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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Paddling's Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

by: Larry Rice


Best Southwest Wilderness
Fire and water mix on the Verde River.

Spanish explorers nabbed naming rights for many Southwest landmarks, and with the Verde River they went for the obvious-with good reason. The perennial stream cuts a startling green swath through the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona. From dull jade water to emerald-bright cottonwoods and willows to a prickly green gallery of saguaro, yucca, cholla, and agave, the Wild and Scenic Verde is one of those rare places where life doesn't just survive in the searing desert heat, it thrives. Riverside cottonwood stands shelter more than 1,000 pairs of birds per 100 acres, the highest avian density in North America. Rare resident Southwest bald eagles nest on clifftops, and native fish such as the Sonora sucker, roundtail chub, and Colorado squawfish swim in pristine pools.

Between Camp Verde and Horseshoe Reservoir, the river runs for 58 free-flowing miles through the sprawling Mazatzal Wilderness, a vast chunk of desert so wild and empty it's used for NOLS courses. The stream descends in a series of moderate rapids and calm pools. (The river is suitable for all ability levels, but beware of Verde Falls, a Class V drop just a few miles downstream from Beasley Flat. Portage around it on river left.) The rest of the way is desert perfection: sun-baked beach camps, star-filled skies, and hot springs at the Childs and Sheep Bridge take-outs. Multiple access points allow either a 2- or 5-day trip; do the upper section from Beasley Flat to Childs if you're short on time. Few outfitters operate on the Verde because of unpredictable flows; check with Mild to Wild ( for spring trips.

Get there The put-in at Beasley Flat is about 10 miles south of Camp Verde via FR 529 and FR 574. For the Childs take-out, head east 7 miles on AZ 260 from Camp Verde, then turn right onto FR 708; go 14 miles, then take another right onto FR 502. For the Sheep Bridge take-out, start on I-17 south of Cordes Junction and drive east 38 miles on Bloody Basin Rd. (FR 269); high-clearance vehicle recommended.

Season The runoff-dependent Verde can be boated all year if there's enough water (look for flows above 200 cfs; call 602-236-5929 or see "World Wide Water," below). Best times are February through April, and after monsoon rains in August and September. Beware of flash-flood conditions after storms.

Difficulty Moderate. The Class II-III rapids are rocky and technical-and hard on canoes-at flows below 400 cfs.

Contact Prescott National Forest, (928) 567-4121;

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Feb 02, 2013

was wondering if anyone knew my father kenneth York he guided the Allagash for years.I would be interested thank you

Markus Harrild
Apr 02, 2012

Although you've listed some great waterways, and have limited space for your article, you know, your readers are going to chide you about not listing their favorites. So, to add to that list of incredulousness, when was the last time you paddled down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Central Idaho. For raw jaw-dropping beauty, aqueous power, a wicked challenge, and a great trip, you've got to list this gnarled ribbon of water that slices through the River of No Return Wilderness. I could understand leaving other waterways off your list, but not this beauty!

Mar 30, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the (insert favorite) river wasn't included. This is the best! Some of the most beautiful scenery is found on the (insert favorite) river....

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Richard M McFadden
Mar 29, 2012

WOW! Do not depend on Larry Rice on this one. First off. The Glory Hole pictured is not even in the Buffalo watershed. Second, the LOWER section will be low in the Fall. The upper half of the river will be virtually dry. The Buffalo is rain dependent, not spring fed. Summer is hot and humid with low algae filled water. The Buffalo is my river. It is by far my favorite river and I spend a lot of time there. Obviously Larry Rice does not. I will be joining Kenneth L Smith tomorrow for a week of trailbuilding on the Buffalo. Ken will be trailbuilding in the fall. If you love trails it is a chance to be in a wonderful place extending the Buffalo River Trail.

Mar 29, 2012

The Allagash is indeed beautiful in Sept / Oct
but the river sections are very shallow and rocky.
You will likely be limited to the lakes.

Summer months usually have the best river flow.
Bring 100% DEET and a head net!

David Scarborough
Mar 29, 2012

I cant believe yall left out the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a trail that spans from NE Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the Bartram Canoe Trail, a trail that meanders through the beautiful Mobile/Tensaw River Delta.

Mar 29, 2012


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