Directions: From Phoenix travel on I-17N for 64 miles. Take exit 287 onto the AZ-260 turning left towards Cottonwood. You'll travel through multiple traffic circles until you reach AZ-89. Turn left onto W Arizona 89A/Main St. Continue straight 0.5 miles turning left onto N10th st. Dead Horse Ranch Rd will be on your left.
Dead Horse Ranch is a State Park and there is a $7.00 entry fee per car. You'll take the first left road as you enter the park. A large parking area is at the end of the road. The trailhead is not easily identified. There is a misleading trail marker before the paved road that will lead you to the cabins. You'll want to ignore this marker and instead follow the paved road towards the creek. The trailhead is to your immediate left.
About the Hike: This is an easy 2.7 mile loop with a minimal elevation of 49-feet. You will starts along the Verde River leading you on a loop around three man-made lagoons.
First, I would recommend something other than doing this hike in the winter. Everything has gone to sleep for the winter, and what remains is dried up and brown. It's more enjoyable in the spring when everything is blooming out and waking up from their wintery slumber
I kept my eyes open, scanning for birds feeding or nesting in the scrubbery as we hiked along the sandy river pathway.
Hiking along, I search for beauty in the most unexpected places. The trees reflecting in the rippling water from the slight breeze gave me an overwhelming feeling of quiet tranquility as we meandered along the river bank.
You'll continue along the river for a quarter mile until you reach a point to continue through the brush for another 1/2 mile to the furthest lagoon. Or you can go up a slight incline to the closest lagoon and continue your hike around the three lagoons. I chose to continue hiking through the brush to the furthest lagoon.
The lagoons were bustling with activity from fisherman, dog walkers, and bird watchers. The trails around the lagoons are hard packed earth making our hike a breeze after those sandy trails.
This guy was getting his fishing line ready. While another man rested on a bench to feed the ducks.
As we hiked the bird watchers stopped to shared secret bird locations allowing me to get snapshots of the different water fowl feeding along the shorelines.
At the third lagoon we spotted the city of Jerome off in the distance standing proud on the distance mountain.
It was a lucky day for this guy, he caught a catfish. I asked him if he planned to keep it. He said "No, I just catch and release." I guess then it was actually a lucky day for the fish.
We wrapped around the third lagoon and headed home again along the Verde river after descending down these steps towards the river trail.
We finished up our hike and headed towards the quaint Old Town shops and restaurants on Cottonwood's main street. I think maybe if I do this hike again, I'll wait for spring!