early summer trip in the southwest

Starting to make plans for a trip with my sister late this upcoming June and have :slight_smile: to find some places where we can paddle around Phoenix and north (and after that possibly in southern Utah, Colorado and maybe even northwest New Mexico. The biggest dilemma is that where ever we go we will need to rent kayaks or find someone who has extra kayaks and wants to show us their favorite spots. I paddle fairly often in New England in a rec yak, and love to poke around on the water for 4-5 hours at a time. My sister has been known to hang with me when she visits me as we take our time exploring new areas . She doesn’t get to paddle as often as I do but she does enjoy it . We haven’t pinned down where we are going except to know we are starting our trip in Phoenix to visit a brother for 2 nights. From there its anybodies guess, but certainly looking for suggestions.

No advice… NW NM is mostly desert… but there seem to be kayak rentals at Navajo Reservoir Southern Utah has Glen Canyon NRA. You do know that in June Phoenix temps can go over 110?

Best to go UP.

yeah I know about the temps but not like I get the chance to get out there very often and I’m working on a bucket list of paddling in every state so while I’m there…!!!

There is an outfitter in Clarkdale/Cottonwood area that rents an interesting hardshell WW SOT kayak, named the Fluid Do It Now. It handles like a WW kayak, so unless you are used to paddling those, it will be hard to make track straight. A rec kayak typically tracks straighter than these do. But at least if you capsize, you don’t need to roll. They run tours on the Verde River when water levels are high enough. I suspect early summer would be too late, but check with them. We rented kayaks there last April and it was runnable but not the highest water.


I second the warning about summer heat in the SW. I have been to Moab when it was over 100 degrees in early April, and that is not a rare thing.

AZ doesn’t have many lakes or reservoirs. The biggies are Lake Powell and Lake Mead, where rec kayaks can be rented. However, I would not recommend paddling there in the warm season because, unlike in New England, almost any decent flatwater in the desert is mobbed by powerboaters and jetskiiers. Summer is guaranteed to be hellacious with them. Beware.

Navajo Reservoir lies in both CO and NM. You can get your BAGGING rights for both states in one fell swoop. I don’t know if they have rentals. You might need to rent from a shop elsewhere and transport the boats there.

In all reservoirs, you need to get good weather forecasts in case strong wind is likely. It is vey common for afternoon winds to whip up suddenly. Fetch is much higher than in most New England Lakes, due to both lack of dense tree stands and mountain effects.

I agree that the Southwest is NOT the place to paddle any later than early May, and even that is pushing it. If you really intend to go through with that bucket list I have a constructive, and eventually money-saving, suggestion: get a couple of folding kayaks. It is going to cost you $50 to $80 per half or whole day to rent kayaks and gear in most locations, not to mention the time wasted in arranging the rental and the restrictions of having to have the boats back at a specific time. You can get a Pakboat Puffin Saco solo kayak (under 25 pounds) for $1100 or a Puffin Saranac tandem (under 30 lbs) for $1300 that you can check as luggage on an airline, with a 3 or 4 piece paddle in the bag (Cannon makes nice ones for under $150) and your PFD and paddling clothes and still be under the 50 lb. baggage limit.

Having your own kayaks in the trunk of your rental car means you can paddle wherever and whenever and for as long as you want. Set up only takes about 30 or 40 minutes and you will waste more time than that driving to a rental outlet and doing the paper work and orientation. Even at the low end outfitter rates, paddling 50 times with a rental is going to run you $2500 to $3000 over time. You could use a folding kayak for dozens of outings and sell it eventually for at least half what you paid for it. Could end up costing you $10 or $15 per outing over time, as well as giving you freedom and flexibility.

Honestly, if that is the only time of year you can go out there, I would stick to the more northern states and higher elevations, like Utah and Colorado. Once the spring snow melt is over there is often not enough water to paddle in New Mexico and Arizona.

I don’t think I wold do Lake Mead or lower colorado in early june. Lake Powell is a doable and will certainly have power boats but you can find boat rentals. I think it would be a good idea to go further North in Utah. Bear Lake, or even up to Jackson Lake in Wyoming then down to Flamming Gorge in Utah and then down through some of the western lakes in Colorado if you are heading back to Phoenix. Blue Mesa was a favorite spot of mine in Colorado. You can find boat rentals at all of those spots.


Arizona and Nevada: Contact Robert Finlay of http://www.kayaklakemead.com/

He is very, very good and runs trips, lessons, and lots more. Rentals are Eddyline kayaks. The website notes they also do moonlight paddles. All trips are guided.

I live in Utah, and from late May on I head north to paddle. I was down in Moab for an overnight rafting trip last June and it was hot as blazes. Lake Powell will be full of powerboats & jet skis in late June, so be careful if you go there.

And I got snowed on in Moab in May! More precisely on the Green RIver. It was a cold Mothers Day

@kayamedic said:
And I got snowed on in Moab in May! More precisely on the Green RIver. It was a cold Mothers Day
Yep…May can be a toss-up. I led a trip on the Colorado River from Potash to Spanish Bottom last spring, late April/early May, and we lucked out on the weather. Minimal rain & wind, and mostly sunny & warm. I had warned everyone to prepare for anything and we ended up with perfect weather. However, by late June, odds are high for heat. There are a few higher altitude lakes, like Navajo Lake in So. Utah that might still be pleasant?

As I posted earlier, Navajo Reservoir lies in New Mexico and Colorado. Not Utah.

@pikabike said:
As I posted earlier, Navajo Reservoir lies in New Mexico and Colorado. Not Utah.
Navajo Lake. Dixie Nat. Forest. 25 miles east of Cedar City Utah. Elevation 9200 feet, so it would be cooler than lower elevations. Campground opens Memorial Day. There might be somewhere to rent kayaks in Cedar City. There is a lodge at Navajo Lake that rents canoes.

There are also a few others in that general vicinity, between St. George and Cedar City. Kolob Reservoir and Tropic Reservoir are both close to 8000 feet in elevation. The good thing about this area is that you are near Zion & Bryce Canyon Nat. Parks, so you could paddle and see the parks on the same trip.

Learned something new! I didn’t know that there was a Navajo LAKE in Utah. Thanks.

Here’s another idea. Fun, short trip and you can rent the kayaks. Might be hot, but the water is always cold. Scenery is awesome. Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry through Marble Canyon. I have done this trip a bunch of times, but always in May or October. Only 15 miles long, but a nice overnighter. You start at Lees Ferry (put-in for the Grand Canyon whitewater trips). The shuttle rig picks you and your boats & gear up at 2:30 pm. They backhaul you up to within a few miles of the dam and drop you off on a beach. There are a bunch of designated camps with pit toilets and fire rings along the river. We always do this as a two night trip, so we just float down to the first camp for the evening, then camp half way the next night. There’s good current, so paddling is easy. The water is crystal clear and very cold, so cooling off from the heat is not a problem. The back haul shuttle can get booked up fast, so plan ahead. Here’s some info.

Here’s a pic of the Lees Ferry/Marble Canyon trip

@pikabike said:
Learned something new! I didn’t know that there was a Navajo LAKE in Utah. Thanks.

I’m guessing there’s a body of water in every Southwest state with Navajo in the name. I haven’t paddled Navajo Lake yet, but it’s on my radar. Coincidently, I’ve looked at it as a place to paddle & camp in June. June is a transition month here in Utah. Moab & Lake Powell can be blazing hot in June, but going north to Idaho or Wyoming is still considered early season and can be cool to cold. Navajo Lake is listed as a Best Bet in the Red Rocks Region in “Canoeing & Kayaking Utah” guidebook by Michael Fine. Looks like a pretty lake with a few campground options.

I only paddled the NM side of Navajo Reservoir. BTW, I have heard it referred to as Navajo Lake just as often as “reservoir”, adding to the confusion. It has a nice developed state park campground, though you will see and hear oil pumpjacks here and there. The CO side also has a state park campground, much bigger and designed for RVs and powerboaters.

When I went, in an early September, the water in NM was so warm and the air so hot that I repeatedly rolled without wearing ANY immersion clothing, only a regular t-shirt, and I never felt cold. I’ll be going there more often now, because we moved back to CO, to the SW part of it.

In June, the water won’t have warmed up as much but I bet it is not frigid, either. It is a big reservoir and might be deep enough to take a while to warm up.

One thing to know ahead is that NM requires that PFDs be worn at all times on the water, not just kept handy.

If you haven’t yet paddled at Red Fleet State Park (Vernal, UT), that one should be on the list. I went there in 2005 on my way back from Flaming Gorge. Red Fleet is fairly small, but pretty. Campground is close enough that you could portage kayaks a short distance to the water. The people in Vernal told me that Steinaker is bigger but full of powerboaters and jetskiers, whereas Red Fleet draws mainly “families” (their word) who paddle or swim. I loved the short swim across to the sandstone on the other side.

OP should study the various requirements for AIS inspection of boats. AIS = aquatic nuisance species, which in this area means mainly zebra mussels. Some places have very stringent requirements, because ZM were found in Lake Mead and Lake Powell; they are also suspected to be in some other bodies of water.

There are actually a LOT of places in Arizona to paddle. Most are day-trip places but you can overnight a few of these and some are multi-day trips.
Around phoenix is the Salt River system. Roosevelt Lake is large but low because of the drought. That feeds into Apache Lake which is always nice with lots of shore-line camping. This feeds into Canyon Lake which is a busy lake with a dozen-mile feeder river. Terrible for camping but beautiful to paddle. Then is Saguaro Lake which has a lot of camping but is really busy because it is so close to Phoenix. Saguaro feeds the Lower Salt river which is a dozen-mile day-paddle though the first half is crowded with paddlers in the Summer.
Further north are Bartlett and Horseshow which I have never paddled but Prescott has a couple nice day-trip lakes.
A good trip is the Colorado River below Hoover Dam. You can do a day or overnight from Hoover to Willow (lots of hot springs) or continue down another 30 miles to Cottonwood Marina. Or, if you are adventurous, another 24 miles to David Dam and Bullhead City/Laughlin.
Blythe to Yuma is a series of good multi-day trips.
The Mogollian Rim SE of Flagstaff has a series of day-trip lakes. You camp and drive lake to lake or however. These are best done in the Summer when the mountains are cooler than the desert.
The nice thing about paddling Arizona is that the sun may be hot but the water is cold so a quick dip is always fun to do.
Despite the warnings you have been getting, so long as you take plenty of water and sports-drink and sun-screen, I paddle year-around. I am doing Apache lake this weekend, last month (November) I did the 42 miles from Hoover to Cottonwood. A few weeks ago I did Saguaro and Canyon and am always hitting Patagonia and Parker Canyon for a day-trip followed by the Sonoita wine country. You can paddle Arizona in July or December, just take proper precautions for heat or cold and you will be fine. If near Tucson or Phoenix, let me know and i’ll set up a trip.

I’ve made plenty of maps of these so let me know and I’ll send you copies.

Am happy to see and read all the suggestions, trying to get an idea of a route we will take from noncommitting sister who has different ideas than I. We won’t be doing any camping too much gear to fly with. So tough with so many want to do things, especially knowing that the heat can be such an issue. And we have learned from past travels that we need to go somewhere and spend a couple days in each area then move on. With an end point of Denver in 9-10 days after we arrive in Phoenix so lots of miles and things to see!!! Never enough time for all we want to do. That’s why I’m trying to figure out if paddling anywhere is at all possible.