September 05, 2020 9 min read

Stand Up Paddleboarding in Arizona

If you’re anything like us, visualizing Arizona always involves dramatic desertscapes, reminiscent of Wild West frontier times. We conjure pictures of unfathomably primeval rock formations, rising dramatically out of the red earth. We marvel at technicolor sunsets painting endlessly vast skies. Then it’s always topped off with the statuesque silhouette of the saguaro cactus standing imposingly in the forefront.

Despite the stereotypical parched-earth imagery and its inherent connotations as a harsh frontier, Arizona also has a magnificent jewel in its desert crown: awe-inspiring and richy abundant water sources that bring it vibrantly to life.

Arizona quickly became our prime desert frontier to conquer on our stand up paddle board explorations, as it’s packed to the gills with places that are brimming with water activity delivering a wealth of diversity. Not only that, but the average annual temperature is a pleasant 75 degrees, which opens up almost year-round opportunities for paddle expeditions and outdoor activities!

If you’re not sure where to begin on your Arizona paddle board endeavors, we’ve got you covered with all the best places in this definitive guide.

It was a tough job to choose, as Arizona offers 128 amazing lakes and reservoirs to explore on your SUP. With so many great places on the water in Arizona that are calling out to paddle enthusiasts the world over, we took on the monumental task of visiting the most popular paddle board spots in Arizona to give you an insider’s look at all the places you just can’t miss.

If you're down for a rousing and unique paddle board adventure that’s full of awe-inspiring sights, then Arizona is the place for you. Its incredibly diverse terrain and downright jaw-dropping views make it the ideal place for paddle boarders to check a host of must-do paddles off their bucket list.

1. Lake Havasu

paddle board arizona -  lake havasu boats

Some like it hot! Lake Havasu has a bustling party atmosphere. If your speed calls for a lively paddle amid a hive of activity, Lake Havasu will really get your pulse racing.

During the busy seasons in Lake Havasu of summer and winter, you’ll need to weave your way around all the boats zooming past on the gemstone green waters of Lake Havasu, to explore the 400 miles of coastline and over 650,000 acres of water Lake Havasu has to offer.

Paddle between little Lake Havasu islands scattered with palm trees, cruise through the channel between colossal rock canyons, and hang out with the partygoers around London Bridge for an exciting Lake Havasu paddle.

2. Lake Mohave

paddle board arizona -  lake mohave

For an Arizona lake you’ll enjoy almost all to yourself, Lake Mohave offers up one of the most serene paddle boarding destinations.

The calm water on Lake Mohave is ideal for beginner paddle boarders, and provides ample scenery as you paddle through lake canyons that dwarf you in their magnificence.

Lake Mohave is an ideal place to get started on a SUP if you’re a newbie, as there’s plenty of sandy beaches along the banks of this peaceful Arizona lake to lay out on and enjoy the scenery of Lake Mohave when it’s time to give those arms a rest!

3. Lake Powell

Paddle Boarding Lake Powell: Canyons

The jaw-dropping sandstone formations you’ll find on and around Lake Powell make this Arizona destination undeniably bucket-list-worthy. But don’t just take our word for it: ask the 2 million annual visitors to this spectacular Arizona lake, and you’ll know with Lake Powell you’re onto a winner.

Lake Powell scores an honorable mention as a magnificent paddling place, with its 2,000 miles of shoreline flanked with red rock cliffs along the mighty Colorado River. The iconic Horseshoe Bend easily takes the cake as the most photographed spot along the river (and when you visit, you won’t be left guessing why).

Exploring the water by paddle board is the best way to take in this magnificent water trail around Lake Powell, as you’ll be able to get up close to the curiously undulating sandstone formations that flank the river, while discovering quiet byways through Lake Powell’s 180 mile stretch. The rock cliffs are simply too narrow for larger boats to cruise through.

Paddleboarding in Lake Powell, Az

Maneuver your way through the passages of Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon’s winding slot channels, working your way up to Horseshoe Bend. Be sure not to miss the opportunity to paddle around this iconic splendor that is Horseshoe Bend, for your best Lake Powell paddle board photo opportunity that’ll spark envy from all your friends.

4. Lake Pleasant

paddle board arizona - lake pleasant

Planning a paddle board camping trip and doing an overnighter at Lake Pleasant will reveal all the incredible facets this scenic desert oasis has to offer.

Beginners getting into paddle boarding will love the calm, expansive water and chill oasis vibes at Lake Pleasant. But when the sun goes down, that’s when this place really earns its mention on our list.

Take an evening paddle on Lake Pleasant with its quiet desert landscaping, as you watch the enormous Arizona sky slip from a vibrant sunset into a deep space wonderland. Lake Pleasant’s Peoria location lies far from light pollution, allowing stargazing paddlers the opportunity to marvel at the Milky Way, galaxy systems and nebulae as the sun sinks and moon rises.

Once you come in off the Lake Pleasant water while the inky sky darkens, dabble in some evening outdoor activities with a bit of blacklight scorpion spotting to round out a perfect Lake Pleasant day’s paddling. You’re spoiled for choice with some of the best camping spots right by the beautiful Lake Pleasant shore, to continue your stargazing into the early hours.

5. Bartlett Lake

paddle board arizona - bartlett lake

Located in the heart of the Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Lake won’t disappoint if you’re in the market for an unforgettable paddle boarding experience that’s filled with the best wildlife encounters and stunning desert flora.

As you paddle out on the 2,800 acres of calm, protected water on Bartlett Lake, you can take in the desertscape vistas. You might even come face-to-face with some of the furry and feathered inhabitants of Bartlett Lake!

Spot javelinas, burros and bald eagles dipping between the saguaros and mesquite trees to drink from the “sweet water” of Bartlett Lake, and feel humbled by the majesty of seeing these resilient desert dwellers thriving in this stunning wilderness.

Visitors to Tonto National Forest require a permit, so come prepared when you purchase your Tonto Daily Pass ahead of time to display in your vehicle when you visit Bartlett Lake. Alternatively, you can grab one upon arrival at a machine in the park or at a nearby participating vendor. Here’s the link to current info to best plan your Bartlett Lake visit: Bartlett Lake Forest Service Guide.

6. Saguaro Lake

paddle board arizona - saguaro lake

The Tonto National Forest continues to enchant us with this beautiful water preserve to explore by paddle board. While it’s not a true Arizona lake but instead a man-made reservoir, the blue water of Saguaro Lake with its abundant cacti flanking the shoreline will have you feeling like this place is a million miles away.

Pack your tackle and dip a line in for some of the best stand up paddle board fishing in Arizona. There are 2,200 fish habitat structures that have been installed and are well maintained here, to make Saguaro Lake a noteworthy fisherman’s paradise.

For current fishing regulations, general park status, access info and a guide for the best amenities, check out the Forest Service’s latest: Saguaro Lake. Also, don’t forget to grab your Tonto Daily Pass before you get there, so you can streamline your arrival and get straight out on the water!

7. Verde River

paddle board arizona - verde river

While the Verde River itself is 200 miles long, the best section to get your paddle board fix along this meandering Arizona waterway is at the northern end.

Paddlers haven’t been forgotten in this oasis, as there’s a designated 7 mile paddling trail spanning from Haydorn Lane to Tuzigoot Bridge, with plenty of easy access points. Drift through the diverse vegetation flanking the shore and watch your backdrop transition from grassland, to stands of mesquite trees, to dense cottonwood forest. This lush Arizona paddle truly earns its “verde” title.

As a part of the Tonto National Forest, visitors to Verde River fall under the requirement of holding a Tonto Daily Pass, so click the link and discover the most convenient way to get your hands on one before your journey.

Be sure to check out this awesome Verde Paddle Trail Guide to get the lowdown on the must-see spots along your paddle, which spots to launch from, and also to get the jump on what to expect!

8. Canyon Lake

paddle board arizona - canyon lake

Working your way down toward the lower corner of the Tonto Forest preserve, visitors to Phoenix can swing an easy day trip to Canyon Lake with this quick 40 mile drive from the city.

You’ll find yourself in a natural paddler’s paradise, with stunning turquoise water flanked by dramatic red rock canyon walls. Take your pick from plenty of peaceful coves that prohibit motor boats, so beginners can perfect their paddling skills without any passing traffic making waves. As it’s still within the limits of the National Forest, don’t forget to grab your Tonto Daily Pass for a paddle at Canyon Lake.

9. Tempe Town Lake

paddle board arizona - tempe town lake

Paddle board race, anyone? If a convenient afternoon paddle close to town with a leisurely city backdrop is your speed, head down to the Phoenix town of Tempe.

At this non-swimming city lake, paddlers get a special nod. This dedicated 2 mile long inlet off the Salt River serves an exciting purpose: It was specifically designed for racing and training sessions of local rowing teams, dragon boaters, outrigger canoe competition and paddle boarders!

Enjoy this secluded cove to hone your skills, get a workout in, or simply catch the sunset. You can get those addictive paddle board hours in without even venturing out of the city!

10. Lower Salt River

paddle board arizona - lower salt river

For (just a touch!) more adrenaline, jump onto the Lower Salt River for some gentle rapids to shake up your Arizona outdoor activities on the water.

The Lower Salt River’s reasonably close proximity to Phoenix makes this a popular place for party goers in the summer, who come in droves to cruise down the Class 1 river rapids on innertubes. Skip the crowds by going early in the day with the added bonus of getting to say good morning to the wild horses who wander down to the banks for a drink as you paddle by.

Launch at Camp Circle and pull out around Granite Reef for a half-day adventure, and get some miles under your belt as you let the current do most of the work for you!

11. Martinez Lake

paddle board arizona - martinez lake

Perfect conditions come together at Martinez Lake for an ideal day of SUP fishing. Located just 45 minutes from Yuma, you can snag a serious haul of fish on this lake that straddles both banks of the lower end of the Colorado River. Largemouth bass are in plentiful supply, and when you’re angling from your board, you can almost guarantee you’ll be eating well that night.

Maneuvering around these quiet waters will demonstrate the results of your stealthy paddleboard fishing advantage: undisturbed fish are prolific biters.

Capitalize on the perfect catch at this premier Arizona lake, and mark it on your route as the best place to scratch your SUP fishing itch.

12. Black Canyon

paddle board arizona - martinez lake

Skip the Strip in Vegas and head out to Hoover Dam instead, for so much more bang for your buck. Black Canyon offers up some much-needed stand up paddle board solitude after a venture amongst the mayhem of Las Vegas’ lights.

Carving between the El Dorado and Black Mountain ranges on the statelines of Arizona and Nevada, this portion of the Colorado River is a prime paddling location. Launch at Willow Beach to avoid the need for a permit; But if it’s no skin off your nose, get right in the middle of the action and put in right at the base of Hoover Dam.

Desert bighorn sheep maintain a watchful eye from the cliffs as you paddle along this 30 mile stretch of the National Water Trail. Take in the serene desert backdrop that’s dotted with caves, beaches, coves and hot springs. You can even check out some historical remnants left over from construction of the spectacular Hoover Dam along the way!

Where to Rent Paddle Boards in Arizona

In case you’re taking a friend on your Arizona SUP expedition and they don’t have their own inflatable GILI Sports SUP yet- (I know, they’re gonna be jealous of yours!) - you can rent an extra board for them from one of the following locations:

Interactive Map of Paddle Boarding in Arizona

Wrapping Up

See what we mean about being spoiled for choice as paddle boarders in Arizona?!

While this is our list of honorable Arizona mentions, this is just a starting point of all the incredible spots you can paddle board in this beautiful desert state.

Chances are, you’ll encounter many more fellow paddlers on your Arizona explorations, so don’t be afraid to ask the locals for their tips on the best hidden gems you simply won’t find online.

Whether it’s world-class SUP fishing you’re after; paddling amongst awe-inspiring red rock cliffs that date back beyond conceivable memory; or, simply immersing yourself in a refreshingly unique landscape that imbues your paddling adventures with quiet desert majesty.

We know that Arizona will capture your imagination and carve out a special place in your heart, as a serious contender for paddle board nirvana.

Warren Tsoi
Warren Tsoi

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