres and sits at a high elevation of 9,000 feet, providing a peaceful setting free from motorized watercraft.

Anglers who enjoy kayaking will find Big Lake especially rewarding. Its abundant trout population guarantees an exciting fishing experience right from your kayak. The lake features various spots perfect for both kayaking and angling, offering a comprehensive outdoor experience.

With motorized boats restricted, the lake’s expansive waters become a spacious playground for kayakers, ensuring an intimate encounter with nature. If you’re looking for unspoiled beauty and an escape from the hustle and bustle, Big Lake is your go-to destination.

How To Get There

To reach Big Lake, you’ll need to venture into Northern Arizona’s White Mountains. The most convenient route is via Highway 260 and Highway 273. Detailed maps and GPS navigation are recommended due to the remote nature of the area.


One of the most enchanting aspects of Big Lake is its diverse wildlife. Birdwatchers will be thrilled with the variety of waterfowl and other avian species that frequent the area. Mammals like elk and deer can occasionally be seen near the water’s edge, adding an extra element of wonder to your kayaking adventure.

Other Activities

Apart from kayaking and angling, Big Lake offers a host of other outdoor activities. Hiking trails abound, providing opportunities to explore the lush surrounding forest. Picnic areas are also available for those looking to relax and enjoy a meal amidst natural beauty. Additionally, camping spots are scattered around the lake, making it an excellent choice for an extended outdoor getaway.

Kayaking In Lake Powell utah arizona

7. Lake Powell

Lake Powell is the epitome of an adventure haven, welcoming thrill-seekers with a myriad of water activities, including boating, fishing, swimming, and of course, kayaking. Created by the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s, this artificial reservoir stretches an impressive 186 miles through the scenic Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Covering an expansive 160,000 acres, the lake’s rugged shoreline exceeds 2,000 miles—longer than the entire western seaboard of the U.S. Kayaking on Lake Powell offers a unique perspective on the breathtaking natural scenery, giving you a chance to venture into areas only accessible by kayak.


One of the standout features of Lake Powell is its awe-inspiring red rock canyons and mesas. Navigate your kayak into narrow slot canyons, discover hidden caves, and glide under natural arches to experience the lake’s geological wonders. Fishing aficionados can take advantage of the lake’s rich fish biodiversity, with species like striped bass, largemouth bass, and rainbow trout inhabiting its waters.

Additional Activities

While boating and fishing are staple activities at Lake Powell, the area offers much more to keep you entertained. Swimming, water skiing, and wakeboarding are popular ways to enjoy the water, while houseboating provides a unique way to explore the numerous inlets and canyons. Beyond water sports, hiking, backpacking, and camping opportunities abound, complemented by natural landmarks such as the renowned Horseshoe Bend.

Tips and Safety

Take note that the lake level can fluctuate depending on various factors like seasonality, water demand, and snowmelt from nearby mountains. This means the accessibility to certain areas may vary over time. Given the remote nature of many Lake Powell locations, preparation is key. Be vigilant of potential hazards like sudden high winds and extreme sun exposure, and ensure you have all necessary supplies for a safe and enjoyable visit.

Do you need a permit to kayak in Lake Powell?

No, a permit is not required to kayak in Lake Powell. However, it is required to launch your kayak from developed boat ramps and camp overnight on the lake. Additionally, like any national park or recreation area, some regulations and guidelines must be followed to help protect natural resources and ensure the safety of visitors. These regulations can include speed limits, designated areas for swimming and water sports, and rules for waste disposal. It is important to familiarize yourself with these regulations before heading out on the lake.

Grand canyon picture

8. The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, offers a kayaking experience like no other. Ideal for seasoned paddlers with advanced skills, this iconic landmark provides an unparalleled adventure through the awe-inspiring landscapes sculpted by the Colorado River. Due to the challenging nature of the white water rapids, only paddlers with Class 4 white water skills are permitted to undertake unguided journeys, ensuring both excitement and safety.

Thrills and Skills

Navigating the powerful currents of the Colorado River is not for the faint-hearted. The river takes you through a series of intense white water rapids, offering an adrenaline-pumping ride amidst the canyon’s grandeur. It’s an experience that demands skill, focus, and a love for high-stakes adventure. If you’re an experienced paddler with the requisite Class 4 white water skills, the Grand Canyon delivers an unforgettable kayaking escapade.

Natural Beauty

Beyond the thrills and challenges, the Grand Canyon serves as a backdrop of indescribable beauty. As you paddle through the rapids, you’ll be surrounded by the canyon’s iconic red rock formations, towering cliffs, and intricate geological patterns. The sheer scale and majesty of the scenery add an extra layer of exhilaration to the already thrilling ride.

Wild Life Variety

The Grand Canyon teems with diverse wildlife, thanks to its varied ecosystems that range from desert to forested areas. Commonly spotted mammals include mule deer and bighorn sheep, while kayakers might hear coyotes or see ringtail cats at dusk. Bird enthusiasts can look out for species like the endangered California condor, peregrine falcons, and ravens. The Colorado River hosts a variety of fish such as the endangered humpback chub and the popular rainbow trout. While rare animals like mountain lions add an element of intrigue, the area is a haven for nature lovers. Just remember to keep a respectful distance from all wildlife.

Safety Precautions

Due to the potential dangers associated with white water rapids, unguided kayaking in the Grand Canyon is reserved for highly skilled paddlers. All participants must meet strict safety criteria to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience. Before setting off, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the river’s conditions, consult experts, and equip yourself with all necessary safety gear.

kayaking on willow springs lake

9. Willow Springs Lake

It has a hook shape that provides different and beautiful sceneries all around. If you are looking for a variety of good camping sites, Willow Springs Lake will take you days of exploration. Both sides of the lake are like two different worlds. You can have more exploration spaces as you travel deep through the peaceful and quiet edges of the Sitgreaves National Forest. The lake is surrounded by big trees, and the weather is always temperate.

10. Bear Canyon Lake

This is placed high in the Coconino National Forest. It is suitable for beginners because it is not too wide and makes it easy to cross. It is also easy to return to shore once you finish your ride. The journey that takes you to lower elevations is quite intriguing, an experience you get when you kayak the entire Bear Canyon Lake. This location is also good for rock climbing, hiking, and set camp. There are so many outdoor activities to do including fishing. But you can also visit bear canyon lake just to take in the sights.

Arizona is a beautiful place for kayaking because it has a mix of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and canyons. This makes Arizona top of the list of places you should visit.

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