|The Kerkes Trailhead in Wickenburg offers legal access to the river bed|
Arizona is located many miles from the nearest ocean, it’s still possible to get all the benefits of sand hiking without the long drives; if you know where
Cottonwood trees display golden foliage in late Fall
desert sand dunes, drifts of weathered sandstone and dry riverbeds serve just
as well as any coastline. A good place
to gain your inland sea legs is the Hassayampa River.
Domestic cattle roam the area near Downtown Wickenburg
for 100 miles between the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott and the Gila River
south of Phoenix the Hassayampa River flows mostly underground. Except after
storms, the wide, sandy corridor is dry and stable enough to stroll, ride or drive. The new Kerkes trailhead in Wickenburg, which
opened in December 2019, provides legal access to the Hassayampa River bed for
hikers, equestrians and off-highway vehicle use. The roomy trailhead sits above the river
corridor where a dirt road cuts through tangled mesquite thickets to land
recreationists at a signed gateway. From this point, just follow the riverbed
in either direction. In late fall and
early winter, head south (go right from the trailhead sign) to augment the good
work out, with a spectacular “desert Autumn” foliage display. The pseudo-beach
environ swaps ocean waves for miles of fine-textured sand, course gravel and water-transported
debris. Along the waterway margins, cottonwoods and willows that tower above
mesquite forests and random saguaros display brilliant yellow foliage.
Seep willows grow in the sandy river bed
While reminiscent of an oceanside, the river retains a distinctly Old West flavor.
Flood debris left behind from when the river flows after storms.
a mile from Downtown Wickenburg, domestic cattle often wander into the riverbed
as do javelina, rabbits, coyote and deer.
Thick mesquite forest at the Kerkes trailhead The sandy river bed makes for a good workout
west side of the river, the rumble and whistles of passing trains add a rural soundtrack
to the hike. The southbound trip ends at
the 1.34-mile point where the water course enters the Hassayampa River Preserve,
one of the few places where the river flows above ground.
The Kerkes trailhead was completed in December 2019. Cottonwoods & willows line the course of the Hassayampa River
hiking here, wear sturdy footwear with good ankle support. A hiking pole comes
in handy for keeping your balance. Whether
hiked as this short 2.68-mile out-and-back option or as a longer trek heading
north, you’ll feel the burn.
A festive Wickenburg welcome.
LENGTH: Southbound: 1.34 miles to the Hassayampa River Preserve boundary (fee area)
ELEVATION: 1,970 – 2,039 feet
GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on Interstate 17 to State Route 74 (Carefree Highway). Follow SR 74 west (toward Wickenburg) for 30 miles to U.S. 60. Turn right and continue to the U.S. 60/93 traffic circle in Wickenburg. Veer left through the circle, merge onto S. Kerkes Street and continue 0.2-mile to the trailhead on the left.