Paddling Canyon Lake, Arizona


Canyon Lake is a beautiful, scenic drive through the jagged, towering Superstition Mountain range east of Phoenix, on Route 88/Apache Trail. (Less than an hour from downtown.) This lake is within the Tonto National Forest and is part of the Salt River chain with 28 miles of spectacular shoreline to discover!
Upon first glance, this lake has marvelous canyon walls that change in color with the lighting at various times of the day, from sunrise to sunset it is a stunning sight to see. There are many convenient drop-in points, one being The Canyon Lake Marina Campground with plenty of campsites if you are choosing to make a weekend trip here. You can launch right from your site off a comfortable grassy area. Consider arriving early in the day on summer weekends if temperatures are high, but should you go off-season, you will have serene enjoyment mostly to yourself, sharing the water with just a few scattered boats. There are three recreation sites to launch from: Acacia Picnic Site, the Palo Verde Recreation site, and Boulder Creek Recreation Site, which are open all year round. (Remember to display your Tonto pass with each visit).

Many of the coves are no wake areas which make for relaxing exploration on your standup paddleboard or other man driven watercraft. You can spend part of your day beachfront at one of the recreation sites, lounging on a towel, enjoying little paddles throughout the day.
(*TIP: Plan your next holiday or event at one of the many picnic areas with family or friends. Being outside will give you a grander connection to those close to you, plus, if you are lucky, some unusual wildlife, like big horn sheep, high on the cliffs.) If wanting to stay till sundown, build yourself a pleasant fire and BBQ to soak in a glorious sunset. (Please check fire restrictions prior to your outing.) 

A great place for beginner standup paddlers would be at the Boulder Canyon recreation site where you have a view of the bridge by the marina, and it is also a protective, quiet cove. Go out further to explore some of the different arms in this lake, where there is always some diverse and aesthetically pleasing topography. There are plenty of trees at this particular lake for bonus relief from the sun, come summertime.

If SUP endurance is your style, paddle north through the canyons toward The Point Campground. With a dock and a few shaded ramadas. (*TIP: If you are SUP camping for the night, get creative and rig a tent over an inflatable SUP, so you can use it as a sleeping pad. Deflate the board slightly, for added comfort.). Also, for fun exercise, paddle over to some of the cliffs, securely tie down your SUP, make sure to pack some good water shoes, and climb straight up to some plateaued cliffs. This will give you an excellent upper/lower body workout and an unforgettable view of the lake from up high. And depending on which plateau you choose, you may be able to spot Weavers Needle, in the Superstition Mountains. Please be aware of your physical limitations, should you adventure in this way.

And if you are not paddling on any particular day, jump on board their Dolly Steamboat cruise, to get an amazing perspective of the entire lake. You will gather some educational history on board, and appreciate your paddle for the next time, with some new knowledge of this environment.
(*TIP: About 3 miles east of the lake on the Apache Trail, you will find the Tortilla Flat General Store and Ice Cream Shop, with famous Prickly Pear Gelato! How refreshing after a day on glorious Canyon Lake.

Written by: Suzi DeMaio-Parmentier

Kayak and SUP PaddleBoard Rentals

Pickup a kayak or paddle board rental at Riverbound Sports Tempe shop location and get on the water with all equipment you need starting at $40 a day. Check out our pricing and options for Paddleboard Rentals in Arizona.

Rent A Paddleboard or Kayak Now

Riverbound Sports lake side kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals on select Saturdays at the Boulder Recreation Area. Be sure to check the Riverbound Sports Events Calendar for dates and information. Riverbound Sports is an outfitter under permit by the Tonto National Forest.

Paddleboards on Canyon Lake just outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Boulder Recreation Area – Canyon lake, Arizona

Directions from Riverbound Sports

This is a 56-minute drive from the shop. Simply get onto AZ-101 Loops S for 4 miles then take US060 E to AZ-88 E/S Idaho Rd in Apache Junction. Take Exit 196 from US-60 E. This is about 21.1 Miles. Then Follow AZ-88 toCanyon Lake about 16.4 miles. Click this link for Google Directions:


Author: Suzi DeMaio-Parmentier

Photo by Nat Parmentier