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Paddling in Arizona in the Winter

Paddling the Oru Folding kaya on Canyon lake in the Winter. Riverbound Sports is an Oru kayak Authorized dealer in Arizona

One of the best features of living in the Southwest is the ability to live and explore outdoors throughout the entire year. In Arizona, we are gifted with amazing scenery, sunny days and gloriously warm temps through Thanksgiving and beyond. A winter destination for many that want to thaw out from the colder temperatures up north in Canada, the Northwest, the Midwest and the Northeast. They all come to the desert.

While the days begin to shorten, and the blazing summer temps are in our rearview mirror, the forecast for a great paddle conditions is here!

The best places to paddle in and around the Valley of the Sun include:

  • Saguaro Lake
  • Canyon Lake
  • Bartlett Lake
  • Lake Pleasant
  • The lower Salt River
  • Tempe Town Lake
Paddling Canyon Lae, Arizona in the Fall. Riverbound Sports Annual Paddle to the Dam.
Paddle at Canyon Lake in November

Additional places to explore this time of year outside the Greater Phoenix Area are:

  • Roosevelt Lake
  • Apache Lake
  • Alamo Lake
  • Patagonia Lake
  • Lake Havasu
  • Lake Mohave
  • Lake Mead
  • Lake Powell
  • Colorado River section at Willow Beach and the infamous Emerald Cove (between Lake Mead and Lake Mohave)
  • Colorado River through Horseshoe Bend
  • Colorado River through Topock Gorge
  • Colorado River at the Parker Strip (below Lake Havasu)

What to wear

Since the morning and evening temperatures can be a bit more chilly, it’s always best to dress in light layers when heading out to the water. Once we leave the shoreline, we often get pretty warm pretty fast. It’s common to remove the windbreaker and tie it around our waist within the first 5 minutes to continue our adventure. It’s always nice to have a dry one on hand for afternoon paddles too. Once the sun hides behind the canyon walls, the shadows get chilly again. Our “go to” attire for the local lakes is a mix of basic swimwear, jogging shorts or trunks, compression leggings and yoga pants, a long sleeve rash guard or UPF top with a windbreaker. Wetsuit socks and booties and a great add. When the toes get wet and the breeze is blowing on the feet, great comfort comes from being prepared. Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD) whether an inflatable or inherently buoyant life jacket.

THINGS TO WEAR – splash gear like windbreakers and paddle pants, neoprene leggings and tops, wetsuits, wetsuit booties or socks and gloves.

THINGS NOT TO WEAR – bulky sweatshirts, sweats, cotton of any sort honestly. It stays wet, cold and heavy. Paddle prepared and have a dry change of clothes waiting in the car.

PRO SAFETY TIP: If the air temp and water temp added together are less than 120, paddlers run the risk of hypothermia when wet. Wear layers that will keep you warm without weighing you down.

How we prepare – Hello Google!

It is safest to do a little research online before planning a good paddle. Sometimes, the usual recreation sites will have seasonal closures or may be temporarily closed for maintenance. What we have all learned through the COVID-19 pandemic is we always have a Plan B. When you decide on the lake or river you want to explore, locate more than one place to launch in case the place you visited over the summer or last year is now suddenly closed. It happens. Be sure to also check if there is a fee to park? “Will my National Parks Parks Pass work here? All the lakes and river on the Tonto National Forest will accept the America The Beautiful pass to park at the recreation sites. Lake Pleasant has two jurisdictions – Maricopa County and the City of Peoria – but they make it easy with a guard gate and pay station at each entrance. The Colorado River has several State Parks as well as tribal land access. Invest a few minutes researching before you head out.

Once we figure our where we are going, we always check the forecast. What kind of weather will be passing through over the next 10-days? What does the wind forecast look like? What are the daily high and low temps looking like? There are definitely days or weeks we simply avoid going. Not every day in the desert is perfect. In fact, it has been known to snow occasionally. We simply avoid the lakes on those days! We like to use free forecasting tools like these apps: @weatherdhannel @windfinder @myradar 

What we take with us  

It’s super important to always stay hydrated. Be sure to pack water and snacks to keep you moving. For longer paddles, packing a picnic is really fun and best to enjoy at some random cove or isolated beach a couple miles away. Dry bags are a necessity for keys, phones, any medications, a dry top or microfiber towel.

Last but certainly not least, remember you are there to have a great time while your friends in colder climates are hunkering down for winter! Enjoy it! Relish it! Every season brings a completely new scenery to explore with wildlife, new sounds and new discoveries.  See you on the water!

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