SUPing the Arizona desert!

by Teri Chadwick
(Scottsdale, Arizona, USA)

Salt River paddle

Salt River paddle

I "discovered" this gem of a SUP spot -- right smack in the middle of the desert -- this past May. Since then, I can't get enough of it! It's a beauty of a paddle up the Lower Salt River any time of the day or even into the night (I've done a number of sunset paddles and one full-moon paddle there).

You launch from the Granite Reef Recreation Site in Mesa, Arizona, located where Bush Highway and Power Road meet. A Tonto National Park parking pass is required. You can purchase a pass at a number of locations, but they are not available at the actual launch site.

The water is clean and clear, and the surroundings are beautiful. Truly an oasis in the desert!

After launching, head up river to your right. You'll be astonished at how beautiful it is!

The upstream current is mild while heading up to a couple of beach areas that sit on the back side of Red Mountain. Sunsets are spectacular there. Peaceful waters. Lush, green riverbanks. Wild Horses frequently come to feed and water in and along the river's edge. Several times we have witnessed them thundering across the river, throwing up water as they go. Wow! We also see Bald Eagles (who knew?) and owls along with Blue Herron, graceful Egrets, and Ring-necked Duck. Wild cows low in the brush.

We typically stop at the upper of the two beach areas as it takes the good part of an hour to get to it. It's easy to beach your board at this south-side-of-the-river beach -- "on your right" as you're heading up river. However, you'll have to fight the current a bit more to land here. Enjoy a respite before heading further up river or back down to the Granite Reef launching area.

There is a smaller beach on the other (north) side of the river just before you get to the south-side beach. The current runs more mildly here and will be easier for inexperienced paddlers to navigate. This stop-off is just as beautiful , and the only trade-off may be that you won't have as much chance of seeing the wild horses. They usually congregate up around the next bend.

Paddle a bit further upstream from either beach, and you'll be bucking a moderately stronger current. It's completely do-able for more experienced/stronger paddlers, but navigate carefully, and watch for shallow spots. Good for a workout at this point!

I haven't tried this, but if you like to fish from your stand up paddleboard, the Lower Salt River apparently has the distinction of being the only cold-water trout fishery in the nation located in a desert.

A couple of final notes: You may want to check the water levels before you go as this is a dam-released river. When it's shallower, you'll simply want to keep your eye out so that you don't end up on your keester from catching your fin on the sandy bottom. (grin) Also, bring water (it IS the desert after all, and you can get mighty thirsty!), mosquito repellent (if you're doing a sunset or full-moon paddle), and something with which to take photos!! You won't want to miss capturing this SUP adventure on "film".

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