Verde River Arizona Wild & Scenic


Stretch: Beasley Flat to Horseshoe Reservoir
Difficulty: Class II with one IV and some III, flow measured halfway
Distance: 60 miles, four to six days
Flows: kayaks 250 - 2500 cfs, rafts 500 - 2500 cfs
Gauge: put-in is lower, take-out is higher (USGS)
Gradient: 17 fpm average, much steeper in mile 2-3
Put-in: downstream of Camp Verde at Beasley Flat, 2980'
Take-out: points upstream or Horseshoe Reservoir, 1960'
Shuttle: 111 miles (3 hours) one way, shuttle driver recommended
Maps: USFS description with maps, AAA Arizona (Topo)
Season: early spring, from rain and snowmelt
Agency: Wild & Scenic, private, USFS, Mazatzal Wilderness
Notes: © 2011 Bill Tuthill, photos © 2009 Brian Vogt, Shaun Riedinger, Nick Borelli

The Verde makes an excellent early season trip, often coinciding with baseball spring training. Currently Arizona's only Wild & Scenic river, it certainly is wild (most of the way) and scenic. The canyon is not deep, but the rocks and desert vegetation are spectacular. Although the class II rating and 17 fpm gradient seem meager, even at low flows the current moves well, creating more rapids than you might reasonably expect. At moderate flows the water is pleasantly green, hence the name Verde.

This river is close to Phoenix, so you can fly in early morning, rent a car, and get at least a few miles down the river to a nice camp. We were lucky enough to locate a shuttle driver who lives near put-in. At the end of the trip, our vehicle was even closer to Phoenix!

Tonto National Forest personnel have created a 25-page pamphlet with maps, A Boater's Guide to the Verde River, available online. Perhaps they rated the river for open canoes. because many rapids seem overrated, and some have since changed. Also, campsites are not limited to the ones listed in the pamphlet. There are literally hundreds of good campsites along this run, although the USFS wants you to avoid eagle nesting areas.

Jim Slingluff, who wrote the definitive Verde guidebook, says that 500 cfs is his favorite flow, but based on my observation, this flow is rare. Whereas flows around 300 cfs are common in late February and early March. In my opinion, it's better to boat than to wait for optimum. Photos on this page were taken at flows between 250-280 cfs.

mile 0
The road ends at the Beasley Flat boat ramp, where you find toilets, roof-protected picnic tables with grills, and plenty of parking. When the water is up, local boaters put in here for a day run.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Beasley Flat put-in, looking upstream  Fine scenery begins almost immediately
Good camp with large gravel beach on the left, if you are running very late.
Off The Wall rapid, a somewhat blind class II drop.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Boat entering Off The Wall rapid  Two boats running Off The Wall rapid
Good camp with sand and bedrock on the left, if you are running late. Last recommended camp until mile 4.5.
Pre-Falls rapid, class III, appears suddenly, making it hard to scout. Supposedly you can stop well upstream and scout left. In any case, it is steep but not tricky.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Pre-Falls rapid from below  Photo of Pre-Falls that guy took
Verde Falls, class IV, scout left
The no-stopping zone for eagle habitat starts just upstream, but you must stop to scout or portage this rapid, so the sign seems out of place. Different guidebooks say the falls is either 5 feet or 8 feet high. Both statements might be true at different water levels. At ultra low flows the falls is too rocky to run. At minimum recommended flows, far right is relatively straightforward. As flow increases, alternate routes become available on the left. At high flows (see YouTube videos) the holes are truly monstrous.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Verde Falls rapid from above left  Verde Falls run by boat emptied of gear
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Verde Falls from shortly downstream  Boat running rapids below Verde Falls
Rock Garden rapid, a long series of moderate rock slaloms. The no-stopping zone for eagle habitat ends shortly below this rapid. A USFS recommended campsite is at mile 4.5 on the left.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Camp on left above Palisades rapid  Palisades rapid above sandy beach camp
Palisades rapid. The camp upstream has a flood zone, and grassy benches above, lightly wooded with many pricker trees. The camp just downstream of Palisades has a large sandy beach with grassy benches above. It seems nicer unless you hate sand.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Good scenery at an unnamed rapid  Beautiful springtime cloud formations
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Probably this is Bull Run rapid  Small camp with sycamore tree
Punk Rock rapid, AKA Turkey Gobbler, class III+
At low flows this rapid is very rocky, making it hard to work left. At high flows the water moves strongly into a midstream trap rock. Supposedly the scout is from the right bank, but from the top this looks like any other generic class II rapid on the Verde. If you neglect to stop and scout, just make sure to go far left.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Swimmer narrowly misses Punk Rock!  It's a nasty rapid with sharp pointy rocks
River access road, about .3 mile uphill from the river by trail. When the water is up, local boaters take out here after a day run. Gap Creek enters just downstream.
The river enters Cedar Bench Wilderness on the right bank, downstream of Bushman rapid and upstream of Big Pink rapid.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Comfy camp with table rock in back  Thunderstorm passes and the sun emerges
End of Cedar Bench wilderness on the right bank. Shortly downstream is the border between Prescott NF and Tonto NF.
Old ranch house, made from river rock, on the right bank.
Verde Hot Springs on the right. Above the developed soaking chambers, you can see sidewalks and palm trees that were part of a hotel complex built in the 1920s, which burned down in 1958.
Childs Power Plant, soon followed by a river access point and campground. Long but not terribly rough Forest Road 502 leads here. Some boaters put in at Childs to enjoy the Mazatzal Wilderness, although we enjoyed the upper river just as much.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Verde Hot Springs on right bank  Baby Snaggletooth rapid from below
Mazatzal Wilderness begins just downstream of the power lines, a ways upstream of Baby Snaggletooth.
Fossil Creek enters on the left. A hard-to-find trail leads upstream.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Fossil Creek enters on the left  Probably Nasty Little Dog Leg rapid
Gnarly Rock Bar rapid, class III, possibly line right
Maybe the river changed, or we took the wrong (left) channel, because this was the only class III we encountered below Childs. It is not marked class III in the USFS pamphlet, though many others are. One boater in our group took the right channel and said it wasn't very easy, either: two class IV moves to avoid a pin and a headwall, he said. The Verde must change a lot year-to-year.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
First section of Gnarly Rock Bar  Second section of Gnarly Rock Bar rapid
Large horseshoe bend to the south.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Probably this is Rockin Center rapid  Confluence with the East Fork Verde
East Fork Verde enters on the left, somewhat increasing the flow. Trails lead up the East Fork, but it is a long ways to a road.
Houston Creek enters on the right. A trail leads 1.5 miles up this creek to a road.
River gauge, supposedly “below Tangle Creek” although Tangle Creek does not appear in the USFS pamphlet.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Beautiful red wall of Squaw Butte  The channel disappears among rushes
Warm springs on the left bank.
Canyon on the right where the river turns sharp left. Trail 11 leads up this canyon.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Ocotillo cactus in the morning light  Perfect movie-worthy Saguaro cactus
The river starts its large Mule Shoe Bend, coming back to nearly the same point after three miles.
Black Bluffs ahead. The river then bends right towards Table Mountain. Many good campsites in this section.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Still life with lichen on red rock  Otter fishing in the pool below camp
After a beautiful slickrock cliff, Red Creek enters on the right. An airfield, surrounded by Saguaro, is a short distance up this creek. On the Verde, Red Creek rapid is just downstream. The Wild & Scenic river section ends at Red Creek, as does Mazatzal Wilderness on the right, although wilderness continues on the left and resumes in half a mile on the right.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Red Creek, with airfield nearby  Sheep Bridge, a possible take-out
Sheep Bridge, not for vehicles, but permits trail crossings. River access by means of a rough dirt road, suitable only for high-clearance vehicles. This is a popular 4WD camping spot. Mazatzal Wilderness ended more than a mile upstream, although good scenery continues unabated.
Nominal beginning of Horseshoe Reservoir, but in early season, the reservoir level is low enough to permit several miles of flow. Good scenery continues for quite a distance. Eventually the channel passes through dead trees, then enters a large pond that had a fierce headwind – from the south! – when we crossed it.
Verde River AZ Verde River AZ
Mountains near the top of reservoir  Horseshoe Reservoir from its boat ramp
A camp-oriented trip report is available here.

Shuttle directions are in the Cross/Cassady/Calhoun book Western Whitewater.


 Creeks Navigation

 Recommended Runs
 Map of Rivers
 Alphabetic Index
 Alphabetic Table
 Text Search

 Sponsored Links