The Verde River

The Verde River flows approximately 185 miles from Sullivan Lake north of Prescott to its confluence with the Salt River northeast of Mesa in central Arizona. In 1984, a little over 40 miles of the river, primarily flowing through the Tonto National Forest, were federally-designated as Wild and Scenic, one of only two rivers in Arizona to receive this designation. The Verde has many access points on its course through federal, state, tribal, and private lands. The primary public lands access points are via the Coconino, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests. 

The Verde is generally riparian, and is an important watershed delivering irrigation to central farmlands and drinking water to the metro areas in southern Arizona. Kayaking, rafting, fishing, hiking, and camping are some of the ways people recreate on the river, which offers a cool reprieve from summer’s scorching temperatures. Visitors wanting a bird’s-eye view of the river can hop on the Verde Canyon Railroad which originates out of Clarkdale. During my visits, I saw river otters, a ringtail, and antelope among other wildlife. It’s a native habitat to such rare plant species as Verde Valley sage and Arizona cliff rose, and offers spectacular opportunities for birdwatching.   

I’ve visited the Verde twice on this trip: once in April from north of Clarkdale, and again in June from in between Cottonwood and Camp Verde, both times via the Coconino National Forest. My local connection there is Onager, who has explored and paddled this river extensively, including a few seasons as a river guide. 

In general, access to the river through public lands sites is free and there are no permits unless running a commercial venture. However, it’s best to double-check with the administrator of the lands through which you intend to access the river to be safe. They can also give you up-to-date information on water levels, fire restrictions, and any other important info you may need to make the most of your visit. The Verde River Institute has a number of maps of the Verde and its watershed, including a comprehensive Google Earth file showing the river and points of interest along almost all of its course.

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