Tonto Creek - Lower Tonto Gorge



One of the best stretches of whitewater in the state.  A beautiful 5 mile stretch of creek with fairly constant class III rapids.  This run passes through a scenic gorge, with the walls getting taller and taller and closer and closer to the river the further down you go, until you're floating big waves between walls 20 feet apart.  Its spectacular, and easily accessible from Phoenix - a true gem.

This stretch of river should be taken seriously.  This is remote country, and egress would be difficult if an accident happens.  Although the rapids are no bigger than III+, as you enter the gorge section, eddies become less and less frequent.  The river has long stretches between smooth walls. So a flip means you may be swimming for a long period of time.  Also the Gauntlet rapid can be remarkably sticky.  At certain flow levels, it becomes a 20 foot whirlpool of recirculating water.  A group of friends went through and three of them flipped in succession at the Gauntlet, with all three swirling and trying to escape the rapid.  This is not a place to enter lightly.  I strongly suggest getting experience on the Verde and Salt before visiting Tonto Creek.

Starting the run means a short float on Rye Creek.  This is a very shallow creek with a lot of wood.  After several trips through, we started portaging several hundred feet past the worst wood section before putting in.  A service-minded group might come here in the off-season with a chainsaw.

Once Rye Creek dumps into Tonto Creek, the trip picks up.  There is a Class III rapid right below the confluence, then its pretty continuous Class II and III rapids from that point forward.  After a few miles, a powerline will cross overhead.  This powerline is your marker to pull over on canyon left and scout the Gauntlet, the trickiest rapid on the river.  The Gauntlet can be no sweat or a total nightmare at different flow levels, so a scout is strongly recommended.

Below the Gauntlet, there are more Class II and III rapids as the creek enters the gorge.  The walls get taller and closer in the further you go.  Careful attention to dodging rocks and waves is important to avoid a flip through this section - if not you may be swimming for awhile. 

Shortly into the gorge section, a small canyon on river right will flow into the main creek.  Get over (if you can) and hike up this canyon to check out a cool waterfall.  You may find a memorial plaque here for a kayaker who drowned in the gorge after attempting a run at 20K CFS.

Eventually, the gorge widens out.  A few more class II rapids and you'll come to the mouth of the gorge.  Pull over to the right and hike up a small hill to your car, to complete one of the best runs in AZ.


Chris Ramias
Class III+
Current Flow 0.0 CFS
10-03-2023 04:15
Recommended Flow Minimum: 300.0
Average: 600.0
Maximum: 1000.0
Typical Season Begins: January
Ends: April
Recommended Use Kayaking: Yes
Rafting: No
Canoeing: No
Packrafting: No
Fishing: No
Length 5.0 Mile(s)
Gradient FPM

The Gauntlet

03-19-2017 -