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Cottonwood’s Dead Horse Ranch State Park the perfect getaway

A cool oasis at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

A cool oasis at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Originally Published: October 20, 2020 10:06 a.m.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Verde River Greenway are an interlocking union of a whole experience of the cottonwood-willow riparian habitat that brings so much life to the Verde Valley.

Located in the heart of lush free-flowing Verde River riparian corridor, the 423-acre state park is an oasis for wildlife. Only minutes from Cottonwood’s busy Old Town, it is a haven for humans to leave behind their hectic world and retreat alone or relax with family and friends.

Get a trail map and hike and weave through the park and along the river. There are 10-miles of well-maintained trails (some form loops) which are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse riders, birders and even dog walkers. Most trails average about two miles in length and vary in difficulty from easy to moderate.

A six-mile reach of the river is known as the Verde River Greenway. Its unique ecosystem is reportedly one of less than 20 Fremont Cottonwood and Gooding Willow riparian galleries in the world.

Life along the river changes with the seasons, giving a glimpse of the numerous species of raptors, neo-tropical migrants, resident songbirds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The population of birds has spawned the Verde Birding and Nature Festival that attracts locals and visitors alike during the peak of migration in late April.

In addition to the river, the State Park includes three lagoons that are well-stocked and popular with fisherman and canoeists alike.

The park hosts 127 RV sites, rental cabins and dozens of camping facilities.

It was a dream of former Gov. Bruce Babbitt and administrators in the State Parks Department to preserve the Cottonwood canopy that followed the Verde River through the Verde Valley.

Babbitt tells of how he frequently walked along the Verde River as a young man and wanted to protect the stretch between the Verde River Bridge and the Tuzigoot Bridge.

In 1986, the Arizona Legislature passed the Verde River Protection Bill seeded with $2 million set aside to protect riparian habitat upstream disturbance created by construction of the Central Arizona Project.

The project has continued to grown by both acquisitions of land and conservation easements. The Greenway now totals 600 acres.

If You Go ...

■ Where: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Road. Turn on N. 10th St. off Main St., Cottonwood.

■ Open: 365 days each year. Hours change seasonally.

■ How Much: Entrance fee $7 per car (1-4 adults); $3 individual or bicycle. Fees for camping, RV hookups and cabins additional. Reservation is highly recommended.

■ Contact: Ranger Station - (928) 634-5283