Phoenix may be one of the hottest cities in the United States, but there are plenty of places in and around this southwestern city to cool off with a refreshing swim.
When exploring the desert, after all, any body of water feels like an oasis – including the 20ft arizona falls, a gathering place for residents of the Acadia neighborhood since the 1800s. to swim surrounded by cacti, catch carp in the depths and even spot wild horses on the water.
Here are our favorite beaches in Greater Phoenix, many of which are just minutes from downtown.
Although Great Phoenix’s Salt River (in the Tonto National Forest) meanders through the desert for more than 200 miles, its various segments are decidedly different, depending on whether you’re looking for a relaxing time or an adrenaline rush. Head to the Lower Salt River (in Mesa, about 40 minutes from Phoenix) for a lazy afternoon of kayaking or tubing, propelled by the gentle current. The Lower Salt is a beloved spot, where wild horses are frequently seen frolicking along the shore. Also called mustangs, these animals are said to be descendants of horses introduced to Arizona by a Spanish missionary in the 17th century.
To ride class II to III whitewater rapids, head to the Upper Salt River (a bit further), where the surrounding 2000 foot granite canyon walls, wildflowers and colossal cacti add to the otherworldly atmosphere. Unless you are an experienced rafter, join a guided tour. Outfitters offer half-day (or longer) trips, taking you five to 10 miles downstream.
It’s no surprise that the beaches of Greater Phoenix get very crowded in the (very) hot summer months – but a secluded spot can still be yours at Canyon Lake, 50 miles from town in the Tonto National Forest. Steep red rock canyon walls characterize the east end of the 950-acre lake, where you can cruise your boat in solitude and cast your line for rainbow trout and largemouth bass. While you wait for the big bite, keep an eye out for the rambling bighorn sheep and bald eagles drifting overhead.
If you’re short on time or don’t want to venture out on a boat, check out the lake’s dedicated recreation areas, which offer swimming spots and picnic spots.
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Tempe City Lake
If you haven’t tested your balance on a stand-up paddle board (SUP), Tempe Town Lake is a great place to learn the sport (or take it to the next level with a guided SUP yoga class). Located on 25 acres Tempe Beach Park, a historic gathering place for valley residents since it opened in the 1930s, the lake itself was formed in 1999 by damming a two-mile stretch of the Salt River. This sprawling recreational playground in downtown Tempe attracts boaters, kayakers and stand-up paddlers to its calm waters. Hire equipment on site and look forward to an afternoon of easy adventure.
If catching a 30-pound carp while surrounded by Arizona’s iconic saguaro cactus framing a sparkling lake in the desert sun sounds like you, head along 10 miles. Saguaro Lake, located approximately 45 miles from Phoenix in the Tonto National Forest. There are two boat ramps at this Salt River reservoir, which was created in 1930 when the Steward Mountain Dam was completed. You can even swim at Sadie Beach and Pebble Beach.
Want to avoid the hum of the boats? Look for the bay in front of the Butcher Jones Recreation Site (watch for wild horses), which has a genuine sandy beach and is closed to motorized watercraft.
Just 40 minutes north of Phoenix is a seemingly limitless expanse of blue water that debunks clichés about arid desert landscapes. Lake Pleasant Regional Park encompasses an impressive 10,000 acres of water, with marinas equipped for water activities (and rentals), including wakeboarding, water skiing, bass fishing, and even inland scuba diving. One of Lake Pleasant’s unexpected attractions is a biggie: H2 Whoa! has earned Guinness approval as the world’s largest floating waterslide. Want to extend your day trip to the beach? Plan ahead to snag a campsite on the shore.
The park itself has a long and fascinating history: between 700 and 1450 CE the area was occupied by indigenous peoples, with five archaeological sites having been discovered so far, including two villages, a farmhouse, a stone workshop and a defensive site.
Camping by the sea under the stars? Or sail on a party yacht with your nineteen closest friends? You can enjoy both Lake Bartlett, 48 miles from downtown Phoenix. The diversity of this leisure spot is part of its appeal. The west side is a haven for picnicking, camping, swimming, and communing (from a distance) with wildlife like coyotes and javelins. Some areas like Rattlesnake Cove are closed to motorized watercraft, but if you need speed, jet skis can be rented at the marina, along with a 45-foot bi-level pontoon boat.