Travel Hooray – Hassayampa River Hike from 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

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.

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

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)


1,970 – 2,039 feet

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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