Kayaking Near Sedona

sedona landscape

Admittedly, Arizona is not very well known for its great kayaking, it’s just too arid and the few rivers that it does have often dry up during the hot summer months. Fortunately, the steep mountains around Sedona give some protection to the water and feed them with seasonal snowmelt.

One important characteristic to note when kayaking near Sedona is the highly variable flow of the rivers and the water levels in area lakes. Flow levels can drop to almost zero in the drier months as nearby landowners tap more and more of the water for irrigation purposes.  Always check with area rangers to see if kayaking a particular waterway is feasible at that time of year.

1. Peck’s Lake

This is a fairly small reservoir on the outskirts of the town of Clarksdale, which would be fairly unremarkable if it weren’t for Tuzigoot National Monument nearly surrounding the lake. Overlooking the lake is a three-story stone and mud pueblo, which was built by the Sinagua people almost a thousand years ago.

Peck Lake is also an interesting place to paddle around for an hour or so if you know a little bit about its history. The reservoir was once a tailings pond for the mining operations taking place in nearby Jerome. While that might sound like something you should stay out of, it’s actually a pretty amazing success story; the area around the lake has been cleaned up and revegetated. There are a couple of spots along Peck Lake Road where you can put in, though access site development has been fairly limited.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Centerfocus Experiences in Cottonwood

2. Verde River Whitewater Section

This is the premier whitewater kayaking spot in the Sedona area and is the only river in Arizona with a wild and scenic designation. It stretches from Beasley Flat, about ten miles south of Camp Verde to an access point next to the Gap Creek Trailhead, a distance of over eight miles.

Start by putting in at the Beasley Flat River Access Point and Picnic Area, from here it’s about a mile and a half to the first rapid, Off the Wall (class II). As the name suggests, the river flows over a large rock bar in the middle of the river and then shoots paddlers out towards a rock wall on the right side; be ready to make a hard left away from it. The next rapid comes about three miles downstream, the Pre Falls Rapid (class III), which drops you over a three-foot ledge. Almost immediately following that is a class IV rapid, Verde Falls, which drops over an eight-foot waterfall. From that point on there are rapids about every mile with Rock Garden (class II), Palisades (class III), Bull Run (class III), and Turkey Gobbler (class III) rounding out the rest of the paddle. At mile 8 is the take point for Gap Creek River Access.

This section of the Verde River is suitable for whitewater paddlers that don’t have a lot of experience as most of the rapids are near good scouting points. If you know the rapid is coming up, you can eddy out, pull ashore, and have a look at what you’re getting into. This allows for careful planning that’s not possible on many other whitewater sections.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Arizona Kayaking in North Phoenix

3. Verde River Flatwater Section

If whitewater isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll be happy to know that not all of the Verde River is a white-knuckle experience. It’s actually quite tame from the Bridgeport River Access in Cottonwood to the Black Canyon River Access Point in the Prescott National Forest, a distance of twenty-three miles. It’s class I for its entire length, making this the ideal paddling trip for novice river runners.

The biggest draw to this section of the Verde River is the limestone cliffs that line the channel. They were formed by the ancient Lake Verde, which dried up about 2.5 million years ago. There’s tons of history recorded in the rocks with fossils scattered all around the ancient lakebed. Unfortunately, you’ll need to observe these beautiful landscapes from your boat, as much of the land surrounding the river is private property. Only near the take-out point will the Prescott National Forest appear on your right side.

There are only two points that you’ll need to watch out for and they’re both due to seasonal obstructions. The first occurs about three miles in and it’s where you’ll often see downfall blocking the channel. It’s rather narrow here so this might require a short portage. The second obstruction comes around mile 22 and is due to a very tight bend in the river that tends to collect debris. There’s likely to be a few snags here at the very least and possibly a complete blockage of the channel that will require a portage. Both of these troublesome spots are very visible and easy to get around.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Centerfocus Experiences in Cottonwood

4. Mormon Lake

For something nice and easy not too far from Sedona, you can’t do much better than Mormon Lake. As with many of the lakes in this arid section of the Southwest, Mormon Lake fluctuates in size considerably, ranging from twelve square miles (making it the largest natural lake in the state) to being virtually non-existent. The lake is stocked with northern pike and bullhead catfish, but supply can be limited given its transient nature.

A boat launch adjacent to the town of Mormon Lake was built many years ago when the area received more rain, but the launch point is quite far away from the water nowadays. The best place to launch is from the Lake Mary Road, which is next to one of the deeper and more consistently present sections of the lake.

If you’re new to the sport or just want a lazy day of fishing, a trip to Mormon Lake might be just what you’re looking for.

Where to Rent a Kayak: Ceiba Adventures in Flagstaff