Renting a Boat with Kids at Saguaro Lake. We recently spent the day on the water at Saguaro Lake and it was a super fun experience! Saguaro Lake is the fourth and final reservoir to be built on the Salt River and was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930. (Trivia question: the other three lakes are Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake.).
Saguaro Lake is quite accessible from Phoenix and from Sky Harbor it takes only about 40 minutes to get there, making it a feasible drive for even young kids who hate the car. This lake is also where Butcher Jones Recreation Area is located, popular with families for swimming.
We went with two other families and booked a 12-person pontoon boat through Precision Marine, whose docks are in the same area as Shiprock Restaurant and Desert Belle Cruises. Rates are $90/hr, $360 for half-day (5 hours) or $450 for full days (7.5 hours). You can book up to one month in advance, and should do so early as boats fill up fast, especially on weekends.
When you return the boat, you will also pay for the amount of gas you used. We spent about $40 on gas after traveling pretty much around the entire lake. You do NOT need a Tonto pass to park at the marina, but spots do fill up fast!
Plan to be there about 15-30 minutes early to sign all the paperwork so that you can get loaded on the boat and take off in time. The staff was very friendly. They will go through a brief tutorial with the designated driver of the boat, so if you’re new to boating be sure to ask them any questions you may have at that time.
Bring your own Bluetooth speaker for music (but download tracks on your phone since you won’t have cell service!) About half the boat is shaded with a bimini top, but the front half of the boat is exposed and can therefore get very hot.
Renting a boat is a great way to explore different coves and beaches along the lake! You aren’t allowed to beach the boat, but you can pull up into different coves and swim to shore from the boat. We made many stops along the way to jump out and swim.
There are also several areas that have beaches, especially as you travel farther east down the lake (see Sandy Beach, Wallace Beach on the map below). Make sure you obey the designated “no wake” zones (indicated by the white buoys) and move at 5mph or less.
Our kids were ages 3-6. All kids under 12 are required to wear a life jacket at all times. We brought our own but they are provided at the boat rental shop as well. Adults also brought their own life jackets as it was easiest when swimming in the lake. Make sure you keep a close eye on the kids as a general rule around water! We also tried to pull off into quieter, calmer areas for swimming as the wake from the other boats would create a lot of choppy waves which can be unruly for younger kids.
The boat has a ladder that you can climb up/down to access the water, or you just jump directly off any of the other three doors on the boats. These doors lock into place while the boat is moving, so we felt pretty safe even with six preschoolers running rampant around the boat.
As a bonus, we were able to get a towable inflatable to attach to our boat! The boat rental place does not sell or rent them, so we found one on Offer Up after a little bit of persistence. Make sure whatever you get is “towable” as these are sturdier than the average inflatable that you find at Target or Wal-Mart. The kids loved being towed on the inflatable!
Some other tips:
- Bring a big cooler with icepacks and lots of cold water bottles for everyone. It is paved from the parking lot down to the marina so it was easy to wheel a large cooler down even with lots of kids in tow.
- There is no table or flat surface on the boat, so it is best to bring finger foods (sandwiches, chips) that kids can eat in their laps.
- No glass or bbq’s permitted on the boat
- Shiprock Restaurant on the marina opens at 9 am so you could also pick up food before getting on the boat (this was helpful when one of our families forgot their lunch at home).
- It was also useful to bring a large, collapsible crate to use as a catch-all on the boat so small items (kids’ goggles, water bottles) didn’t roll around.
- Some of the adults also brought waterproof phone cases with lanyards, which was a nice touch for taking photos while swimming in the water.
- There are restrooms on the back patio of the restaurant that is very clean.
- Water shoes were nice but not necessary. Most of us went barefoot around the boat and while swimming, but be aware that the deck of the boat can get hot in the sun, too.
- Always pack sunscreen and don’t forget to re-apply!
Overall, renting a boat with kids at Saguaro Lake is a fun day activity, especially during the hot summer months. Our kids are already asking when we can go back!