To the uninitiated or just a newcomer, Arizona is often thought of as a desert cactus flower in a dry river bed. Wrong! While the state may not be comfortably compared to Minnesota with its 10,000 (more or less) lakes, the Grand Canyon State has miles upon miles of kayak-friendly waters. Here are a few of the best places to kayak in AZ:
Peer deep into the Colorado River along the 15 mile stretch in Glen Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry from your yak or SUP and you’re likely to see the biggest rainbow or brown trout in your life. Kayaking this 15 mile stretch also takes you through the natural wonder of Horseshoe Bend. See desert bighorn sheep, wild horses, California condors, Peregrine falcons, and so much more. You can paddle both up and down, or take a convenient motor-powered backhaul boat or shuttle upriver, then paddle down at your own pace. Rental of single or tandem kayaks and other services are available through outfitter Kayak Horseshoe Bend at Lees Ferry.
Above Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell stretches some 180 miles and contains about 100 side canyons ripe for exploration. It’s these canyons where boaters in kayaks and canoes go to get away from the lake's hubbub. Favorites include Antelope Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon with its maze of sandstone walls, and Lone Star Canyon. The water is suitable for both experienced kayakers and beginners and it is truly one of the best places to kayak in Arizona.
If you’re looking for someplace different to go, Lake Pleasant, 45 minutes northwest of Phoenix, is excellent for kayaking Arizona. Canyons and cliffs tower over the six-mile lake, islands dot the middle of it and slot canyons hide on the northeast side. There are a lot of Arizona landscapes to explore on a kayak or canoe, so prepare for a full day for boating. There are power boaters on the lake, so stay close to the shoreline for a smoother ride.
Just four miles from Prescott, consider Watson Lake. This kayaking spot offers calm waters and up-close views of the Granite Dells. These boulders – rippled into shape by erosion – are said to be 1.4 billion years old, rising from the water and lining the lake's shores. Launch your own kayak or rent one from Prescott Outdoors. They offer solo and tandem kayaks plus canoes and stand-up paddleboard or SUPs.
If you’re seeking near-town kayaking and canoeing, visit Mesa, near the eastern border of Phoenix. Launch from the north end where you can spot wild horses, deer and other wildlife of the Tonto National Forest as well as wildflowers on Bulldog Cliffs. There are some rapids at the beginning of the river, but kayakers can pretty much go with the flow. Leave the river at the southern end near Phon D Sutton. There are no shuttle services so you’ll need two vehicles for drop-off and pick-up.
If you seek cooler temperatures in the heat of summer, think about Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest with temps in the mid-80s. Fool Hollow Lake offers pristine waters perfect for all kayaking skill levels. The 150-acre lake sits in the shade of the world's largest belt of ponderosa pines and the boat-motor restrictions mean no boat wakes. Kayak and canoe rentals are available. There are entrance fees.
There are so many attractions at Canyon Lake located in the Tonto National Forest, it could be hard to choose: jagged red-rock cliffs, secluded coves, bighorn sheep or the wildflowers that sprout along the shoreline in spring. You'll be able to see all of those and more from a kayak or canoe. The lake's waters can get a little choppy, so stay close to the edges for easy boating. A Tonto Pass is required.
Kayakers seeking solitude and cooler weather can do no better than Big Lake Recreation Area, 25 miles south of Springerville at an elevation of 9,000 feet. It’s popular with anglers, thanks to its plentiful supply of rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout. Blue Lake, at 450 acres, is also one of the best places to kayak in Arizona. Tucked away in the White Mountains, Blue Lake offers tranquil waters, scenic vistas, and a remote, away-from-it-all locale. From Springerville, go 5 miles west to AZ-261, then travel 18 miles to FR-113. Turn left. Drive 2 miles to FR-115 and then right at the entrance.
On the Mogollon Rim, Blue Ridge Reservoir offers some of the most relaxed paddling in Arizona. There’s hardly any traffic along the reservoir and motorboats aren't allowed, so for kayakers in search of solo time, Blue Ridge is ideal. No permit is required to put in. To reach Blue Ridge Reservoir, drive 55 miles south of Flagstaff to Clints Well on FR- 3 (Lake Mary Road). Turn left on AZ-87 and go 4 miles to FR-138. Follow this to the Blue Ridge Campground and Blue Ridge Reservoir. The reservoir is closed to the public during winter.
Considered an AZ kayaking and canoeing favorite, Patagonia Lake State Park in Santa Cruz County was created by damming nearby Sonoita Creek. While paddling Patagonia Lake, keep your eyes open for birds that call this area home – great blue herons, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher and various species of hummingbirds. If you seek calm waters, head to the lake's east end where there are no-wake regulations. Patagonia Lake also offers boat-in-only campsites, which line the shores and are remote and private.