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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hassayampa River Hike from Kerkes Trailhead

Kerkes Trailhead

The leafy fringes of the Hassayampa River

Hiking on sand has many benefits.  The constant sinking and shifting of the soft, uneven substrate helps build strength in foot, ankle and leg muscles while the extra exertion required to slog through the pace-slowing mineral grains is a calorie-busting bonus.  A sandy place makes for a great post-holiday redemption hike to atone for those extra slices of pie that somehow settle around the waistline.
The Kerkes Trailhead in Wickenburg offers legal access to the river bed

Although land-locked 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 to go. 

Cottonwood trees display golden foliage in late Fall

Washes, 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

Running 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.

Less than 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

On the 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

When 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)

RATING: moderate

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.


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