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Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef, AZ

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Guide 36 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Mesa NE
3.7 of 5 by 7
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Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 12 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,391 feet
Avg Time One Way 4 hours
Interest Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack No
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6  2019-07-16 chumley
18  2019-05-27
Salt River Kayak
22  2019-03-16
Stewart Mountain Dam - Horse Trails
11  2018-09-09 chumley
21  2018-01-02
Stewart Mountain Dam - Petroglyphs
11  2017-05-28 trekkin_gecko
9  2016-09-18 chumley
13  2016-07-17 chumley
Page 1,  2,  3
Author chumley
author avatar Guides 75
Routes 667
Photos 13,162
Trips 1,416 map ( 10,534 miles )
Age 46 Male Gender
Location Tempe, AZ
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Preferred   May, Jun, Aug, Sep → Any
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:10am - 6:31pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Arizona's Floating Party
by chumley

Likely In-Season!
The Lower Salt River stretches 12 miles from the Stewart Mountain Dam on Saguaro Lake to the Granite Reef Dam. This stretch of river is extremely popular with water users, and kayakers and canoers can be found here year round. A portion of this stretch of river is used by Salt River Recreation under permit from the Forest Service for recreational tubing. From Memorial Day to Labor Day--especially on weekends--the first 7 miles can be quite crowded. The lower 5 miles of river is generally limited to kayakers except for Coon Bluff and Phon D. Sutton recreation areas where there is shoreline access to the river.

The entry to the river is at the large parking area just downstream of Saguaro Lake known as "Water Users Recreation Site". This site, and all other river access points described here have restroom facilities. It's a short walk from the parking lot down to the river on a wide, graded gravel path. The flow of the river here is light, but not calm, so you'll have to be ready to hop in your boat once you hit the water!

The first decision will occur about five minutes into your journey, at mile 0.4. You can choose to stay left of an island, or right! Right is the more popular route and the main flow of the river. This may be the most treacherous riffle of the entire day, a short class-2 stretch with a sharp left turn that can overturn dozens of tubers and makes an excellent opportunity to pick up a few free beers from overturned coolers! The left route is shallower (and may be too shallow to float depending on water level) and doesn't feature the troublesome turn. Some may choose this route because it can be easier, but it's certainly less popular and less fun than staying right!

After the island split, the two forks come together again and the river meanders quite placidly for a good while. This is where it's nice to have paddles rather than floating in a tube, relying on current alone.

The next island option comes up at mile 1.2, and the best choice is to stay left following the primary flow of the river. The right fork is a viable alternative and the two forks come together at mile 2.0. By taking the left fork however, you will encounter a fun riffle at mile 1.5, followed by a stretch of fast water from mile 1.8 to where the right fork joins at mile 2.0.

On the right will be Pebble Beach, and the next half mile brings you to Blue Point Bridge. Passing the area before and after the bridge, you are likely to see plenty of shoreline picnickers and swimmers. Under the bridge, the river picks up speed and heads for a sharp left turn before flowing west along the cliffs below Blue Point.

There's a small island at mile 3.4 that can be passed on either side without problems. After that, the next three miles of river feature some placid sections and a couple of easy riffles and minor bends, all easily navigated with no forks or islands to choose between.

Mile 6.5 brings you past the Goldfield Rec Site (where most tubers exit the river, at stop #4).

At mile 7.0, the river widens, but the left side is shallow. Possibly too shallow. Stay to the right here and try to follow the main current which cuts a deeper channel. At about mile 7.7 the deeper channel switches to the left side of the river.

At river mile 8.0, the river splits again, and the main flow goes left. You should too. Coon Bluffs is on your left, providing some scenic rocks and cliffs. After passing Coon Bluffs, at mile 8.4 you reach some high cliffs on the left. There's a rope swing tied to an overhanging rock that might make for a fun place to jump.

At mile 8.8 you have a choice to pass another small island on the left or right. Both sides work equally well. Immediately thereafter, you will reach Phon D. Sutton, a high-use recreation area with neat rock formations and a narrow channel to paddle through. As you make a sharp left turn around the rock outcropping, note the Verde River flowing in on the right at mile 9.1.

A small rock island at mile 10.0 can be passed on either side followed immediately by a much bigger split just before the power lines cross the river. Stay left at this split. At mile 10.4 the two forks come together again, and you will notice a large concrete structure on the right bank. I have no idea what it's for!

The final mile and a half of river more resembles a lake. There is little to no current, and paddling is your friend. There are areas of grass and other underwater foliage you may have to navigate through. Pick your best line.

The exit at the Granite Reef Rec Site is not marked or easily seen from the river. Tall reeds hide the shore. The lack of river current makes it easy to paddle upstream here should you pass it. But keep an eye out for it once you see traffic on the adjacent Bush Highway.

River Flow:
There is a flow gauge at the Blue Point Bridge. You can see the current and historical water flow by checking this link . Flow rates from April to November are normally adequate. Winter flow rates may be too low in some sections of the river as SRP closes Stewart Mountain dam to capture winter precipitation in the upstream lakes. Look for 500cfs as a minimum. 1000cfs is desired.

Travel Time
Paddling a hard-shell kayak or canoe can easily be completed in 4 hours or less for the full 12 miles during normal water flow (500-1000 cfs). It can be faster in higher flow, and slower with less flow. Without paddling, floating in a tube can take 4-5 hours just to get the first 6.5 miles to the Goldfield Rec Site (exit #4). Going beyond Goldfield with no self-propelling option will slow significantly near the end due to slower current. If you wish to paddle a shorter segment due to the numerous river access points, a good rule of thumb is to figure 3-3.5mph for downstream travel.

River Access Points:
You may begin or exit your river travel at any of the following points. Parking is available at each. All have signs posted indicating day use only.
Water Users Rec Site: Mile 0
Pebble Beach Rec Site: Mile 2.0
Blue Point Rec Site: Mile 2.5
Goldfield Rec Site: Mile 6.5
Coon Bluff Rec Site: Mile 8.1
Phon D. Sutton Rec Site: Mile 8.9
Granite Reef Rec Site: Mile 12.0

Permit and Regulations
The Lower Salt River is a designated recreation area in the Tonto National Forest. To park your shuttle vehicles you will need a Tonto Pass (link in Permit section on this page). Non-motorized boats such as kayaks do not require the additional watercraft tag.

No glass is permitted in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area. Please leave glass bottles at home! Please pack out all trash.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your kayak trip to support this local community.

2016-09-23 chumley
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    got an invite from mike and fletch to kayak the salt river
    they borrowed a kayak from their neighbor for me
    put in around 9:00 at saguaro lake ranch
    thanks to @jkgs4 for the info on that
    a couple bucks more, but a really scenic mile next to some cliffs before getting to the zoo at water users area
    we got going before most of the memorial day weekend tubing crowd
    still a LOT of people near water users and blue point
    a few stretches without anyone else in sight
    several fun ripples, just enough to entertain between the relaxing floats
    flow was 1070 cfs today
    sheriff's department out patrolling with the four man airboat and a helicopter
    quieter after the tubing take out at coon bluff
    took two breaks to cool off
    i've only kayaked on lakes before this, and enjoyed the river experience
    red wing blackbirds, egrets and herons, a few fish
    even saw four of the feral horses
    got to granite reef pull out and did the shuttle thing
    the entire salt river recreation area was closed off sometime mid day, presumably due to overcrowding
    might have been better to start earlier
    kayaking is the way to go
    a fun day on the river :)
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We put in at Saguaro Lake Ranch for this float to see the upper 1 mile of river. They charge $5 to launch and $10 to launch and park. Not much different than a Tonto pass to park at Water Users so cost is not factor, especially since you get to see the part of the river that's right up against some large cliffs. Not a half mile in, we had to dodge waves from a sheriff's fan boat like you'd see in the swamps. Guess they're out on the holiday weekend checking on everyone. After the one larger riffle, had to stop and dump the 3-4" of water out of the boat that came over the bow. Flow was 1150 cfs this morning and made for a fun ride. Saw the wild horses down around one of the tubing takeouts. Floated all the way down to Granite Reef takeout and headed home.
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Started up at Saguaro Lake Ranch for this float. They charge a small fee but we got to see the upper one mile which was really pretty. Water just turned on Monday and there weren't many people out today, just a couple groups of kayakers. I'm guessing the flotilla of tubers hit the water later since we saw a lot of buses while picking up our shuttle car. Didn't see the horses on the river, maybe next time. Nice float close to town. We got off the river at Phon D Sutton so we wouldn't have to paddle the last mile or so into the wind.
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
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    I wanted to go take photographs of the beautiful splendor of nature's amazing gift of wild horses in the desert so I recruited my best photographer friend and headed for the river. I'm a pretty quick study, and with some adjustments of framing, light and exposure, I couldn't have been happier with the results. To think that in just a few miles there are more than six dozen of these majestic creatures treating the ecosystem just as nature always intended just makes my heart melt!

    I'll have to come back sometime to drink beer, break glass, litter, pee and shit in the river so our human impact on this unique environment can rival that being perpetuated naturally. It's all about harmony, and I want to do my part! :)

    Plus, the river is sort of fun to paddle on a warm summer afternoon. :A1:
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Nice Saturday afternoon for a kayak trip. Cloudy and pleasant. The lower part of the river is always nice after you get past the entertainment of the tubers. Sheriff Joe has a stupid fan boat with over-armed deputies. It's silly actually. Must have seen 20 great blue herons between checkpoint 4 and Granite Reef. And two herds of wild horses.

    Water was a little low. I took an optional route one time and actually had to get out and drag my boat for 50 feet or so.

    Just after getting the yaks back on my truck, the skies opened up and it rained all the way back to about the 202/87 junction. Noah-style rain. It was awesome! :)
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
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    Took the afternoon Sunday for a leisurely kayak on the LSR. The summer crowds have waned since school started, but there were still quite a few people on the upper part of the river. After checkpoint 4, it was just us and the wild horses.

    Great afternoon. Good to help Julia break in her new boat. :)

    Here's a little vid
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Myself, Xavier and Mario ran the Salt River from Stewart mountain Dam to Granite Reef Dam today. The river was high and flowing nicely. The overcast sky and occasional sprinkle kept the temps down which made for a very pleasant trip. The river was nearly empty we saw a total of 5 groups of tubers and no other Kayak groups. Lots of wild horses, Herons, Vultures and other Birds. We had one bit of excitement at the end of the trip. When you leave a vehicle at the end of your journey it is best for the driver of said vehicle cough...(Mario) to not leave the keys in the one at the top of the river. This was his first Kayak trip and was a little excited so we let this one slide. Thankfully there was a nice man who gave Xavier a ride back to Stewart Mountain, so we were soon on our way home.
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
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    Ran quick and a little more exciting at 1,700cfm. Guess they hold back all the water until later in the summer when the valley dries up. Believe it was 1,100 on our May and June trips. The water was noticeably 3 feet higher. We saw two packs of horses with babies in both. Not many flycatchers and only a couple cranes. Lots of dragonflies and damselflies. Not many tubers out on the last full week of the season. Probably all waiting for the holiday weekend. Jessica liked this trip the best, I like 'em all :y:
    Salt River - Saguaro Lake to Granite Reef
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    Jessica and I had planned on last Tuesday. A cold front moved in and the highs were only 78 degrees. She was pretty disappointed so when another cold front moved in this week I didn't have the heart to say no.

    Despite being rather brisk when the breezes kicked it was a lot of fun. Since we were on the first bus we probably missed a lot of the undesirables. Well and it was only 82 for a Jessica wasn't liking one group of kayakers she kept running into. A loud, negative, foul mouthed mother with two embarrassed adult children :lol:

    One guy swam the six miles. He wore his flip flops on his hands and dragged his buddy in a tube cause floating is too slow. They were out of sight in a half hour and we never saw them again. He said it was his fourth time swimming it. I asked him if that was a popular option and he said he didn't think so.

    Did my best to sing the Salt River jingle over and over (whistle too). Of course "take me to the river" was a big hit too. (at least with me)

    Saw a large two foot diameter turtle. Then the typical swooping cranes? They look like something out of Jurassic Park. The fish were friggen huge!!! About two feet long and burly. Lots of black birds with red patches on the each side that trolled the surface. The horses at the end seemed a little hostile, interesting touch.

    All in all better than I anticipated and Jessica had a blast. Look forward to going when it's hot :)
    Good to fill the gap too. Last I was on a river was canoeing the Illinios about 1985 in Oklahoma.

    Permit $$
    Tonto Pass is required.

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To kayak trip
    Take the Beeline Highway (AZ-87) or Shea Blvd to Fountain Hills. Travel north on AZ-87 from the Shea/Beeline intersection for 10 miles to the Bush Highway junction. Travel south on Bush Hwy 5.5 miles to the Water Users Recreation Site.

    From the east valley, travel north on Power Rd. for 12 miles from the junction of Power and the Loop 202 until you reach the Water Users Rec Site.
    page created by chumley on Sep 22 2016 11:08 pm
    3 pack - loud whistle
    safety first
    help comment issue

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