I am truly surprised that I have not heard anything about the Hassayampa River Preserve on Hike Arizona yet. Coming from the west side of town, I believe it is the closest perennial water to where I live.
I left my apartment in north Phoenix around 4:20 AM and got out to the rest stop about 5 miles southeast of Wickenburg at 5:20 AM. Although the preserve opens at 7 AM during the summer (8 AM during other seasons) the river is accessible through a quick hop and some well worn footpaths from this rest stop. The sun had just begun to illuminate the monsoon clouds on this 75 degree morning in late July. The previous nights showers left the grass and foliage damp and the colors saturated. The purpose of this trip for me was photography, so I quickly waded through the narrow, gentle river to find a spot in the clear water to set up my tripod before the soft morning light was gone. Fallen logs produce small cascades on the river and make for some nice compositions. A roll of film and hour or two later I realize I did not bring any extra rolls, curse myself, and head off towards the preserve.
At 7:00 am sharp I arrive at the preserve and check in at the visitor center, where the lady working inside is clearly excited to meet somebody as young as myself enthusiastic enough to forego Friday night partying to wake up bright and early to enjoy the wilderness on a Saturday morning. She shares plenty of knowledge and history to me while I become ancy to explore before the clouds clear and the temperature rises. I finally walk out the door and begin my trek. I did most of the trails, although not all of them, but some are just sandy and rather uninteresting. The visitor center offers maps and a trail guide you can carry with you. I started with the river ramble trail, which takes off north from the visitor center. It spends most of it's length along a typically dry (and this trip was no exception) monsoon overflow drainage. It then crosses the river and you have the option of Lykes lookout which is a quarter mile huffer up to a lookout point with benches and a nice view of the river below. Next was the Lions trail which goes east from the visitor center, which crosses the river at a most spectacular spot. It was so beautiful and photogenic here that I was hitting myself for not bringing more film. At this point on the trail it leaves the river so I turned around and connected with the Palm Lake loop. Palm Lake was like nothing else I've ever seen. It was a swamp with spectacular birds everywhere and the constant grunt of bullfrogs. This is definitely the closest natural lake to Phoenix. Very odd though... This would be another good spot for photos. After Palm Lake I was finished, as my sweat was causing flies to be a constant bother. I returned the trail guide to the visitor center (if you borrow one for your hike don't steal it!) and started home for a much needed nap.
There is no off trail hiking allowed in the preserve. The Hassayampa runs underground throughout most of it's hundred mile course, but for a few miles, it's crystal clear waters emerge and then disappear again. The cost to enter he preserve is 5 dollars, but it is well worth it, at least once. There is obviously plenty of water in the creek, but just bring your own. A couple of liters is plenty, considering the length of the trails and minimal elevation gain.
Note: Dogs are not allowed unless they are service dogs.
To hike From Phoenix drive west on Route 60 (Grand ave) for about 45 miles until you see signs for the Hassayampa river preserve, about 3 miles southeast of Wickenburg. If you've reached Wickenburg, you've gone too far. It is easier to spot coming from Wickenburg. The rest stop is about 2 miles south of the preserve.
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