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Salt River Arizona What to Do, Where to Go, and More

Salt River Arizona: What to Do, Where to Go, and More

There’s nothing quite like a fun day in the sun with your family and friends. Thankfully, we live in Phoenix, where there’s no shortage of fun things to do outdoors.

Hiking, off-roading, and scenic driving are so ideal in this city because of its year-round sunny weather. Plus, most of these are accessible within or around the valley!

One place we really love going to, especially during those hot summer months, is Salt River. Not only does it provide a cool respite, but it also offers scenic views that one would love to relax at.

Keep reading to know more about this popular destination! You might want to bookmark this for your next summer adventure.

What is Salt River, Phoenix known for?

The Salt River in Arizona is famous for two main things – river tubing and beautiful wild horses. You’ll find these at the Lower Salt River section which is a mere 40-minute drive from the city center.

The river spans 200 miles long and flows through the Gila and Maricopa counties. It’s also known to provide most of the water supply throughout the Greater Phoenix area through extensive canals, pipelines, and reservoirs.

What is Salt River, Phoenix known for

Image Source: Outdoorsman

In fact, many of the lakes around the valley draw their water from the Salt River. These include the Canyon, Saguaro, Apache, and Roosevelt lakes which all act as reservoirs of the river.

What can you do at the Salt River?

As we’ve mentioned, the river is best known for tubing activities and for seeing wild horses. We’ll dive into both below.

1. Go tubing at the Salt River.

Go tubing at the Salt River

Image Source: Cathy Bruegger via ABC15

Tubing is a fun outdoor activity wherein people ride innertubes or inflated disks through a river. The area where you can go tubing at the Salt River is located at the Tonto National Forest, so you’ll need to buy a day pass to get into it.

These day passes can be purchased at several convenience stores and gas stations all throughout Phoenix, or at the forest entrance. They typically cost $8 a piece.

Can I tube the Salt River right now?

Salt River Tubing is usually available from the months of April to September. These may vary depending on the weather and water flow.

To find out when it opens, you may check this website.

How to get to Salt River Tubing


Address: 9200 N Bush Hwy, Mesa, AZ 85215

Contact Number: (480) 984-3305

Business Hours: (On open season) Sunday to Saturday, 8:30AM–6PM

Salt River Tubing is pretty easy to locate on your GPS device. Make sure to check if they’re already open for the season.

How much is Salt River tubing?

Standard rates are $22 per person. Admission already includes the tube rental fee and shuttle rides to and fro the forest parking.

If you plan on bringing your own tube, the fee will only be $19. There’s really not that much of a price difference, which is why a lot of people opt to rent instead rather than bring their own tubes.

How long does Salt River tubing take?

There are three options available – 2 hours (from point 1 to point 2), 3 hours (from point 2 to point 4), and 5 hours (from point 1 to point 4). Note that these are subject to availability depending on the water flow and weather conditions.

Below is a map to help you visualize where exactly you’ll be along the river.

How long does Salt River tubing take

Image Source: Salt River Tubing

How do you prepare for Salt River tubing?

While tubing is generally safe, we’re firm believers that you can never be too safe. Remember to keep the following tips in mind prior to your visit.

  • Stay hydrated! It’s recommended to consume at least two bottles of water every hour while you cruise down the water.
  • Open-toed shoes are no-nos. Closed water shoes are best to wear, as the bottom of the river is pretty rocky.
  • Bring your own life vests, especially if you’re coming with kids. You won’t find any life vests for rent here so make sure to have your own.
  • Lather on that sunscreen and wear a hat. Even when you’re on the water, the sun can be too harsh in some areas.
  • It’s not recommended to tie your tubes together, for safety reasons, especially if you’re beginners. Though, you may notice some expert tubers doing this.
  • Obviously, do not go river tubing under the influence of alcohol. This is strictly prohibited and incredibly dangerous. Just don’t.

Other things to note

Onto some general reminders and notes! Read through these to avoid any hassle when you make the trip.

  • Children should be at least 8 years old and 4 feet tall in order to be able to rent a tube. They strictly implement this policy and no exceptions are allowed.
  • You’re allowed to bring ice chests and coolers within the area, and they have tubes that fit such. However, styrofoam coolers are prohibited.
  • Glass containers and glass bottles of any kind are not allowed. They will check all your bags and coolers for these.
  • Do not litter – especially on the water! Let’s be good-minded humans and stash/throw our trash properly, shall we?
  • Reservations are not needed and not recommended. Tube rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Avoid off-roading and drive only on paved roads with official Forest Service signages.
  • Again, this might be obvious, but don’t leave valuables in your car and remember to lock your vehicles. 

Want to go tubing at the Salt River independently?

If you’d rather avoid the crowds, fees, and the (sometimes long) waiting times, you may go tubing independently. 

Obviously you’d need your own tube, but we also highly-suggest bringing two vehicles – one for your starting point, another for the end point. Unless, you’re willing to take the long walk from point B to point A.

You can park at any of the six recreation sites along the lower sale river area – Water Users, Blue Point, Coon Bluff, Phon D Sutton, Goldfield, and Granite Reef. Salt River Tubing actually makes a stop at four of these.

2. See wild horses along the Salt River.

See wild horses along the Salt River.

Image Source: Fahmie via

Horses are majestic creatures. And seeing them out in the wild in their natural habitat is something else. 

You’ll most likely spot more than a few wild horses along the river, but here are some of the things to note.

Where can I see Salt River wild horses?

Wild horses can be spotted along the banks of the Salt and Verde Rivers. We can guarantee that you’ll find some here:

  • Butcher Jones Recreation Site
  • Phon D Sutton Recreation Site
  • Coon Bluff
  • Blue Point
  • Granite Reef
  • Pebble Beach Recreation Area
  • Saguaro Lake
  • Along SR 347 near Maricopa

These horses are looking to cool off from the heat just as much as you probably are. So, you’ll often see them around sunrise or sunset, or whenever the weather is relatively cool.

Are the Salt River horses really wild?

It’s believed that these unbranded, unclaimed, and free-roaming horses were born in the wild; thus, merits protection within the Tonto National Forest. Today, they’re managed by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.

Sadly, there are less than 500 wild horses left in Arizona, according to the Bureau of Land Management. They’re protected by the Salt River Horse Act which was enacted into law in 2016.

Where did the Salt River horses come from?

Based on early historical records, the horses have been around since the 1800s, even before the establishment of the Tonto National Forest in the early 1900s. If you wish to donate for the care of these horses, you may do so here.

Remember that these are wild horses, so please be respectful of them and don’t feed them. If you have a dog with you, keep them on a leash.

Bonus: Go kayaking at the Salt River.

Go kayaking at the Salt River.

Image Source: Saguaro Lake Ranch

It may not be as popular as tubing, but there are a few people who try out kayaking along the Salt River. And much like tubing, you can do this on your own or with a guide.

For guided kayaking tours, you may check out Kayaking at the Salt River or Saguaro Lake Ranch. Single kayak rentals go as low as $35 per day, while double kayaks are around $45 per day.

Why do they call it the Salt River in Arizona?

Salt River got its name from the salt deposits that are found in it. Native Arizonians were believed to harvest salt from what is known today as the Fort Apache Reservation.

Back then, they used salt to cure meats and for medicinal purposes. 

According to a 1935 book, Arizona Place Names, written by William Barnes, the Apaches secured large quantities of salt from the river. 

He also said that the saline quality of the river comes from salt springs near the western boundary of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Military maps dating back to 1879 and 1880 also showed markings of “salt works” along the river.

Where does the Salt River in Arizona start?

The Salt River is a confluence of the White Mountains’ Black and White rivers. Known as the Upper Salt, this carved a path through high desert and rugged landscapes to Roosevelt Lake.

This anchor reservoir is what flows into the desert and keeps its flora and fauna alive.

Past this, the river continues its natural path to the Lower Salt Basin to Apache, Canyon, and Saguaro lakes. It then merges with the Verde River.

From here, the Salt River Project delivers water throughout the entirety of the valley. It’s the main source of water across all cities in the state.

Does the Salt River run through Phoenix?

The Salt River cascades from the mountains, and yes, runs through Phoenix, before it joins the Gila River.

Does the Salt River run through Phoenix

Image Source: Tempe History Museum

In the 1970s, the Salt River was a roaring river that flowed beneath what is today’s freeway. It was a majestic sight, compared to the minimal streams of it that we see now.

It’s quite difficult to believe that just over 50 years ago, the river was a natural border between north and south Phoenix. We’ve even heard stories from the elderly that when the rain poured hard, the flood would cut off the south side until the water receded.

Is the Salt River in Arizona really salty?

Even though the beginning point of the river is freshwater, the Salt River becomes salty as it passes through the Arizona White Mountain. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon is a rare global occurrence.

The reason for this are the Salt Cedar, Tamarisk, or Tamarix trees that line the river. Its roots are scientifically-found to be efficient at drawing salt from the soil; hence, when the leaves fall, salt is dispersed in the land around it and the river itself.

Is the Salt River actually salt water?

Salt River isn’t actually salt water. However, the river does contain sodium or salt, much like all rivers do. 

It’s still considered as freshwater which is what mainly runs through the valley’s farmland, irrigations, and home faucets.

Can you swim in Salt River?

You can swim in Salt River, but please note that the water itself isn’t as clean as it appears. Any untreated water may contain bacteria or other particles that may be presumed unsafe for humans.

Also, there are a lot of animals that reside near the river and use it daily. So while you can swim in it, try not to ingest any of the water. 

How deep is the Salt River in Phoenix?

According to Snoflo, the river’s deepest point is at 6.55 feet located near Roosevelt.

How cold is the Salt River?

The water temperature at Salt River averages at 68 degrees throughout the year. Relatively cool, considering Arizona’s (often) unforgiving heat.

Are there snakes in the Salt River?

Snakes may be found in the Salt River because the river runs through a forest, particularly Arizona’s common Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake. 

You may also encounter some river otters, lizards, and Woodhouse’s toads.

Now that you know all about the Salt River, make sure to pay a visit next open season! And, we’d love to hear any stories you might have on it so sound off below.

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