675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd. — Cottonwood, AZ 86326 — 928-634-5283
May 9-19, 2016 – I knew from what I read about Dead Horse Ranch State Park while I was planning my stay that there was a lot to do here, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how much there really is. The park itself offers a lot within its own 423 acres, including hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, bird watching and horseback riding. But nearby attractions are also irresistible and I saw as many of them as I could from my home base at the campground. There are many side roads that loop off the main road through the park that leads to trails, picnic areas and the Verde River Greenway.
This gorgeous view of Tuzigoot National Monument was seen from Flycatcher Road leading to Tavasci Marsh. I consider Tuzigoot an absolute must-see in this area.
I think the three lagoons were my favorite part of the park and I ended up walking around them several times during my stay. Lagoons in a desert environment were the first of a bunch of things that surprised me here. Swimming is not permitted and only row or paddle boats are allowed, so it was always peaceful and tranquil.
At first I thought this heron was a statute he was so still, so I was surprised when I saw him fly off.
Is there anything more graceful than a heron in flight? This whole scene was just enchanting to me – the colorful hills and how they’re reflected so beautifully in the still water.
I got to where I wasn’t surprised to see these turtles since they hung out here on this rock a lot and were always a welcome sight.
But the absolute most welcome and exciting sight for me was when I was getting in my car one day and saw something large flying by. As my eyes followed, I looked up and saw this eagle land on the bluff above me and then saw was another one close by! I saw eagles in Alaska and Oregon before, but never expected to meet them here in the desert!
Thankfully there are several benches all around the trails so you can rest and contemplate the magnificent beauty surrounding you. There are also picnic tables if you want to bring your lunch and dine al fresco.
Or if you want to catch your own, there’s a boat ramp and fishing docks are scattered around, including some ADA equipped. Fishing opportunities here include trout, catfish, bass and bluegill. Catfish and trout are stocked at different times of the year. A valid fishing license is required and the park gift shop sells fishing worms.
I’ve heard there are beavers and otters that hang out in the lagoons, but I never caught sight of them. I would have liked to have seen a bobcat or mountain lion (from a safe distance, of course), but missed that, too.
The park is known as a great bird habitat with over 200 species found here, including some on the endangered list. It’s such a big deal that the Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival is held here each Spring. I couldn’t identify all the birds I saw, but I sure enjoyed their sweet songs that accompanied me each time I was on the trail.
Park Manager, George Christianson
I always appreciate the chance to meet the managers of the parks I visit so I can hear what they love most about the park and maybe give me ideas of what to see I hadn’t thought of before. George has been here 12 years and he says this location on the Verde River just can’t be beat. This is one of his favorite spots and is part of a six-mile stretch of the river known as the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. Its unique ecosystem, the Cottonwood and Willow riparian gallery forest, is one of less than 20 such riparian zones in the world.
George thinks this area has the best of all worlds – the tranquility of the river makes you feel like you’re isolated in one of the most natural settings imaginable. He said usually when you get this quality of natural beauty you have to be way out in the boonies, but the convenience to town is just a mile away here. Old Town Cottonwood is charming and the newer part offers a lot of modern shopping. Besides that, the “ghost town” of Jerome is just a few miles down the road and hundreds of years back in history. And the incredible formations of the red rocks of Sedona is in the other direction, less than 20 miles away.
Fun Stuff Nearby:
I explored a bunch of other nearby state parks and historical sites while I was in this area. Some links below are pages I’ve done and others are to the official websites, but they’re all worth exploring.
Trail Horse Adventures – What little girl didn’t want to be a cowgirl at some point? I sure did, so I had a lot of fun seeing the park from horseback that took us along parts of the Verde River Greenway and across the serene Verde River.
Fort Verde State Historic Site (Malia’s Miles)
Verde Canyon Railroad (a great train ride I took from nearby Clarkdale)
Verde River Greenway State Natural Area
Red Rock State Park (Malia’s Miles)
Slide Rock State Park (Malia’s Miles)
Jerome State Historic Park
Tuzigoot National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Well National Monument
All Malia’s Miles Dead Horse Ranch State Park Pages:
Dead Horse Ranch State Park Info:
Reservations: Online or call 520-586-2283
CampsitePhotos.com has pictures of every site
Fees – Day use, camping fees, extra vehicles, cabins, discounts, etc.
Facilities – Info on all facilities, including camping loops, day use areas, fishing, ramadas (covered picnic facilities for rent), hiking and biking trails and more.
History – Including how the park got its name.