Skip the Verde Crossing
As the Verde River Trail heads north it crosses the river twice, once at Red Creek Rapids and then again near Pete's Cabin Mesa. These crossings are difficult during any time of the year and may become threatening during high water events - so, this trail, combined with a section of Wet Bottom, can be used to avoid the crossings. Highwater Trail can also be combined with other trails to create enjoyable loops in the Mazatzal lowlands.
Reaching the trailhead is a small adventure in itself. The most direct method would be to take FR18 down to Red Creek, follow Red Creek to the Verde River, cross it, and then hike up to the start. Otherwise, starting from Sheep Bridge, it is an eight mile walk along the Verde River and a few miles up Wet Bottom Trail. Either way, the trailhead is located in a shallow depression on top of the Wet Bottom Mesa and is marked by a weathered sign.
Highwater Trail immediately heads north with large cairns to mark a route towards a drainage. As it drops off the mesa the tread suddenly steepens and may have loose rocks, depending on how much recent erosion has taken place. Some scenic white bluffs show up in the distance, the route will swing right next to them in a few miles. At 0.6 miles the trail hits a small saddle and offers a good view west towards Table Mountain, and then continues to drop more gradually until it passes through a sandy drainage and a more pronounced Canyon Creek at 1.5 miles. The drop into the creek has a well-formed switchback and water may be found a short distance up from the trail crossing.
Once past the creek the tread may be difficult to pick up, as the route sticks to the sandy flats next to the Verde and has no cairns to guide a way forward. This section only lasts a few hundred yards and, at the next drainage, a path leads away from the sandy flats and onto the rocky land above. At 2 miles there are another few washes to pass under those white bluffs that were visible earlier and a slight climb around the back of them. Once on the back of those bluffs feel free to look back south and try to pick out where on Wet Bottom Mesa this trail dropped down, it's a good vantage.
The rest of the route is fairly nondescript. There are a few easy wash crossings, and Squaw Butte becomes more prominent to the north, and the tread is easy to follow along the relatively flat ground. Around the 3 mile mark Pete's Cabin Mesa begins and the vegetation becomes lush and verdant, though the trail remains well-defined throughout. On old topo maps the junction with Verde River Trail forms a small triangle - however, the bottom leg of this triangle is incredibly overgrown and not worth attempting. Stick to the cairns and stay on the top of the triangle to reach the proper end of Highwater. From here one can either head south towards Red Creek or continue north to Twin Buttes.
Canyon Creek may have water a short distance up the creek from the trail crossing. Otherwise there is always the Verde, which is easily accessed a few times along the route, though the taste may be off-putting.
There are no defined campsites along the route. There are several flat pads that could work, especially along the Verde River near Canyon Creek and the white bluffs.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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