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Lower Salt River Kayaking and Paddleboarding

Explore the Lower Salt River: Kayaking, Paddleboarding, and Wild Horses

The Lower Salt River just outside Mesa, Arizona is the perfect destination for travelers and locals looking for a unique outdoor experience. It is located in the beautiful Sonoran Desert, where you can explore the stunning scenery, take in the diverse wildlife, and enjoy a variety of recreational activities. Just east of the Valley of the Sun, about a 40-minute drive from the Phoenix metropolitan area, the river offers an array of activities, from tubing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. It’s one of those places that manages to capture Arizona’s southwest culture with a new twist. The Lower Salt River is a must-explore for nature lovers and adventurers!

Quick Overview

You can experience all of these activities on the Lower Salt River. Pick up your rental equipment at Riverbound Sports and enjoy spectacular views of the river while also admiring the wild horses and Bald Eagles that inhabit this area.

Note: The Salt River is a flowing river and the put-in and takeout locations are not the same and require two vehicles for a shuttle, with the exception of the Granite Reef Recreation location. The river flows yearly from Spring to Fall. 

The Lower Salt River in Arizona

Kayaking with the wild horses on the Lower Salt River tour. Riverbound Sports Tours.

The Lower Salt River in Arizona is a picturesque getaway that offers visitors a chance to get out of the city with just a short drive to explore and relax while staying cool in the summer. Known for its distinctive desert landscape, abundant wildlife, and dynamic vegetation, the river provides an impressive backdrop for tubing, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, and a chance of sighting the Salt River Wild Horses. Whether you’re after adventure and exploration or serenity and recreation, the Lower Salt River is an ideal destination for any outdoor enthusiast.

While exploring the natural beauty of the Lower Salt River, visitors should always practice Leave No Trace ethics to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the beauty of nature in years to come.

With its stunning colorful mountains and cliffs, the Lower Salt River has something for everyone. As we transition from this discussion on recreational activities to an overview of the area itself, it’s clear why this lush oasis continues to remain popular among tourists seeking solace and adventures alike.

The presence of wild horses in the area further adds to its appeal as a destination. The horses are feral mustangs that roam freely along the riverbanks near the Granite Reef Diversion Dam. Not only do these horses add an element of beauty to the Lower Salt River area, but their presence also helps maintain the native vegetation.

The Lower Salt River is home to the Salt River Wild Horses

  • Wild horse viewing opportunities can be best experienced during spring to late fall. Although the river is at its lowest flow during the winter and early spring, you will experience cooler temps during your visit.
  • Paddling down the river is a great way to catch a glimpse of the horses drinking and staying cool along the banks of the river,

Note: Although the SRWH are beautiful and it is very tempting for recreational users on the river to get caught up in the moment or want that perfect picture, they are wild horses. Please keep a minimum distance of 50 feet from the wild horses for your safety, as well as for the safety of the horses. 

Map of the Lower Salt River

Lower Salt River Map. Launch and takeout locations.

Overview of the Area

Arizona’s Lower Salt River is home to a wonderful variety of flora and fauna, making it an ideal destination for any outdoor enthusiast. The area is loved by paddlers, hikers, and wildlife enthusiasts. Its rich biodiversity has earned it a designation as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

The Lower Salt River provides countless opportunities for recreation in its waters and along its banks. The area is rich with natural beauty, including rock formations, lush vegetation, easy-flowing rapids, and stands of cottonwood trees. Originally, one of the most popular recreations on the Lower Salt was floating down the river in tubes with your family and friends. This was made popular by Salt River Tubing back in 1981 although in recent years, kayaking and paddleboarding have become very popular activities on the river due to its easy access and relatively calm stretches.

Changes in the water flow have created a short section of the river that the locals call Pinball Alley, located near Bulldog. If you are a little more adventurous, stay to the left of the split at Bulldog Island, down from the Water Users Recreation Area Site.

Preparing for Your Trip to the Lower Salt River

Now it’s time to start preparing for your trip. Naturally, the further you plan and prepare in advance, the smoother your experience will be overall.
The most important thing to remember is to be prepared and to have quality gear and safety equipment when participating in any water activity. You’ll need items like a life vest, and sunscreen, as well as coolers for things such as enough water, snacks, and lunch for longer trips on the water. During the summer months, the sun and heat can dehydrate you very quickly. 

Note: It is the law for any person on a paddleboard or kayak to wear or carry the appropriate personal floatation device (PFD) and anyone under the age of 13 must wear the appropriate sized PFD at all times while on the water in Arizona. 

Riverbound Sports Paddle Company is a reputable kayak and paddleboard rental company that is both licensed and insured that offers quality equipment for an affordable rate. Riverbound is one of the few outfitters operating under the permit of the USDA Forest Service in the Tonto National Forest, to legally offer services to the Salt River. Offering group events and tours by knowledgeable, ACA certified guides with years of experience paddling the local lakes and rivers to help paddlers with a unique experience on the water. 

Note: With years of paddling experience on the Lower Salt and the surrounding lakes like Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake, be sure to ask about the best launch and takeout locations, parking spots, tips, and suggestions. 

Something else you should consider while planning your trip is selecting the right day and time of year to explore the Salt River. If possible, floating the river during the week allows for a more peaceful time on the water for those looking to stay away from the crowds. On the weekends during the summer months, the locals and visitors find the Salt River to be a great place to float and cool off and brings larger groups of tubers, paddleboards, and kayakers to the area.

Paddle boarding the Lower Salt River. Riverbound Sports

Before setting out on your adventure, remember to be mindful of your surroundings.

You should keep an eye out for any impending thunderstorms or weather changes and use caution for wildlife if you venture away from the shoreline. 

Planning ahead and using common sense while visiting the Lower Salt River will ensure that everyone involved has an unforgettable experience on your paddle board or kayaking trip. And with all of these tips, you’re now better prepared to enjoy your day on the water at this truly remarkable place. Now that we’ve discussed how best to prepare for your trips on the river, let’s get into what kind of paddling levels are suitable for exploring this amazing river!

Note: Be sure to take a dry bag for a safe place to keep your phone, camera, and keys.

Locals Tip: *** Be sure to take the keys and keep them in a safe place to the vehicle at the end point. They will be needed for the shuttle ride back. ***

What are the Salt River Water Flows?

When preparing for a trip to the Lower Salt River, one of the most important considerations is the water level of the river. The Lower Salt is a free-flowing river and flows in response to changes in precipitation and dam releases. To get the most out of your time on the Lower Salt, it’s best to plan your trip with water levels between 500 cfs and about 1500 cfs for recreational activities such as paddling. 

Salt River tubing on the Badfish Donut River Tubes. Riverbound Sports

It’s important to note that during winter months, the river is too low for paddling activities. Be sure to check river flow data ahead of time to ensure you will have a safe trip on the Lower Salt River. The lower the river flow, then the longer it will take to get from one point to another. As such, the higher the river flow, the faster your adventure will be. Varying water levels make every trip on the Salt River a different experience every time.

No matter what kind of water activity you plan on enjoying, it’s best to always be mindful of water levels on the Salt River before venturing out. 

Riverbound Sports Arizona River Flow Page

Guided Tours of the Lower Salt River Area

When it comes to exploring the Lower Salt River, a popular choice is to take a guided tour. Guided tours allow you to explore the area and see all of its wonders without having to worry about navigating unfamiliar waters or sudden changes. While a guided tour might not be the most “adventurous” way to experience the river, it is often an easy, fun way to explore the water with the experience of local paddlers. 

On a guided tour, you get to experience the wonders of the Lower Salt River with a knowledgeable guide who can point out areas of interest and provide helpful tips. You also have access to all of the necessary safety equipment— life vests, a first aid kit, and extra paddles —should any sort of emergency arise. Moreover, guides are typically trained in both water rescue and CPR, so you never know when they might come in handy.

The benefits of guided tours also extend beyond just safety considerations. You can expect your guide to provide interesting facts and stories about each stop along the way; this information can add an extra layer of depth and insight that would otherwise be missing on an unguided expedition. 
Despite these advantages, some people still opt for a self-guided tour down the river instead. This can give a sense of independence and accomplishment that one may not get from a guided tour. Furthermore, some people might prefer areas where fewer tourists travel and an unguided trip allows for exploring the river on their own terms.

Kayaker on the Lower Salt River. Riverbound Sports Tours and Rentals.There are a number of significant benefits associated with taking a guided tour when exploring the Lower Salt River area. Whether opting for safety considerations, convenience, or special insights, taking a guided tour is generally considered to be one of the easier and more successful ways of paddling the Lower Salt River.

Thanks to everyone that shares their photos with us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!

Common Questions and Explanations

Where can I rent paddle boards or kayaks for the Salt River?

Riverbound Sports offers kayaks and paddleboards that are perfect for paddling on the salt river. Kayaks come in either a hard-sided or inflatable single or double kayak. The inflatable kayaks by Sea Eagle have become one of the most popular rentals for the Salt River. They are easy to transport in just about any car and provide a comfortable, durable, and easy paddling experience. 

Offering a couple of different inflatable paddle board sizes to fit the size and paddle experience of the paddler. Available in 10’6″ x 32″ and 11’6″ x 32″. Grom boards are also available for kids under 90 lbs.  

New for 2023, Riverbound Sports is offering Packrafts and the Badfish Donut River Tubes for rent.

What is the best time of year and day to experience the Salt River?

The best time of year to experience kayaking or paddleboarding on the Salt River is from Spring to Fall when the river’s flows are higher. 

On weekdays, there should be fewer paddlers on the water and easy parking, which can make the whole experience more enjoyable. On the weekends and Holidays, the river is a very popular paddling place for the locals. Be sure to get there early. 

Be sure to check the Events page on Riverbound’s website for any upcoming meet-ups and events.

What safety precautions do I need to take when kayaking or paddleboarding on the Salt River?

When kayaking or paddleboarding on the Salt River, always check the weather conditions and current water levels. It is important to wear a life jacket while on the water and never use an ankle leash on a stand up paddleboard while paddling in moving water. Adhere to all safety laws and regulations set by local authorities.

It’s important to check the surface for any obstacles that may be present; be prepared to navigate around rocks, debris, and shallow spots in the river. When kayaking or paddleboarding, make sure to always follow your intended route and don’t explore areas with shallow waters. If you are paddling with friends, make sure each person is knowledgeable of their surroundings and has the necessary safety equipment.

While kayaking or paddleboarding on the Salt River, it is also important to keep an eye out for wild horses. Depending on the season, these animals may appear in herds near the banks of the river; always give them ample respect and do not approach them as they may startle and cause injury to yourself or risk damage to wildlife habitat along the banks.

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