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With a warm, dry climate, Arizona might not seem like a kayaker’s paradise, but the Grand Canyon State is packed with places for outdoor adventures on the water, not to mention awesome scenery and a wealth of wildlife.

Gila County with its plenty of lakes and rivers, provides outdoor enthusiasts a lot of options for kayaking in Arizona, no matter what your skill level is.

Gila County offers high country rivers and lakes with gorgeous ponderosa pine forests and deserts lined by huge rock lined canyons.  A kayaking trip to Gila County will leave you in awe of Mother Nature and what she has done with this natural and rugged canvas.


So where is the best place to kayak?  Keep scrolling for more information.

Kayaking Apache Lake

Kayaking Apache Lake

This is not technically a Gila County lake.  But we thought it would be good on this list because you can Kayak from Roosevelt Lake all the way to Apache Lake. Located just off the scenic Apache Trail in Central Arizona, this long narrow lake offers miles of shoreline for paddling with many side coves and bays that provide nice waters for paddling.  The lake is more remote and less crowded than the other Salt River Reservoirs but still offers great scenery and opportunity for recreation.  Amenities at the lake include a marina, picnic sites, campgrounds and multiple boat launches.


Take the I-10 to the US-60 East

Exit Idaho Road, and drive north on Idaho Road
Turn right on Route 88 (also known as the Apache Trail)
Continue on Route 88 for approximately 25 miles of paved road
The paved road turns to a dirt road- continue on the dirt road for another 7 miles
After 7 miles of dirt road, there will be a sign for Apache Lake Marina & Resort. Turn left down the paved road for 1 mile
At the bottom of the hill in a tan building with a green roof. This is our main building. Turn in here.

Kayaking Tonto Creek

Kayaking Tonto Creek - Rye Creek to Gun Creek

This short run along Tonto Creek is a thrilling trip through scenic and classic Arizona desert and narrow canyon.  the first part of the trips is a short run along Rye Creek which leads to a confluence with Tonto Creek.  Shortly after the confluence of the two creeks is the first major rapid.  Rye Creek Rapid, which is a class III rapid at ideal flows but can be upgraded to class V when flows are exceptionally high.  As the river enters the gorge there are multiple class III rapids and holes that will keep paddlers on their toes.  There is one spot of the canyon that narrows down to 12-feet but is passible and less-threatening than it may appear.  The remainder of the trip after leaving the canyon is relatively mild consisting of mostly class I and II rapids.


From Jakes Corner, take the dirt road (#184) directly accross the 188 from the bar (you will see a huge tree in front of trailer homes) for about 2.7 miles.This road becomes quite the muddy mess after a good rain event, especialy the last  stretch, and requires 4wd with some clearance. When you start heading downhill and can see the Rye Creek drainage on the left take a right at the fork in the road. Shortly thereafter you will see a gate and enough space to park a handful of vehicles. A short hike down hill past the gate brings you to Rye Creek (remember to close the gate behind you).

The take-out is located about 2.7 miles down Highway 188 from Jake's Corner. When heading SE on the 188, after a long downhill, make a left onto an unmarked dirt road. There are several parking options along this road. Make sure to spot powerlines and saguaros as reference to where you leave your vehicle. High clearance 4wd will bring you closer to the creek.

Kayaking Roosevelt Lake Schoolhouse Point

Roosevelt Lake - Schoolhouse Point Launch

The Schoolhouse Point Launch is located on the eastern portion of Roosevelt Lake and is a good launch site for the lake as well as a river access point for the Upper Salt River.  Roosevelt Lake is the largest lake located in Central Arizona on the Salt River Project.  The lake offers open waters for paddling as well as lots of small coves and canyons that offer more solitude and opportunity for viewing wildlife.  The lake is popular with speedboats and motorboats so be cautious when entering and crossing open waters.


This site is located 11 miles south of the historic Roosevelt Dam. From Mesa: Take the State Hwy. 87/Beeline Highway north for about 60 miles to the junction with State Hwy. 88. Continue on State Hwy. 88 south for 8 miles to Forest Road (FR) 447/Schoolhouse Recreation Site. Turn left and continue for 4 miles to the site.


From Globe: Take State Hwy. 188 north for 20 miles to its junction with Forest Road (FR) 447/Schoolhouse Recreation Site, turn right and continue for 4 miles to the site.

Kayaking Roosevelt Lake To Cholla Launch

Roosevelt Lake - Cholla Launch

The Cholla Recreation Site is located 6 miles north of the damn on the southwest portion of Roosevelt Lake.  Roosevelt Lake is the largest lake located in Central Arizona on the Salt River Project.  The lake offers open waters for paddling as well as lots of small coves and canyons that offer more solitude and opportunity for viewing wildlife.  The lake is popular with speedboats and motorboats so be cautious when entering and crossing open waters.


This site is 5 miles north of  Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
From Mesa: Take State Hwy. 87/Beeline Highway north for approximately 60 miles to its junction with State Hwy. 188. Turn right onto State Hwy. 188 and continue south for 27 miles to the site.

From Globe: Take State Hwy. 188 north for 30 miles to the junction of State Hwy. 88 and State Hwy. 188. Continue on State Hwy. 188 across the bridge for 5 miles to the site.

Kayaking Roosevelt Lake Damn

Middle Salt River - Roosevelt Dam to Apache Lake

Starting just below Roosevelt Dam, paddlers will enjoy calm and peaceful waters that travel through a scenic canyon to Apache Lake.  The river along this section almost always has sufficient water for paddling and enjoying nature and wildlife.  There are multiple take-out sports on Apache Lake to be used depending on how much of the lake you want to explore.


Apache Trail Route. This is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona, particularly during the spring months when the desert is in bloom. From Apache Junction it's about a 50 mile drive, but a slow drive since about half of the route is winding dirt road along the northern edges of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness area. Take Highway 88 (Apache Trail) from Apache Junction which is a Phoenix suburb. You will pass Canyon Lake before entering the Ghost Town of Tortilla Flats. Shortly after the road through hairpin turns alongside sheer cliff dropoffs at Fish Creek Hill as the views of Apache Lake appear. Apache Trail then continues until it reaches Roosevelt Dam and Roosevelt Lake.

From Globe Arizona. Take Highway 188 for about 30 miles north of Globe.

From North Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale. Take Beeline Highway (Highway 87) north to Highway 188. Take 188 south for about 40 miles passing through Jake's Corner and Punkin Center to Lake Roosevelt. The route is all paved.

Kayaking Blue Ridge Reservoir

Kayaking Blue Ridge Reservoir

Blue Ridge Reservoir is definitely a favorite of many kayakers in the state. The narrow, intimate lake is flanked by relatively steep pine-covered slopes, so it feels more like you’re paddling a slow-moving river than a broad lake. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only boat on the water here, as the lake curves around multiple bends just as a river does, obscuring other paddlers. With a treeline that comes right down to a 15-mile-long shoreline, the lake offers many opportunities to dock and enjoy a snack under the shade of the cool pines. Craggy rock outcroppings abound at the water’s edge, offering plenty of geologic eye-candy while you paddle past.

The lake is split between two arms. The western arm is much longer, while the southern arm includes the interesting curved dam that holds the water back. At an elevation of 6700 ft, the paddling season runs from May through October. While small motorized boats are allowed, this isn’t a place where paddlers will feel overwhelmed by motors.


Blue Ridge Reservoir is located about 45 miles north of Payson, a roughly 2-hour drive from Phoenix. From Payson, continue north on Highway 87 for roughly 40 miles to FR751, near milepost 295. You’ll see a large US Forest Service sign pointing the way to Blue Ridge Reservoir (as with most paddlers, the CC Cragin name hasn’t quite taken hold). Turn east on FR751 and follow it about 4 miles to the boat ramp.

Kayaking East Verde River

Kayaking The East Verde River

Forming near SH 99 in Gila County due east of the Verde River is the East Verde River, which flows to the confluence about 7 miles below the Childs Power Road Access on the Verde River in the middle of nowhere. In fact, there is very limited access on the East Verde along roads best suited for high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles, so a trip will require 26 more miles of paddling down the Verde River to the Sheeps Bridge access. This run of about 61.5 miles includes numerous Class IV to V+ rapids and drops on the East Verde portion (first 35.5 miles) that test the skills of expert whitewater kayakers before mellowing to Class I to III rapids on the Verde below the confluence. Some waterfalls on the East Verde are considered to be unrunnable with mandatory portages that eat time and energy. The river flows through Tonto National Forest a few miles north of, and perpendicular to, Tonto Creek, another great whitewater run in Arizona. Water in the river sources mainly from snowmelt runoff in the area of the forest northeast of Phoenix, though the river frequently is not navigable due to insufficient flow, and when it does flow at navigable levels it can be swift and dangerous. Small gorges and waterfall drops characterize the East Verde River making it much more difficult than the mainstream into which it flows.

This run begins at a primitive access off SH 260 / SH 87 and East Verde Estates Road north of Payson and spans the lower 35.5 miles of the East Verde River plus about 26 miles of the Verde River down to the Sheeps Bridge Access on river right. Finding the takeout may be harder than running the river, and it may well be harder on your vehicle than the river will be to your boat. The take-out roads require high clearance vehicles, and if the roads are wet or eroded, then a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is mandatory. The roads are often unmaintained and have blind curves that are potential dangers, though traffic will almost always be non-existent. Getting wrecker assistance would cost a fortune! These are just some of the reasons why the East Verde is not wildly popular, but the main reasons are the technical difficulty and the distance you have to paddle to reach the take-out, though there are some possible access points along the route that could be used, but you had better have a GPS, sat phone and a good, CURRENT road map showing the back-country trails and unimproved roads. The put-in is a snap to find, but the take-out requires some serious mountain road navigation on narrow, winding roads that would be difficult, if not impossible, with trailers or long wheel base vehicles.  Before you go we suggest you take some time to read more about this trip:  (Special Thanks to for their assistance in describing this beautiful, yet challenging run.​


Due to the remoteness of this adventure we have given you very specific directions.
East Verde Road at SH 260 / SH 87 (N 34° 18' 02.60" / W 111° 21' 32.20") on river left at 0.0 miles; Low water bridge on East Verde Road (N 34° 17' 56.70" / W 111° 21' 29.91") about 0.1 miles; Low water bridge on the Forest Service road (N 34° 17' 14.77" / W 111° 22' 28.92") at about 1.9 miles; Possible access on trail to Doll Baby Ranch Road (N 34° 13' 37.73" / W 111°27' 23.63") on river left at about 17.2 miles; Possible access at primitive low water crossing off Doll Baby Ranch Road (N 34° 13' 03.32" / W 111° 28' 40.84") on river left at about 18.9 miles; Possible access at Arizona National Scenic Trail at LF Ranch (N 34° 13' 45.90" / W 111° 30' 47.24") on river left at about 21.8 miles; Verde River confluence (N 34° 17' 10.71" W 111° 39' 54.23") - NO ACCESS - at about 35.5 miles; Sheeps Bridge Access (N 34° 04' 39.44" / W 111° 42' 20.73") on Verde River on river right at about 61.5 miles. There may be other access points for the East Verde River, especially for somebody who knows a local landowner who will grant access from private property.

Willow Springs Lake

Kayaking Other Gila County Bodies of Water

Gila County has many other options for paddlers.  Click on Lakes and Streams to find more info. 

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