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You don’t have to drive all the way to San Diego for a reason to break out the board. While there isn’t any surf in Phoenix — or Arizona, for that matter (go figure) — there are still plenty of options for getting out on the water on a stand-up paddleboard.
Here are the best spots to leave the shore behind while still taking in the magic of the Southwest.
Like most of the other “lakes” around Phoenix, this spot is actually a reservoir, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Waiting for you about an hour northeast of Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest, this is an awesome spot to spend an afternoon or even an entire weekend if you want to get away from any signs of city life. Trust us — It’s a great choice for families and adventure seekers alike.
Carved out near Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake is a slightly smaller reservoir that makes for another great option for a day on the water. Thanks to the marina and campgrounds, this is a solid choice for a fun and fit weekend outside the city, yet it’s only less than an hour from Phoenix. The views are incredible, with rugged rock formations lining the shores that make you feel like you’re in another world. The best news? Canyon Lake is open year-round, too, so you can SUP it anytime — especially if you want a place to make the summer heat a little more manageable.
This “lake” is formed by a dammed section of the Salt River, but its location in the heart of Tempe (right next door to Phoenix city limits) gives you a unique perspective of the urban and mountainous features that make the Valley so special. There’s a great boat ramp that makes getting into the water quite easy. Need a board? You can grab a rental nearby at Riverbound Stand Up Paddleboard Shop just south of the lake in Tempe or at No Snow SUP shop, about 15 minutes away in Mesa.
Another reservoir on the Salt River, Saguaro Lake sits about 45 minutes east of Phoenix and features a scenic drive for those heading to the shore. Along the way, you’ll pass Salt River Tubing, so you can make plans to just kick back and float if you want a recovery day instead of a fun day out on your board. If you’re looking for something else to do after a few hours on the water, head further east down the Bush Highway to the ghost town of Sunflower for a glimpse into the past.
Watson Lake is about an hour north of Phoenix, but WOW is it worth it. This amazing lake is surrounded by granite rock formations that create stunning scenery, especially at sunrise or sunset — the golden hour light bounces off the rock to make an unforgettable scene. As a bonus, Prescott sits at about 5,000 feet (the lake is surrounded by part of the “Mile High Trail System”), so you might feel an extra workout with the higher elevation. It’s like getting the “Denver” effect with the high desert landscape.
Lake Pleasant is part of a large park north of Phoenix. Complete with trails that wrap around the lake, this is probably the most popular (and likely most crowded) spot on our list. It’s the easiest to option to get to if you’re looking to leave behind any views of buildings and road noise (like at Tempe Town Lake). With a well-managed campground on site, it’s a great spot to get away for an overnight trip without trucking it all the way up to the northern reaches of Arizona. If you’re just looking to get started with your desert lake adventures, Lake Pleasant is a good place to begin.
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