The Best Places to View Wildlife from a Paddle board in Arizona!

Arizona's diverse ecosystems provide a magnificent playground for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Exploring the state's waterways on a paddleboard offers a unique opportunity to observe and interact with wildlife up close. From majestic mammals to colorful avian species, Arizona's lakes and rivers are home to a wide array of fascinating creatures. In this article, we will delve into the best places to view wildlife from a paddleboard in Arizona, highlighting the types of wildlife you can encounter and the optimal times to visit each location.

Key Highlights

  1. Lake Powell - A paradise for paddleboarders, offering encounters with bighorn sheep, deer, bald eagles, and more amidst stunning sandstone cliffs.
  2. Saguaro Lake - Immerse in the Sonoran Desert's beauty and diverse birdlife, including herons, egrets, and ospreys, with potential mule deer and javelina sightings.
  3. Colorado River - Navigate through breathtaking landscapes, spotting California condors, river otters, and North American beavers.
  4. Lake Havasu - Known for clear waters, abundant fish, and a variety of bird species, including great blue herons and white pelicans.
  5. Patagonia Lake - A hidden gem for birdwatching, home to vermilion flycatchers, black-crowned night herons, and migratory waterfowl.
  6. Watson Lake - Surrounded by granite boulders, offering sightings of ospreys, deer, and a diverse bird population.
  7. Bartlett Lake - Spot desert bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and an array of bird species in a picturesque setting near Phoenix.
  8. Canyon Lake - Nestled in the Superstition Mountains, a habitat for herons, kingfishers, bald eagles, and desert wildlife.
  9. Lake Pleasant - A hotspot for observing American bald eagles, migratory waterfowl, and a rich variety of local fauna.
  10. Remote Locations - Alamo Lake and Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, accessible with a 4x4, offer unique wildlife viewing opportunities for the adventurous.

paddle boarding in arizona
  1. Lake Powell:

    Lake Powell, located in northern Arizona, is a paradise for paddleboarders seeking wildlife encounters. This massive reservoir boasts stunning sandstone cliffs, secluded coves, and crystal-clear water, making it a haven for a diverse range of species. Paddling along the lake's tranquil shores, you can spot bighorn sheep gracefully navigating the steep cliffs and rocky slopes. Keep your eyes peeled for deer grazing near the water's edge during the early morning or evening hours. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the sight of bald eagles soaring through the sky, while the lucky few might even catch a glimpse of elusive coyotes or bobcats prowling the shoreline.
  2. Saguaro Lake:

    Nestled amidst the striking Sonoran Desert landscape, Saguaro Lake offers a breathtaking setting for wildlife enthusiasts. This picturesque reservoir, located just east of Phoenix, is known for its abundant birdlife. As you paddle along the calm waters, you'll likely encounter herons, egrets, and ospreys gracefully fishing. In the summer months, you might spot colorful hummingbirds darting among the cacti blooms along the shoreline. Keep an eye out for mule deer, javelinas, and even the occasional elusive mountain lion during dawn and dusk hours. Saguaro Lake provides an enchanting experience for those seeking an up-close encounter with Arizona's desert wildlife.
  3. Colorado River:

    The mighty Colorado River carves its way through the stunning landscapes of Arizona, offering countless opportunities to observe wildlife from a paddleboard. Starting from the towering cliffs of the Grand Canyon, the river provides a scenic route for exploring the region's diverse habitats. Here, you can witness the spectacular sight of California condors gliding overhead, their wingspan spanning up to 10 feet. While paddling through calmer sections of the river, keep an eye out for playful river otters frolicking in the water. If you're lucky, you might also spot North American beavers constructing their intricate lodges along the riverbanks.

  4. Lake Havasu:

    Lake Havasu, located on the Colorado River, offers an idyllic setting for wildlife viewing. This popular recreational lake is famous for its crystal-clear water and abundant fish population, attracting a variety of bird species. As you navigate the calm waters on your paddleboard, you'll likely encounter great blue herons, cormorants, and elegant white pelicans. Lake Havasu is also home to the Sonoran mud turtle, a small and elusive species that occasionally sunbathe on rocks along the shoreline. In addition, bobcats and coyotes can be seen prowling the surrounding desert landscape, especially during the cooler months.

  5. Patagonia Lake:

    Nestled in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a hidden gem for wildlife enthusiasts. The lake's tranquil waters and surrounding woodlands provide a sanctuary for numerous bird species. Paddleboarding along the shoreline, you'll spot colorful vermilion flycatchers, elegant black-crowned night herons, and stunning vermilion flycatchers. During the winter months, migratory waterfowl such as cinnamon teal and northern pintails make their temporary homes here. While exploring the lake's nooks and crannies, keep an eye out for mule deer, javelinas, and the elusive coatimundi.
  6. Watson Lake:

    Situated in Prescott, Watson Lake is a stunning reservoir surrounded by rugged granite boulders and scenic hiking trails. Paddleboarding on its tranquil waters provides an opportunity to encounter a variety of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for ospreys soaring overhead and diving into the lake to catch fish. The shores of Watson Lake are also frequented by deer, javelinas, and a diverse array of bird species such as great blue herons and American coots.
  7. Bartlett Lake:

    Located in the Tonto National Forest near Phoenix, Bartlett Lake offers a picturesque setting for paddleboarding and wildlife viewing. As you glide across the water, you may spot desert bighorn sheep scaling the rocky cliffs that surround the lake. In addition to these magnificent mammals, the lake is home to numerous bird species, including bald eagles, ospreys, and great horned owls. The best time to visit Bartlett Lake for wildlife viewing is during the cooler months of fall and spring.

  8. Canyon Lake:

    Nestled amidst the Superstition Mountains, Canyon Lake boasts breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Paddleboarding along its serene shores, you can witness a variety of bird species, including herons, egrets, and kingfishers. The lake is also known for its resident bald eagles, which can often be spotted perched on trees or soaring above the water. Additionally, keep an eye out for desert mule deer, coyotes, and javelinas that frequent the surrounding desert landscape.
  9. Lake Pleasant:

    glide paddle boards

    Located northwest of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant is a popular destination for outdoor recreation and wildlife observation. Paddleboarding on this expansive reservoir provides ample opportunities to encounter various species. Look out for the iconic American bald eagles, which nest near the lake and can be seen fishing or soaring overhead. During winter months, flocks of migratory waterfowl, such as northern shovelers and gadwalls, make their temporary homes here. In addition, the lake's shores are home to white-tailed deer, desert cottontails, and a rich variety of birdlife.

    Here are two more obscure locations in Arizona that require a 4x4 vehicle to reach but offer unique wildlife viewing opportunities from a paddle board:

    paddle boards on a jeep
    1. Alamo Lake:

      Situated in western Arizona, Alamo Lake is a remote and secluded reservoir surrounded by desert terrain. Paved roads do lead to the lake although for the best spots on the lake a 4x4 vehicle is recommended due to the rugged and unpaved roads leading to the area. Once there, paddleboarding on the lake allows you to explore its quiet coves and encounter a variety of wildlife. Keep an eye out for desert bighorn sheep traversing the rocky slopes along the shorelines. Alamo Lake is also home to abundant birdlife, including herons, pelicans, and various migratory waterfowl.
    2. Cibola National Wildlife Refuge:

      Located along the Colorado River in southwestern Arizona, the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden gem accessible only via rough and sandy roads that necessitate a 4x4 vehicle. The refuge encompasses a diverse range of habitats, including wetlands, marshes, and backwater channels, attracting an impressive array of wildlife. Paddleboarding through these waterways allows for remarkable wildlife encounters. Look out for majestic bald eagles perched in towering cottonwood trees, as well as migratory waterfowl, such as snow geese and sandhill cranes, during the winter months. The refuge is also known for its diverse reptile and amphibian populations. The dirt/Gravel portion of this area can become rutted and hard to cross with a regular car which is why we recommend a 4x4 to make the most of the roughly 43 miles of non paved adventure.

    When embarking on a 4x4 adventure to these remote locations, it is crucial to come well-prepared with a suitable vehicle, necessary equipment, and knowledge of the area. Always prioritize safety and follow any guidelines or restrictions set by the managing authorities. Exploring these off-the-beaten-path locations will reward you with unique wildlife sightings and a sense of adventure in Arizona's untamed landscapes.

    Best Time to View Wildlife:

    The best time to view wildlife in Arizona's waterways largely depends on the specific location and species of interest. In general, the cooler months of spring and fall offer optimal conditions for wildlife sightings. During these seasons, temperatures are moderate, and animals are often more active. Mornings and evenings are prime viewing times as animals tend to be more active during these cooler periods. It's important to research and consider the specific preferences and behaviors of the wildlife you wish to observe to maximize your chances of encountering them.


    Exploring Arizona's waterways on a paddleboard provides a remarkable opportunity to witness the state's diverse wildlife in their natural habitats. From the regal bighorn sheep of Lake Powell to the vibrant birdlife of Saguaro Lake, each location offers its own unique encounters. Whether you're a seasoned wildlife enthusiast or a casual nature lover, Arizona's lakes and rivers beckon with their awe-inspiring beauty and abundant wildlife. So grab your paddleboard, immerse yourself in nature, and embark on an unforgettable adventure to witness Arizona's remarkable wildlife up close and personal.

    Glide Paddle Boards Tips and more!

    On our blog we have more tips and tricks, although to get started check out these exciting articles! For wildlife tips check out our blog and this article on Beginners Guide To Bird Watching. And don't forget to read our article on Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Wildlife Encounters. For a complete guide on where to paddle board in every state, this one is for you! The best places to paddle board in the United States a state by state tour of where to paddle board with Glide Paddle Boards. Or perhaps something international is what you are looking for, then these two articles will help out. Check out the ultimate guide on finding places to paddle board near you for tips and tricks on finding new and exciting places near you! And for international spots Epic Spots Globally To Paddle Board is for you!