Author: Rick Sprain
With the latest issue of Arizona Highways in hand, I walked across the street from work at the Yavapai County Courthouse to Mobster Burger for lunch. Great French fries by the way. While waiting for my Chicago dog, I started flipping through the magazine and came upon the hike of the month article on the West Clear Creek Trail just outside of Camp Verde. If you didn’t see the May issue, you can get the information on how to get there here: https://www.arizonahighways.com/explore/hiking/west-clear-creek-trail. The article had great timing as my wife and I were heading to Clear Creek to go camping that weekend.
On Saturday morning we headed up fire road 619 to fire road 215 and eventually down into a long green valley of large cottonwood trees that was once home to the Bull Pen Ranch. Although fire road 619 could handle most vehicles, I wouldn’t recommend driving anything other than a high clearance vehicle on fire road 215. We parked at the end of the road which by 9:00 am was already nearly filled up. There is a bathroom at the trail head and is the only one along the trail. Also remember to bring plenty of water with you prior to leaving for your hike. Not wanting to carry a lot of camera gear, I only brought along my Canon 5D Mark II with the 35-70mm 2.8 lens. This setup worked out perfectly for taking pictures of the wide valley as well as photographing the river in tight areas in very low light. There were a few times I wish I had brought along a light tripod for some close up photographs or a long exposure shot or two.
The trail begins along the old ranch road for about the first mile and a half or so and is easy walking. There are a number of trails that take off the main trail that give you access to the river. You can spend hours exploring and taking pictures before returning to the main trail.
Once you pass an old rock ranch building and a few foundations you’ll come to the end of the road trail and begin walking towards the creek. At one point you’ll come to a fork in the trail. Take the downhill trail to the right that leads towards the creek. Don’t take the trail that goes straight as it ends on a dangerous cliff that was used for a flume to carry water to the ranch. Down at the river you’ll come upon some large flat rocks over the deep pools in the water. It’s a great place for a picnic or a short rest before continuing your hike.
Continuing on, You’ll come to the first of many river crossings about a half mile further along the trail. Not being as balanced as my wife, I chose to walk through the water to cross the river. My wife on the other hand, was able to cross over using rocks and some fallen trees without a problem. I found the river only thigh high which gave me a better perspective for photographing the river that I wouldn’t have gotten trying to balance on a rock. This also ensured I didn’t slip off a rock or tree into the water ruining my camera.
The first crossing is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll see. You’ll find a large pond boarded by a cliff on one side a lush forest on the other. After crossing, walk through the brush along the creek until you come to the opposite end of the bond for another all different view of the cliff and creek. The second crossing is only another couple hundred yards up the river. Once you cross the second time, you will start walking away from the river. You will end up in a totally different geographically world of rocks and cactus. The third crossing is probably about three and a half miles from the parking lot. We only went a short distance further to another large secluded pool surrounded by rocks and trees.
If you are really adventurous, the trail continues another 25 miles into the West Clear Creek Wilderness, but remember no matter how far you walk in you have to walk out. Also remember whatever you bring with you to eat or drink, make sure you carry it out with you.
Now once you’ve hiked out and need something to refresh yourself, try some wine tasting at the Clear Creek Winery. Back on highway 260 turn north for less than a quarter mile and the winery is on your left. They are open Wednesday to Sunday 1 to 5 and the tasting is free. If beer is more to your liking, try the Verde Brewery on Main Street in Camp Verde. They have some wonderful hand crafted beers made right on location. Oh, their burgers are the best.
Rick Sprain is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.