Water Wonderland in the Desert | Visit Mesa

Posted By Visit Mesa Team
June 13, 2023

Water Wonderland in the Desert

Contrary to popular belief, there is more to our desert than cactus, dirt, and tumbleweeds. Splash into summer and enjoy the outdoors!

Mesa, Arizona is a gateway to the ultimate water recreation paradise consisting of three lakes and two rivers. Go just outside of our city limits and you’ve made it to Tonto National Forest. It’s one of the many places in Arizona where the Sonoran Desert’s iconic Saguaro cactus grow and one of the few places left where the wild horses roam. Tonto is the fifth largest forest in the United States and one of the most-visited "urban" forests in the country. Visitors can enjoy a plethora of water activities while splashing around in Mother Nature’s swimming pools.

Down on the River

Ease into your H2O-fueled fun with some tubing down the Lower Salt River. Gather your group and head to Salt River Tubing to rent a tube, catch a shuttle and enjoy Arizona’s floating picnic. You can get dropped off at two different starting points to enjoy a short float or an all-day experience in the cool water. Bring your GoPro and capture the beautiful sites from the riverbed while you kick-back and flow with the current.

Keep your eyes peeled as you might even get a visit from the wild horses that roam free along the waters in Tonto National Forest. Learn more about the Salt River horses HERE.

Paddles Up

If you’re looking for more fun on the river but tubing isn’t your style, don’t worry we have something for you too! The water recreation options are endless. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP), and if you don’t have space in your vehicle to haul one, you can rent an inflatable paddleboard instead. If you have a big group, there are some options for getting your group and gear to the water provided by the rental shops. If you want to experience an adventure down the river and learn about the surrounding wildlife and environment, then book a guided tour; if you go this route, transportation can be provided for your group and your gear. Rafting, kayaking or paddleboarding tours are available along the Salt River and Verde River. Check out No Snow Paddleboards for more information!

Off the Dock

As the Salt River flows from the East to the West it connects three different lakes that offer an oasis for boaters, action water sports, and visitors looking to cool off on the pockets of beach shoreline. Just thirty minutes outside of Mesa, Saguaro Lake is the closest body of water that allows motorized watercraft. Drive a little further and you won’t be disappointed by the towering cliffs and scenic views of Canyon Lake and Apache Lake, which are both along the historic Apache Trail.

Bring your rented gear to these lakes or rent some there instead. No boat, no problem. Guests can rent a variety of watercraft ranging from pontoon and fishing boats to personal jet skis and even wakeboarding boats to head out on their own water-filled adventure. At Jet Action Rentals, visitors can rent jet skis already equipped on a trailer ready for towing to open waters. Daily rentals start at $250, and select jet skis can sit up to three people. At AZ Power Toys in Mesa, visitors can rent a wakeboarding boat with all the gear necessary to have an adrenaline-pumping day on the lake. If you want to keep it simple, grab a paddle and jump in a canoe, kayak, or on a SUP and row out on the water. Visitors can enjoy Saguaro Lake any time of the year without having to bring any type of watercraft.

Keeping it Reel with the Fish

Have the kiddos take a dip in the water while you cast a line in hopes to catch dinner! You can find a variety of species of fish in our waterways and all three lakes have Largemouth Bass. Renting a boat will give you access to all the shoreline and coves for the best chance of reeling in a big catch, but there are plenty of areas to fish from the banks as well. Set up your gear along Butcher Jones Trail, which keeps you right on the water at Saguaro Lake, or head to the Acacia Recreation Site at Canyon to fetch a Yellow Bass. You’re sure to have luck along the Salt River, as it is continuously stocked with fish. Let the kids paddle out along the river while you hang tight and wait for the fish to bite at Coon Bluff. Fishing supplies and licenses are available at the Saguaro and Canyon Lake marinas. Fishing licenses can also be retrieved online or at participating locations in Mesa.

Wait! Before You Go!

To enjoy our beautiful waterways a Tonto Pass, a daily (24-hour) recreation pass, is required. Passes sell for $8.00 per vehicle, and if you plan on towing a motorized watercraft then you will also need to purchase a Watercraft Use Sticker. Passes are available at 200 locations in the Mesa area including nearby convenience stores and online or by mail.

We would love to see your days out on the water with your favorite people! Just tag #VisitMesa or #MesaCityLimitless on your social media posts.

Download our Water Recreation Guide here for more information.

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