River of the Month - Verde River

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Verde River

Arizona’s Verde River is one of the great rivers of the American Southwest. In 1984, its roadless middle stretch was declared the first Wild and Scenic River in the state. It’s an exquisite reach of water, flowing through rare cottonwood stands and a forest of saguaro cactus unlike any you’ll ever view from a river. Like the Salt and the Gila, the Verde is a freshwater lifeline for the diverse fish and wildlife of the arid Sonoran Desert.

Why It Matters

The Verde is an oasis in the desert, with upper reaches that harbor rare fish, rugged canyons with spectacular scenery, and a lush riparian belt where diverse birds and wildlife thrive. Superb habitat and reliable flows make the Verde among a handful of streams in Arizona that shoulder the region’s fragile biodiversity.





The Verde once supported 16 native warmwater fish species. Ten survive today, anchored by outstanding habitat on tributaries like the East Verde and Fossil Creek. These include Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Gila topminnow (all federally endangered), as well as spikedace, loach minnow, Sonora sucker and roundtail chub.

In addition to native fish, the Verde hosts more than 200 bird species, 90 mammal species and 70 species of native amphibians and reptiles, many of them threatened or endangered. Among its wide-ranging desert flora, the Verde nourishes one of the last Fremont cottonwood and Goodding willow gallery forests in Arizona—one of just 20 such stands on Earth.

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How to See It

The Verde flows largely through the Tonto and Coconino National Forests, with road access from Highway 17 and Highway 260. Ample trails and river-access points provide unique opportunities to hike, backpack, bird watch, fish and boat through the Verde’s sublime desert landscapes and riparian greenways.


Plunge into the aquamarine pools of Fossil Creek, a Wild and Scenic tributary of the Verde River, where you’ll find some of the best swimming holes in Arizona. The area is extremely popular so book your permit early. BEST TIMES OF YEAR TO VISIT Boating: Spring Swimming: Summer Hiking: Spring and fall


Trails abound in the Tonto. The 27-mile Verde River Trail #11 traces the river, with elevations from 2,000 to nearly 6,000 feet and some river crossings. You can access the East Verde River via the Doll Baby Trailhead, which leads to backpacking adventures in the Mazatzal Wilderness and the 800-mile-long Arizona National Scenic Trail. Many trails allow horses.


Float through a desert? You bet! The Verde River offers scenic canoeing and some whitewater during spring runoff. Popular access points dot the Verde River Paddle Trail between the towns of Clarkdale and Camp Verde, where the river enters a splendid, 38-mile roadless reach flanked by saguaro forests. The Verde River Institute in Clarkdale offers kayak trips

Getting There From Hwy 17, State Route 260 traces the main-stem Verde River north and south of Camp Verde, with river access at White Bridge Picnic Site and Beasley Flats, where the roadless river reach begins. The Doll Baby Trailhead, near the East Verde River, is west of Payson. To get there from Payson, take Main St west for two miles; continue on Doll Baby Ranch Road/FR 406 for nine miles to the Doll Baby Trailhead. The last three miles are rough. The road passes Doll Baby Ranch, the property WRC is currently working to conserve.


THE WRC STORY WRC is protecting rare desert habitat and prized public access along the East Verde River, the most intact arm of the Verde system. In 2017, we purchased the 149-acre Doll Baby Ranch, which traces a mile of the East Verde in the heart of the Tonto National Forest. Now we are working to ensure access to the Mazatzal Wilderness while protecting habitat for fish and wildlife. The trifecta of exceptional wildlife habitat, a desert river and recreational access make this project a national conservation priority. The project complements WRC’s work on another life-giving tributary of the Verde, Fossil Creek. WRC purchased 19 acres and conveyed it to the US Forest Service in 2016, completing protection of Fossil Creek. Together, these projects are protecting some of the best How to Help assemblages of native fish in the Southwest.


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