An Outdoor Adventure Through Arizona’s Lower Salt River Canyon

Experience majestic desert scenery, rich riparian nature and enjoy an exciting day of amazing fun and outdoors adventure kayaking down the Lower Salt River. Only a short drive from Phoenix, the Lower Salt River is a very popular destination for Arizonans looking for a way to cool off with “tubing” a widely popular activity for many people during the long, hot summer months. However if you consider yourself an outdoors adventurer and you’re willing to try something new, then I recommend taking a day trip kayaking down the Lower Salt River. Even if you’ve never been kayaking before, the mild and gentle Lower Salt River is an excellent place to start, even if you’re a beginner.

I had never been kayaking before but had wanted to try it for a long time. So when I heard that there was a local group called the Scottsdale Sea and Ski Club organizing a kayaking trip down on the Salt River I quickly jumped on the opportunity and got signed up at the discounted group rate of only $60 which included the kayak rental equipment, shuttle pick up transportation as well as snacks and beverages provided by the club.

Starting our day’s journey early, we headed out east from Phoenix on Route 202, exiting north on Power Road which turns into Bush Highway as it enters the Tonto National Forest. It’s another 10 miles until you arrive at Saguaro Lake. On the right just south of Saguaro Lake Marina, is Saguaro Lake Ranch & Resort where we drove in, parked and got prepared for our day’s adventure kayaking down the Salt River. Down at the shoreline, claimed our kayaks, put our life vests on and were provided a map and a detailed overview of the trip from start to finish by Saguaro Lake Ranch. After the briefing we carried our kayaks and paddles down to the water’s edge and quickly dropped in. Once everyone was safely launched into the water, we were given a “thumbs up” by our leader and experienced kayaking guide, Mike to start our journey on down the river.

Being a first time beginning kayaker, it took me a little while to learn how to use the double sided paddle correctly and easily in order to steer my kayak. After only a few short minutes of “bumper boats” and floating downstream sideways then backwards, I started catching on and began feeling more comfortable, able to work with the speed of the current while keeping my kayak straight, facing forward and away from trees, reefs as well as other kayakers and people on the river. Although we did lose somebody from our group very early on who somehow must have fallen out and lost her kayak, for the rest of our group, we successfully began our exciting float down the beautiful and scenic Salt River.

I’d describe the first portion of the river journey to be probably be the most challenging part as this is where most of the rapids are. I was busily taking lot’s of pictures of everyone kayaking as well as the gorgeous scenery when all of a sudden I looked up and realized I had already approached Snake Rapids and somehow got pulled into an eddy in the river which caused my kayak to veer wildly into the rapids, headed straight for the rocks where it got lodged and stuck! After only a few short panicky moments with nobody left to help, I managed to get my kayak up off the rocks then quickly paddled my way through the rest of the rapids to get caught back up with the rest of the group again. Shortly thereafter, we reached Blue Point Bridge and after picking up our lost kayaker, we pulled our kayaks over to the shore for a short rest break at the picnic area where snacks and beverages were provided.

After the short break, we got back in our kayaks and were on the river once again. From Blue Point Bridge the slows down and the current is much milder. You will notice many more people by now because it is also a section of the river shared by the tubers, making for a much more lively social experience with kayakers and tubers mingling together and enjoying the river experience. As we continued to float on down towards Sand Cliffs, we also passed by many people out fishing and picnicking along the shore some even giving their horses a cool down in the water!

From Sand Cliffs the scenery continues to be absolutely breathtaking and after passing by the exit point for the tubers, you will start to experience more calm and tranquility now on the river with the possibilities of encountering nature more likely so be sure to keep your eyes open and your camera ready. It was literally only within minutes that I looked up to the right shoreline and saw a Great Blue Heron! Blue Herons are very large, grayish/blue birds and common in riparian type habitats. I quickly snapped up a couple of photos while drifting by.

After another regrouping stop, this time at a rock cliff on the river itself, we continued to kayak on past Coon Bluff until we had reached our final exit point, Phon D Sutton, Exit #2. We safely got out, pulled our kayaks up onto shore, then carried them up to the parking lot for loading by Saguaro Lake Ranch. We then got into the shuttle van which had been waiting for us and within 15 minutes we had arrived back at Saguaro Lake Ranch where we had originally started and where our cars were parked. We had dropped into the river at 9am and were finished by 2pm and back in our cars by 3pm. The total time for the trip was 5 hours which included stops and rest breaks along the way.

I highly recommend taking this short day trip which costs only $65 for the day with advance reservations at Saguaro Lake Ranch. You don’t need to be an experienced kayaker as the Salt River is considered to be a great place to start if you’re new to kayaking, like I was. Saguaro Lake Ranch will provide you the equipment rental, instruction, plus shuttle transportation back to your car at the end of the trip. You only need to bring lot’s of sunscreen and water as it does get pretty hot by mid-afternoon as well as your own food or snacks for lunch. In all, it was truly an amazing, exciting day of outdoors fun, beauty and adventure which I plan on doing again sometime really soon!

Laura K. Halik is a writer and published author with over 20 years experience of outdoors travel throughout the state of Arizona and the western region. She is passionate for nature, the outdoors, travel and adventure. Laura enjoys hiking, canyoneering, white water rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, writing, and photography. She is also a co-hiking leader and organizer in a hiking and outdoors adventure club for advanced and experienced hikers.