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Verde River, Arizona
Report by Marc W. McCord

Horseshoe Reservoir to Bartlett Reservoir
~ 19 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Verde River forms at Sullivan Lake, where Big Chino Wash and Williamson Valley Wash merge south of Paulden in the Big Chino Valley of Yavapai County, then flows south by southeast about 170 miles to its Salt River confluence just northeast of Scottsdale and Phoenix. Along the way, it passes through parts of three national forests (Prescott, Cococino and Tonto), the cities of Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Camp Verde, and lands belonging to various tribes of the Apache Nation, private landowners and the State of Arizona. It is a perennial stream in a state known for its "dry" rivers, but it is not always boatable, and may have navigable flows in some reaches when others are too low to paddle. Its waters come from snowmelt in the mountains around the three forests, as well as seasonal monsoons. Surrounding lands are vastly disparate in nature, ranging from densely-forested upland plateaus to canyons to desert lowlands, each with its own diverse plantlife, animals, birds and fish. Beginning about 70 miles below the headwaters is a reach of 40.5 miles that is designated as "Wild and Scenic" by the US Congress, where the river and surrounding lands are perpetually protected against development and overuse.

Below Horseshoe Dam, the Verde River is basically like the upper two reaches - mostly flatwater punctuated by occasional small, Class I to II rapids. It flows about 19 miles between the dam and Bartlett Reservoir though an area heavily vegetated with reeds, bulrushes, cottonwood and willow trees and desert scrub. Putting in just below Horseshoe Dam usually requires a machette job to clear a path through dense reeds, and upon reaching the river the first thing you will notice is probably that big hole in mid-river with its large, green wave that kayakers love because they can do air-blunts. Below the put-in, the river becomes a meandering, flatwater stream that is an easy paddle for almost any able-bodied person, and this area is somewhat popular with novice paddlers in canoes, kayaks and rafts. When flows exceed about 1,000 cfs, there is another large hole about midway through this reach, but at normal flows you will hardly notice it. Paralleling the stream on river right is a desert road that is best left to high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles, where getting sandbagged would be easy, and getting free would be difficult, as well as potentially costly. Though the excitement of upper reaches is gone, this area still offers an enjoyable and scenic trip through an area rife with wildlife, many species of gamefish, raparian vegetation indigenous to the Sonoran desert and no signs of civilization or commercial development. This run begins the final 38 miles of the river before reaching its confluence with the Salt River near Fort McDowell, just northeast of Scottsdale and the Phoenix metro area.


Yavapai and Maricopa counties of central Arizona, about an hour from the Phoenix metro area. This reach runs just northwest of Saguaro and Canyon Lakes, both created by hydroelectric dams on the Lower Salt River.

Distance from major cities

Flagstaff miles; Phoenix miles; Tucson miles; Albuquerque miles; Salt Lake City miles; Denver miles; Oklahoma City miles; Dallas miles; Austin miles; San Antonio miles; Houston miles; Little Rock miles; Kansas City miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold from Horseshoe Reservoir. Navigable flows depend upon the amount of water being released at the dam for hydroelectric generation and the water supply needs of residents, commercial, industrial, agricultural and municipal interests in and around the Greater Phoenix area.

Best time to go

This reach of the Verde River nearly always has an adequate flow for canoeing, kayaking and rafting, though flows may be tempered by drought conditions and the water needs in and around Phoenix.

Hazards to navigation

There are no major hazards for competent boaters along this reach of the Verde River at normal flows. The holes at the top and in the middle of this run can become challenging at higher flows exceeding about 1,000 cfs.

River Access Points

Put in immediately below Horseshoe Dam at Fisherman's Point River Access Point (RAP) at 0.0 miles; Mesquite Flat RAP, just below Fisherman's Point RAP; Devil's Hole RAP, off FR 532 from Indian Springs Wash (4-wheel drive vehicles ONLY!); Bartlett Flat RAP, off FR 459 from FR 19; Take out at any access point on Bartlett Reservoir starting about 19 miles below the put-in.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are two public camping areas along the Verde River just below Horseshoe Dam at Horseshoe Campground, adjacent to Fisherman's Point, and Mesquite Campground just south of there. Two additional public campgrounds are available near the top of Bartlett Reservoir at Bartlett Flats and SB Cove.

Contacts for river running and camping information are:

  • Tonto National Forest (602-225-5200)

  • Cave Creek Ranger Station (480-595-3300)

  • Verde Ranger Station (520-567-4121)

  • Beaver Creek Ranger Station (520-567-4121)
  • Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

    There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along this reach of the Lower Verde River. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles. Beware the unimproved roads in the area - they are not hospitable to conventional vehicles. A Hummer or Land Rover would be nice!

    Reviewer's comments

    For those who love flatwater wilderness paddling this reach of the Lower Verde River has it all in spades. It is remote and quite scenic, with an abundance of wildlife and natural vegetation everywhere you look. I know that you love to eat rattlesnake, but leave them alone. They were here first, and this is their home! This run is an easy one that almost always has an adequate flow for canoeing, kayaking and rafting. It is especially well-suited for novice paddlers who lack the experience and skills to tangle with the Class III and IV waters immediately above Horseshoe Reservoir. Unless you are an adreneline junkie and paddler, including those with substantial experience, can enjoy this area and its magical natural beauty. It is close enough to Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix that you can run the river during the day, then stay in a motel in town and dine in a restaurant at night.

    Technical Data
    Class Rating I to II
    Length 19 miles
    Minimum Flow cfs
    Optimum Flow cfs
    Maximum Flow cfs
    First Put-in Horseshoe Dam
    Lat/Long 33.9822006 / -111.7078018
    Last Take-out Bartlett Reservoir
    Lat/Long 33.8765984 / -111.6112976
    Elevation 1,900 msl
    Gradient fpm
    USGS Gauge Web: Horseshoe Dam
    Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
    Season Year-round, weather permitting
    Permits No

    Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

    Central Arizona Paddlers Club

    Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

    Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Verde River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

    [ Verde River Homepage ] [ US Highway 89 to Perkinsville ] [ Perkinsville to Beasley Flat ] [ Beasley Flat to Childs Power Road Access ]
    [ Childs Power Road Access to Horseshoe Reservoir ] [ Bartlett Reservoir to Salt River ] [ East Verde River ] [ Sycamore Creek ]

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    Last updated October 12, 2018

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