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 (www.mild2wildrafting.com) 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; www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott/about/verde.shtml