Kayaking has skyrocketed in popularity on Arizona’s lakes and streams the past couple of years. This is especially true of the lakes near Phoenix, which are often crowded by motorboats, as well.
To escape the hustle, pack your ‘yaks and head to Camp Verde! Camp Verde’s 18-mile section of the Verde River is easily accessible, uncrowded, absolutely beautiful, and most importantly–fun!
A great introduction to kayaking the Verde Valley is the section from White Bridge to Clear Creek Crossing. This beginner-friendly route offers a dreamy joyride with waterfalls, wildlife, and so much more to see.
Here’s a guide to make your next adventure a real one!
Camp Verde is home to several kayak routes; some of which are not ideal for beginner kayakers (especially south of Beasley Flat Rap). However, White bridge to Clear Creek Crossing is perfect for kayakers of all experience levels. This 5.5-mile paddle is both wild and thrilling.
Those without experience navigating rivers will find this section of the Verde River to be a safe choice, requiring minimal gear as well. It’s a pool-and-riffle river-run, peppered with class I and II rapids from start to finish. The flow of the river can be as low as 60 CFS in the low season, and as much as 5000 CFS or more in the high season. The flow is heavily affected by rain, snowmelt, and other factors; so, it’s important to check the conditions before getting in the water.
The route can take anywhere from three to six hours to complete, depending on the flow. It meanders through a dense riparian woodland that boasts a diverse range of plant life. The Middle Verde is lined with both deciduous trees and evergreen trees, and it is considered one of the rarest forest types in North America.
Cottonwoods, Willows, Arizona Sycamores, Walnut trees, Junipers, Maple and Cypress trees are just a few of the types of trees you’ll see along the river. The foliage will even block out the sun in some segments, providing shade and a surreal tree-tunnel to paddle through.
To kayak this route, it’s best to have two vehicles with kayak carrying abilities. Begin by dropping the kayaks off at the White Bridge access point. Then drive 11 minutes to Clear Creek Crossing (AKA Clear Creek Fishing Site) to drop off one of the vehicles. You will then drive the other vehicle back to White Bridge to begin your paddling adventure.
If you have two vehicles, but only one can carry kayaks, this trip can still be pulled off. In this case, when you finish the day at Clear Creek Crossing, you’ll need to beach the kayaks and then drive back to White Bridge to retrieve the second car to pack out the kayaks. It’s best to have someone watch the kayaks while you’re away if possible.
Pro-tip: make sure you secure both sets of keys and bring them with you on your journey.
White Bridge is an easy place to put in. A short walk from the car park will bring you to a wide flat-water section of the river that passes under White Bridge. There is a raging waterfall just upstream from the bridge; so make sure you put in on the downriver side.
After setting out on the Verde, the suspense will build as the river narrows and speeds up. The first small rapid is immediately followed by a winding section that weaves through a thicket of reeds and eventually takes sharp turn to the left. These little rapids are fun and generally safe. Just remember to aim the bow of your kayak straight for the middle of the waves or the fastest channel within the rapid.
As mentioned, these are class I and II rapids, which won’t require a lot of maneuvering or planning. They may be light rapids, but they’ll leave you with an unshakeable smile.
The river carries on making constant changes from deep swimmable sections to fast shallow riffles. Occasionally you will see beautiful farms through clearings in the trees, reminding you of the value and importance of the Verde River.
Eventually, things get a bit wilder. As you paddle further downstream, the route will run closer to the limestone cliffs to the east. The wildlife becomes more abundant, and the trees get taller. You may see a wide variety of wildlife from otters to bald eagles.
Once the current begins meandering back to the west, you’ll encounter a naturally diverted channel of water that breaks off the river to the east and runs downhill back into the main channel. For a bit of added fun, take the opportunity to drag your kayak out of the water and 20 feet over to this narrow chute for a ride down this natural waterslide. You will effortlessly float back into the river. You may find more opportunities for quick fun like this; so keep an eye out along the way.
If you need to take a break at any point, you’ll have plenty of river-side beaches to choose from. A scenic spot is approximately 1.3 miles before the takeout spot at Clear Creek Crossing. It is hard-to-miss thanks to two waterfalls that have formed on the east side of the river.
The first waterfall can be seen from the river, while the second is upstream on higher ground. Below the first waterfall, you will find a cave has formed where the powerful return flow has hollowed out a large rocky section of the riverbank.
Shortly after this point, you will paddle into a tree tunnel. This is a peaceful and serene portion of the route where the tree branches over head reach from one side of the river to the other. The light will become dim, and the water will slow down a bit. Suddenly you may feel like you’re floating away from Camp Verde and into another world. This is where many different types of birds can be seen in the trees and on the water. Coming out of the tree tunnel, the current gets stronger, and the river gets louder. The suspense will build until you reach the last destination of this route: Clear Creek Crossing.
Clear Creek Crossing is an exhilarating place to end your day. There’s a stone weir (low dam) that crosses the river, and the left side of the dam is collapsed. The collapse has formed a three-to-four-foot waterfall that is fast, safe, and an absolute thrill to kayak down.
It may seem intimidating, but it’s worth the ride. Many people, even young kids, float down the short waterfall in innertubes with no issues and loads of stoke. If you don’t have an appetite for this man-made rapid after paddling all day, you can paddle to the right of the dam and pull onto the pebbly beach known as Clear Creek Fishing Site. This is where the journey ends and your car will be waiting for you.
- Please remember to pack out all your trash and belongings to preserve the natural beauty of the Middle Verde River
- It is strongly recommended you clean the hull of your kayaks before putting them in the river to prevent the spread of invasive micro-organisms
- Bring life jackets, plenty of water, snacks, a map, first aid kit, and even a headlamp in case something causes your trip to run longer than expected
- When approaching a rapid that has a sharp turn with low lying tree branches on the outside of the current, paddle to the inside and away from the tree branches. Low lying branches can make for a hectic situation if you float into them on a fast current
- If you fall out of your kayak, don’t panic and don’t fight the current. Float with your boat to a safe area where you can re-group
- This is a “paddle at your own risk” route, so be sure you are aware of your capabilities and taking necessary precautions to ensure your safety
- You can also visit the USGS site, which is very useful for checking the river and current flow data
- There are two great places in Camp Verde to grab coffee before the trip, or relax afterwards:
Wingfield Bread Company and Thanks A Latte Espresso Café
Happy paddling. We’ll see you on the river!