4 Popular Kayaking Rivers Near Phoenix, AZ

Here in Phoenix, one river holds the biggest and the best surprises. You know what we’re talking about, right? Indeed, the Salt River is the source of life and fun in the desert valley. So, let’s look at some of the best kayaking rivers near Phoenix, with most of them being a part of the Salt River system. 

Say hi if you spot us at one of these locales, freely spreading your oars. And be sure to check out our list of best rivers and lakes for swimming too!

Lower Salt River

Fort McDowell, AZ 85264

Within a quick 45-minute drive, the Lower Salt River is right outside of Phoenix and Scottsdale to the east. This area is a veritable oasis full of desert fauna and flora. We’ve got saguaro cacti, wild horses, bald eagles… And, of course, the endless clear water extending into the horizon.

If you’re looking for places to go kayaking near Phoenix, Lower Salt River is a Class I river stretch, meaning it is the easiest classification and is suitable for a relaxing, casual ride. Therefore, this scenic route is perfect for everyone from lazy swimmers to large family groups. Due to the biodiversity presented along the stretch, birdwatchers, Instagrammers, and more experienced explorers also find the Lower Salt River one of the best kayaking rivers nearby. 

Upper Verde River

Paulden, AZ 86334

If you’re looking for a soothing trip, but at the same time don’t want to completely miss out on the action, then, Upper Verde River should be your choice to go. Vacillating between Class I and II, the Upper Verde River is a scenic sight all its own. Located two hours north of Phoenix, this area is a stretch of the Salt River’s largest natural tributary.

Upper Verde River is mostly paddle-paced with some fun currents to ride over. The area will wow you with the magnificent red rock hills and a growing population of otters, beavers, and other wildlife. 

Lower Verde River

Overall, the Lower Verde River is still classified between Class I and II. But don’t let the numbers fool you. Unlike the calm Upper Verde River stretch, this stretch is far more challenging and requires a lot of preparation. Yes, we’re talking currents, rocks, narrow turns, and everything else you can think of. However, the Lower Verde River is a popular destination for kayaking near Phoenix because of its stunning views. As you go through the river, you’ll find hot springs, the famous historic Sheep Bridge Crossing, and various other memorable views.

The most popular entry point is about an hour north of Phoenix, south of the valley surrounding Camp Verde. Again, don’t be fooled by the general rating because the river’s most treacherous waters will reach Class IV, depending on the season. If you don’t feel confident doing this alone, it’s best to find a more experienced group to go with.

Upper Salt River

U.S. 60, Gila County, AZ 

First thing first, you need a permit to raft in the Upper Salt River. The permit could be acquired from White Mountain Apaches on US Highway 60 at the river. The Upper Salt River has waters classified as Class II and III. The stretch features 60 miles of bouncing whitewater, which goes through the breathtaking Sonoran Desert.

An average trip could take 3 to 4 days, and will take you through the brilliant wilderness. Throughout the route, you’ll find spots to camp and hang out. There are also fun swimming holes allowing you to have an intimate interaction with the cooling water.

So, are you ready for nature’s roller coaster? If the answer is yes, then head to the upper Salt River. Remember, though: this stretch is only available for kayaking during the spring, from March 1st to May 15th — so plan accordingly!

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