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7 kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

While Arizona is known for being a desert state, there are plenty of beautiful lakes and rivers where you can go kayaking!

If you know me, you know I love spending time outdoors! I’m always looking to add new activities to my list of outdoor hobbies and kayaking fits the bill. It’s a fun and easy way to get on the water, and can be great exercise.

kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

7 Kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

The best part about kayaking in Arizona is kayakers can find places to paddle in all corners of the state! Today I want to tell you about some amazing kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona.

* If you don’t own a kayak, I included several locations that have kayak rentals!

Please respect nature by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.


  • Life jacket – you always need to have a life jacket when you are on the water (it’s Arizona Law)
  • Phone for photos (don’t drop it!)
  • GoPro for photos – this can get wet, which is bound to happen while kayaking! Here’s the version I have.
  • Snacks – apples and granola bars are my favorite
  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Dry bag – this one is my favorite
  • Shoes that you are okay with getting wet – I love my Chacos
Kayak at Wood's Canyon Lake

The Lower Salt River*

The Salt River has to be my favorite kayaking day trip from Phoenix. With scenic views, cool water, easy paddling and only a 45-minute drive from Phoenix, floating down the river an excellent way to spend a day.

While there is a shuttle available, we like to go with friends to leave a car at the end of the river while we launch from the Phon D Sutton Recreation Area.

The stretch of the Salt River depends on the time of year but from May to October its about 12 miles. This run can take anywhere from 3 to 5.5 hours – it just depends on how leisurely of a paddle you want. Also depending on the time of year, the river can get VERY busy. We recommend going early (like 6 am) or later in the day. Plus, the earlier you go, the more likely you are to see wildlife!

kayaking the Salt River in Arizona
Salt River
kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona
Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake*

Even though it’s not the most exciting place to kayak, it’s nice to know that there is a spot to go just 15 minutes outside of Phoenix! Tempe Town Lake is 1.84 miles from one end to the other, so paddling that a couple of times is a satisfying workout.

My favorite parts about kayaking Tempe Town Lake is the convenience of location and the bridges! I don’t know what it is but I love floating under the infamous Tempe bridges… it’s probably because they make for great photos.

Launching your kayak can be done from the marina or the boat beach on the north side of the lake.

Saguaro Lake*

At the tail end of the lower half of the Salt River, Saguaro Lake is a great kayaking day trip from Phoenix! About an hour away, the lake features several small slot canyons, towering desert cliffs and marshland.

The lake features 22 miles of shoreline which is great for kayakers since this is a popular place with power boaters… with their wakes and speed it’s important to stick to paddling along the shoreline!

There are multiple places to launch your kayak inside Butcher Jones Recreation Area.


Located in Prescott and surrounded by stunning granite dells, Watson Lake is must-visit for kayakers!

The lake is relatively small and doesn’t allow motorized boats to go more than 5 mph so it’s a great place for kayak beginners.

I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch on your paddle and parking your kayak at one of the hundreds of rock formations for a quick hike to picnic at the top. Trust me, the aerial view of the lake is incredible!

kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

Wood’s Canyon Lake*

Just over two hours north of Phoenix lies one of my favorite places in Arizona: The Mogollon Rim.

The Mogollon Rim is home to several lakes, one of them being Woods Canyon Lake.

Woods Canyon Lake is a popular fishing spot and there are no gas motors allowed, which makes this lake excellent for beginner kayakers.

You could spend hours exploring this peaceful lake by kayak and I highly recommend you bring a picnic lunch with you to enjoy on the lake’s expansive shoreline!

Launching your kayak is easy to do from the Woods Canyon Lake Marina.

kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona
kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

Bear Canyon Lake

Bear Canyon Lake is another gem up on the Mogollon Rim just outside of Payson. Settled in the bottom a canyon, this is one of the most beautiful lakes in the state.

The lake is about a mile long and features a grassy meadow at the upper end of the lake, which makes a great place to stop for a snack and to take in the views.

There is no vehicle access to the lake so all people and boats must go down and come back up via the foot trails. Since it’s a little bit more difficult to access, you are likely to have the water to yourself!


kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona
kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my favorite kayaking day trips from Phoenix, Arizona and were inspired to plan an adventure of your own!

One of my 2021 new year’s adventure resolutions is to take my kayak to some new places so be sure to sign up for my newsletter to be notified when I write about more places to kayak in Arizona!

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