A classic Arizona canyon thru-hike, this 25-mile trip follows West Clear Creek’s lower reaches to Bull Pen Ranch. Although canyon walls make route finding a breeze, it’s slow-going over slippery rocks and face-slapping overgrowth. (Cold morning swims and wet socks also pose challenges along the way.)
The trail begins with a steep descent to West Clear Creek and a downstream trek through a relatively wide canyon. You’ll cross the creek several times as you navigate toward a narrow section of Coconino sandstone, known locally as the White Box, near mile 10. The White Box is the first of several required swimming sections on the trail. Keep essential gear in dry bags and bring a pool float to ferry packs across the water (an inflatable mattress serves double-duty as a campsite cushion).
Fluctuating between wide, flat bottomed creek crossings and narrow, pool filled slots, the canyon descends gradually through distinct sandstone layers and passes several scenic falls before intersecting Trail No. 17. The smooth, well-maintained trail is also popular with day hikers bound for Indian Maid Falls and is another option for the final 5 miles of the hike.
TO TRAILHEAD: Shuttle car: Exit I-17 at Camp Verde and drive east on AZ 260 for roughly 7 miles. Turn left onto FR 618. In 2 miles, turn right onto FR 215 and drive 2 miles (follow signs to Bull Pen Ranch).
Start: Continue east on AZ 260 for 29 miles (just before mile marker 249) and turn left onto FR 144. In 1.8 miles turn left onto FR 149. In 1.1 miles, turn right onto FR 142 at the T-junction. Drive 0.8 mile and turn left onto FR 142E. Continue 2.7 miles to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Todd Martin, author of Arizona Technical Canyoneering