Dead Horse Ranch State Park: The Complete Guide

Abandoned wood cabin in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona
Natalie Ruffing / Getty Images
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Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Address
675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd, Cottonwood, AZ 86326, USA
Phone +1 928-634-5283

Named for the dead horse lying in a field when the previous owners purchased it in 1950, Dead Horse Ranch State Park sits along the Verde River, a short drive from Old Town Cottonwood. Although it only covers 423 acres, it offers more recreational opportunities than most of Arizona's state parks. Dead Horse Ranch also makes an incredible base to explore nearby state and national parks as well as Sedona and local wineries.

Things to Do

Dead Horse Ranch has something for just about anyone. Hikers have their choice of nearly 20 trails within the park. Several of these are shorter than a mile, making them ideal for families with young children. Since most of the trails are shared use, you can also mountain bike on them or take a guided horseback ride. Watch for wildlife like white-tailed deer, river otters, and water fowl on the trails and in the lagoons.

Fishing enthusiasts can cast a line in the three lagoons while kayakers paddle the Verde Valley River. Because of the park’s proximity to Sedona, Arizona wine country, and other local attractions, Dead Horse Ranch is a popular camping destination with a playground and zipline for kids.

Wild Yellow Sunflowers in a Desert Field Outside of Dead Horse Point State Park
Aaron Hawkins / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

The trails that weave through Dead Horse Ranch range from a quarter-mile to 2 miles (one way) with the exception of the Raptor Hill and Lime Kiln trails, which continue into the adjacent Coconino National Forest. Most of the trails are shared use, allowing for mountain bikes and horses as well as hikers.

  • Mesa: This 1-mile interpretative trail circles the hilltop west of Red-Tail Hawk Campground. Offshoots continue south, parallel to Roadrunner Road, all the way to Dead Horse Ranch Road.
  • Canopy: Located south of the ranger station, near the River Day Use Area, this quarter-mile, ADA-accessible loop takes its name from the Fremont tree canopy overhead. Keep an eye out for birds and other wildlife.
  • Lagoon trails: An accessible loop circles each of the park’s three lagoons. Expect to walk approximately 0.4 miles each around West and Middle lagoons and 0.72 miles around East Lagoon. Bicycles are permitted, but horses are discouraged.
  • Verde River Greenway: This 2-mile trail follows the Verde River, passing through some of the best areas in the park for bird watching. Pick up the trail in the River Day Use Area or near one of the lagoon trails.
  • Lime Kiln: Completed in 2006, this 15-mile, shared-use trail follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon Road and connects Dead Horse Ranch to Red Rock State Park.

Fishing

Anglers can fish in the park’s lagoons or in the Verde River. Both locations contain bass, bluegills, channel catfish, and rainbow trout; however, the Arizona Game and Fish Department replenishes them with rainbow trout in the winter and channel catfish in the summer. To hook a largemouth bass, come in the spring when they head to shallow waters to breed.

You’ll need a license to fish in the park. A general fishing license is $37 for residents and $55 for non-residents. Children under the age of 10 can fish for free. You can purchase a license online. Keep your license on you at all times when fishing.

Paddling

The Verde River is one of the best rivers for paddle sports, including kayaking, in the state. You can get in the water at the River Day Use Area and skirt the edge of Cottonwood to the Highway 89A Bridgeport Bridge. From there, the Verde River Paddle Trail runs 31 miles to Beasley Flat.

Since much of the river is located on private property, there are few opportunities to get out along the way. Instead, you could paddle the roughly 8 miles to Alcantara Vineyard, pull out, and enjoy a glass of wine. Of course, you’ll want to have a vehicle parked there to drive back to Dead Horse Ranch. 

Verde River
 skibreck / Getty Images

Things to Do Nearby

Because of its central location, many visitors use Dead Horse Ranch as a base for exploring the area. These are just a few attractions and destinations nearby:

  • Old Town Cottonwood: Minutes from the park, Cottonwood’s downtown features boutique shops, art galleries, and seven tasting rooms, including Pillsbury Wine Co. and Merkin Vineyards Osteria.
  • Tuzigoot National Monument: Take a self-guided tour of a 110-room pueblo at this national monument just minutes from Dead Horse Ranch.
  • Verde Canyon Railroad: This historic train with several open-air viewing cars takes passengers on a four-hour, 20-mile scenic ride through Verde Canyon. Board the train in Clarkdale, less than 3 miles from Cottonwood. 
  • Sedona: A half-hour from the park, this town is known for its red rocks, incredible hiking and mountain biking trails, art galleries, and fine dining.
  • Jerome: In addition to art galleries and wine tasting rooms, this nearby mining town has a state park of its own with mining equipment and artifacts.
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument: Built into a sheer limestone cliff, these ruins are neither a castle nor were they built by Montezuma. In truth, the pre-Columbian Sinagua people constructed the five-story main structure containing 20 rooms.

Where to Camp

Dead Horse Ranch has five campground loops. The Upper Campgrounds (Red-Tail Hawk Loop, Cooper’s Hawk Loop, and Blackhawk Loop) have a combined 127 campsites while the Lower Campgrounds (Quail Loop and Raven Loop) have a combined 68 campsites. Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups, and many of the pull-through sites can accommodate trailers up to 65 feet long.

While the campgrounds are all just a few minutes from the lagoons and the Verde River, none of the campsites are on the water. Quail Loop is the closest campground to the lagoons and river.

Reservations are encouraged since campsites fill up, especially on weekends. There are higher fees to reserve a site with electricity and there is an additional nightly fee for second vehicles.

Tuzioot National Monument
 Sumiko Scott / Getty Images

State Park Cabins

Dead Horse Ranch has cabins equipped with electricity, lights, heating, and air-conditioning available for rent. While they come with a full-size bed, a bunk bed, table and chairs, dresser, and ceiling fan you’ll have to bring your own linens, including pillows and bedsheets. They also don’t have water or bathrooms. Instead, cabin dwellers share a restroom facility with showers.

While clean and well-kept, the cabins are a step above tent and trailer camping. Advance reservations are required.

Where to Stay

If you would rather stay in a hotel or resort than the park’s campground and cabins, there are several options in Cottonwood, Sedona, and Camp Verde. For a room minutes from the park’s entrance, book a hotel in Cottonwood. Otherwise, you could splurge on luxury accommodations in Sedona, just a half-hour away.

  • The Tavern Hotel: Originally built in 1925, this Old Town Cottonwood hotel has 41 rooms and two penthouses. Guests receive a complimentary cocktail at The Tavern Grille next door when they check in. The hotel also offers breakfast coupons for local restaurants.
  • Best Western Cottonwood Inn: This budget option has an on-site pool and restaurant and is pet-friendly. It is located just off State Route 260.
  • Enchantment Resort: One of the premier resorts in Sedona, Enchantment features luxury rooms with views of Boynton Canyon, a world-renowned spa, and an outdoor adventure retail store.

How to Get There

From Phoenix, take I-17 north approximately 90 miles to SR 260, and turn left toward Cottonwood. Continue nearly 15 miles (SR 260 will become Main Street as you enter Cottonwood) to North 10th Street. Turn right on North 10th Street. Drive almost a mile to Dead Horse Ranch Road, and turn right into the park.

Accessibility

Most facilities at Dead Horse Ranch, including the gift shop, restrooms, and all but two of the cabins, are ADA-accessible. The Canopy Trail and all three lagoon trails are accessible as well.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Admission is $7 per vehicle for up to four adults. The walk-in/bike-in rate is $3 per person. Day use hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
  • Dead Horse Ranch is one of the most popular campgrounds in the area. Reserve early to ensure a campsite.
  • The park lies within the Tavasci Marsh Important Birding Area. As you navigate the trails, watch for some of the up to 240 species recorded by the Northern Arizona Audubon Society in the area.
  • Pets are welcome in the park but must be kept on a leash at all times. They are also not permitted in any park buildings.
  • The park prohibits swimming and motorized boats in the lagoons.
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Dead Horse Ranch State Park: The Complete Guide