Forming near SH 99 in Gila County due east of the Verde River is the East Verde River, which flows to the confluence near the Town of Childs in the middle of nowhere. This run of about 34 miles includes numerous Class IV to V+ rapids and drops that test the skills of expert whitewater kayakers. The river flows under SH 87 about half way through the run, then on through Tonto National Forest a few miles north of, and perpendicular to, Tonto Creek, another great whitewater run in Arizona. Water in the river sources mainly from snowmelt runoff in the area of the forest northeast of Phoenix. Small gorges and waterfall drops characterize the East Verde River making it much more difficult than the mainstream into which it flows.
The surrounding area is very remote, and few people will be seen (most of them will be driving by on SH 99 near the put-in, or on the SH 87 crossing.) This run is definitely off the beaten path, though paddlers who enjoy creek boating will love this stream when it flows. Its very limited season is usually in April through June if there was sufficient snowpack over the preceding winter. Always check flows on the USGS gauge near Childs and the Verde River confluence before departing for this hairboat run. Be prepared to cover a lot of kayak miles between access points. There are no easy roads separating short runs on the East Verde River.
Gila County of central Arizona. Prescott and Flagstaff lie to the northwest. Metropolitan Phoenix is to the southwest. Tonto National Forest is home to the East Verde River.
Flagstaff 95 miles; Phoenix 100 miles; Tucson 217 miles; Albuquerque 558 miles; Salt Lake City 617 miles; Durango 411 miles; Grand Junction 581 miles; Denver 750 miles; Oklahoma City 969 miles; Dallas 1,102 miles; Austin 1,121 miles; San Antonio 1,102 miles; Houston 1,307 miles; Little Rock 1,439 miles; Kansas City 1,335 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The East Verde River flows clean, clear and cold from its headwaters to the Verde River confluence near Childs. Flow is dependent upon adequate snowmelt in the drainage basin of Tonto National Forest, supplemented by late summer to early fall rains. Adequate flows for boating are rare, and may not exist in dry years.
The East Verde River is almost totally dependent upon snowmelt runoff for adequate navigable flows which, when they occur, are usually in April through June, or possibly part of July. Like all Arizona rivers, the East Verde River may not have a navigable season at all in drought years.
The East Verde is the Mr. Hyde to the Verde River's Dr. Jekyl. It has some easy Class I to III whitewater, but the big drops are rated Class IV to V+, possibly escalating to VI- in high water conditions (which are very rare.) Its big drops consist of small gorges and waterfalls amid constricting boulders and dead-fallen trees, with plenty of places to pin and/or wrap a boat. The general remoteness of the area necessitates that paddlers have expert level whitewater kayaking and swiftwater rescue skills, along with First Aid training. Getting outside help is a slow, time-consuming process. Most of the drops can be scouted, but some are difficult to see in advance, so quick reflexes and accurate decision-making are paramount in importance on this run. The water temperature is very cold, so wearing wetsuits or drysuits with a base layer is recommended to prevent hypothermia.
SH 99 bridge near the Fort Apache Indian Reservation at 0.0 miles; SH 87 bridge between Pine and Payson at about 14.0 miles; Childs, near the confluence with the Verde River at about 34.0 miles. There are no other access points for the East Verde River.
There are no public or private campgrounds available in the near vicinity of the East Verde River. The river flows through Tonto National Forest, so obtain access and camping permission from rangers in the Phoenix office (2324 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85006 , 602-225-5200) before beginning trips on the East Verde River.
There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along the East Verde River. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles.
The East Verde River offers expert whitewater kayakers the opportunity to experience some big drops and difficult, technical maneuvers in central Arizona without having to drive to Colorado or California to get their kicks. The Catch-22 is in finding the river in navigable flow conditions and being able to secure permission from rangers in Tonto National Forest at the same time. The river has a fickle season from about April through June in years when there was sufficient snowpack in the upper elevations of the forest surrounding the drainage area of the river. However, when it flows the East Verde is a Class IV to V+ run with beautiful waterfalls, small gorges and boulder garden rapids interspersed with dead-fallen trees just to make it interesting. This river is not well suited for canoes and rafts. It is only about 100 miles from Phoenix, but allow at least 2-2.5 hours of drive time to get there - not all roads in remote areas of Arizona are friendly toward vehicles. Take a camera if you can secure it in a bumpproof, waterproof case, because the East Verde is as beautiful as it is challenging.