Water Wonderland in the Desert | Visit Mesa

Posted By Visit Mesa Team
May 01, 2024

Water Wonderland in the Desert

While Mesa is truly a desert, there is more than just cactus, dirt, and tumbleweeds. Enjoy the desert's gateway to three lakes and two rivers as you 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. Just outside of our city limits, you'll find Tonto National Forest. It’s one of the many places in Arizona where the Sonoran Desert’s iconic Saguaro cacti 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. Choose between two different starting points to start your adventure 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 encounter some of the wild horses that roam free along the waters in Tonto National Forest. Be sure to stay at least 50 feet from the horses. They are wild after all! 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, Verde River, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake. Check out No Snow Paddleboards, Desert Paddleboards, Riverbound Sports, or Yak N SUP for more information!

Off the Dock

As the Salt River flows from 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 the shoreline. Just thirty minutes outside of Mesa, Saguaro Lake is the closest body of water that allows motorized watercraft. Drive a little further to experience the scenic views of Canyon Lake and Apache Lake, both found 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. If you want to keep it simple, grab a paddle and jump in a canoe, kayak, or wade out on a SUP. Visitors can also 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, as all three lakes have Largemouth Bass. Renting a boat will give you access to each shoreline and nestled coves for the best chance of reeling in a big catch. If renting a boat isn't in your forecast, staying on the beaches will also suffice.

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 Lake 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 Lake and Canyon Lake marinas. Fishing licenses can also be retrieved online or at participating locations in Mesa.

Wait! Before You Go!

In order 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, 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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