An Oasis for Wildlife: Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Just a 20-minute drive outside of Sedona (Arizona), in the heart of Cottonwood, is Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a 423-acre outdoor oasis.

This resident Great Blue Heron is one of 200 species of birds that inhabit Dead Horse Ranch State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch is a camping mecca for nature lovers in the heart of Verde Valley. Located at an elevation of 3,300 feet, the park has plenty of outdoor activities and a refreshing river—the Verde—running through it.

More than 200 birds—from predatory falcons and migrating species to the inquisitive cactus wren, the state bird of Arizona—fly through the park each year.

The park features 10 miles of well-maintained trails that are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse and riders, and birders. Most trails average about two miles in length and vary in difficulty from easy to moderate.

Other popular activities include picnicking, canoeing, and fishing. Both the Verde River and a four-acre lagoon are periodically stocked with trout, sunfish, and catfish to the delight of anglers and a resident population of Great Blue Herons.

Campers can use Dead Horse Ranch State Park as their base camp to enjoy the Verde River Greenway, a six-mile stretch of the Verde River that is contiguous with Dead Horse Ranch. A one-and-a-half-mile-long greenway trail follows the meandering river and passes through the Fremont Cottonwood/Goodding Willow Riparian Forest, one of only 20 such stands in the world.

The fishing is good at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also borders the Coconino National Forest, with more hiking trails. Only minutes away is Tuzigoot National Monument, a Sinagua ruin that adjoins the Tavasci Marsh, one of the few fresh-water marshes in Arizona and an important birding area.

How the Park Got its Name
The Irey’s family came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy. As the family searched for a ranch, they found one with a dead horse lying by the road. When the family asked the children which ranch they liked, they replied “the one with the dead horse”—the name stuck.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 100 RV sites, situated along several loops and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the pull-through sites can accommodate large motor homes and truck and fifth-wheel trailer rigs up to 65 feet, and include water and 30/50-amp electric service. All loops include a modern restroom with hot water and showers.

The park features 10 miles of well-maintained trails that are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse and riders, and birders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One loop, the Blackhawk Loop, has 17 non-electric campsites, reserved exclusively for tents. It is adjacent to modern restroom facilities.

Another campground, the Raven Loop, has been designated for group camping. It has 23 sites (for up to 46 camping vehicles), a large ramada, restroom facilities, and a group fire ring.

For those preferring a cabin getaway, there are eight furnished one-room log cabins, set apart from the camping areas. These have beds, lights, and electricity, but no linens or indoor cooking facilities. Each cabin does have a barbecue grill and outdoor picnic table. Family-style showers are a short walk away.

The user-friendly park also has four horse corrals for overnight use with advance reservations, a dump station, and fire rings for campfires.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park hosts two festivals each year.

During the last weekend in September the park welcomes Verde River Days, which promotes preservation and care of the environment. The celebration also includes nature-based exhibits and hands-on activities.

During the last weekend in April, it is home to the Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival (2012 dates are April 26-29). The festival provides expert-guided field trips to birding hot spots and instruction on topics relating to birding, archeology, geology, and photography.


Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Elevation: 3,300 feet

Admission: $7.00/vehicle

Camping Fees: $25 per night for electric sites (Quail Loop sites: $30 (starting July 1); 15 per night for non-electric sites

Dump Station: Available with no extra fee to registered campers

Address: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Road, Cottonwood, AZ 86326

Contact: (928) 634-5283


Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival


Worth Pondering…
We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
—Wallace Stegner

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