Everything You Need To Know About The Salt River

Salt River Arizona

If you and your family have been wanting to get away, the Salt River is a fantastic vacation spot for some good family fun. There are tons of outdoor activities for kids and adults of all ages, and you will not have to worry about spending a ton of money either. Before you go, what do you need to know about the Salt River?

The Salt River runs through Arizona and is home to many species of fish. It hosts quite a few outdoor recreational activities, including:

  • White water rafting
  • Kayaking
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Paddle Boarding

When it comes to some good old-fashioned fun in the sun, it is hard to beat the Salt River. With all of the fun activities available, you and your family or friends are sure to find something that everyone can enjoy. Whether you want to take it easy and look for the wild horses or get your heart pumping with white water rafting, there are tons of choices. 

The Salt River

Located in the Maricopa and Gila counties of Arizona, the Salt River is a tributary of the Gila River. Many people think of tributaries as simple streams, but the Salt River is over 200 miles long. It also is the home and water source of many different animals. The name fools many people into thinking it has saltwater, but the Salt River is freshwater.

The Salt River is named because it flows over salt beds, but the fishes living in it are freshwater. Cities like nearby Phoenix use the Salt River as their water source. Many people have seen herds of wild horses, mustangs near the Salt River. At one point on a hike we saw as many as 50 in one spot.  It was one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had the pleasure of viewing. Plenty of exciting wildlife lurks around the Salt River, just waiting to be discovered.

Arizona is blessed with warm weather for the majority of the year, so you are not very limited in when you want to go. In fact, going during the wintertime off-season might allow you to find hotels or excursions at cheaper rates. You go through Tonto National forest to find the Salt River, and there is a ton of intense natural beauty to enjoy whenever you visit.

However, from late July throughout the month of August, there can be dangerous flash floods that you want to avoid. These floods have been known to wash out roads and damage bridges, so please make sure to check the weather before you go.  Monsoons can come out of nowhere, if you see the weather is changing move quickly to stay safe. 

Things To Do

The Salt River is long enough that you can find long stretches of river that are bare and pristine, but there are plenty of activity centers and rental places lined up along it. You can usually find restaurants, shops featuring local artists, and, of course, places to rent equipment for water activities. Make sure to slather on the sunscreen first!

As a note, although the Salt River does not ever officially close or have a season for individual exploration, if you plan to go on a tour or rent equipment, you will need to look for places and their seasons. Typically, rental businesses start their season in April and stay open until the end of September. June is the most popular month to go. 


Rafting down the Salt River is no easy task. Most of the rental places that lead tours for white water rafting enthusiasts warn that the Salt River is a fast-flowing river that is merciless at points for rafters. Unlike the sections that are made for tubing, listed below, the parts of the river that people raft down are incredibly turbulent. 

If you have signed up for a multiple-day rafting tour, you will need to buy a permit for the Salt River from one of the strategically placed kiosk offices along the river. 


Some places offer tubing tours down the Salt River. Because the Salt River is so long, a shorter tubing tour usually takes around two hours, and the longest ones can last for five or six hours! For longer trips, rental places encourage you to bring food and music. You can relax in a tube as you float down the river and enjoy the sightseeing.  But always remember to please be mindful that others are enjoying the river too, don’t be those people who think they own the joint and can behave however they wish. 

You might notice other people passing you in kayaks, but they can control the way they are floating. In a tube, it is harder to maneuver. Let them pass you since if you try and dodge, they will likely end up colliding with you anyway. 


This is our preferred form of enjoyment down the Salt River.  Kayaking is a little bit tricky when you plan your trip’s logistics because most people would rather kayak through the river’s calmer parts where others are tubing because these are the same spots for getting into and out of the water fairly easily.  Kayaking and tubing often do not mix well, so if you want to go kayaking during peak season, we recommend you to start your day early or late to avoid the hustle and bustle of everyone else in tubes. 

Depending on where you start, most people can kayak around ten miles in approximately four or five hours. You might take a little bit longer if you are a novice or if you do not feel like rowing very quickly, but the river is fast enough that the natural flow will carry you pretty far down the river in no time at all. 

Kayaking on The Salt River


You can fish all year round with a license. You need to bring your own bait and tackle, of course, but all you need to find is a quiet spot to set up a nice chair and have yourself a picnic while you wait for the fish to start biting. You can catch the following species of fishes in the Salt River:

  • Rainbow trout
  • Largemouth bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Crappie
  • Tilapia
  • Common carp
  • Catfish
  • Sunfish


Although there are lots of places along the Salt River that have buildings and loud water activities, there are also long stretches of barren wilderness. If you are very quiet when you hike around it, you might be lucky enough to glimpse the wild horses. Herds of mustangs live in the area, and can be hard to find.  I had the pleasure of Big Horn Sheep come down to the water to get a drink, cool huh!!!

Because the Salt River is within the Tonto National Forest, you will not lack for picturesque scenery. The sheer cliffs loom over the river imposingly at some parts, whereas in others, tiny streams trickle out of the Salt River, headed for parts unknown. Even inexperienced hikers will have some flat parts to stop and take a breather, so not all of it is challenging to hike.

If you are worried about running into other people and disrupting your tranquility while you hike, you should not be. The Tonto National Forest is over two million acres, and there are plenty of places to walk without running into too many soul for miles. It is easy to find some peace and quiet while you walk. 


For people who are not accustomed to the Arizona sun, the best time to go camping and hiking is between January and April, before the scorching heat of the summer sets in and all the critters come out. You will need to buy a permit to camp in Tonto National Forest and set up your tents at one of the approved campsites. 

Some of the camping spots have hook-ups for RVs if you want to camp in style, but most of the campsites are designed for tents. 

In Conclusion

The Salt River is a great place to relax with your family and enjoy the great outdoors. You can raft down the river if you want to splash around or hike your way through Tonto National Forest and try to see some of the wild horses. Whatever strikes your fancy, make sure you are ready and prepared for the hot, dry Arizona sun.