Off-Roading to Wickenburg's Box Canyon

Off-Road Vehicle On Dirt Road Against Blue Sky
••• Getty Images/Stan Strange/EyeEm

Just northwest of Phoenix, Arizona is a desert river that rises from the depths of the desert sand and then disappears again. Thus, it is called "the upside down river." The Hassayampa River originates in the Bradshaw Mountains and flows, mostly underground, through Wickenburg, Arizona. This riparian habitat is a fascinating place to visit.

Know When to Go (and When Not to)

The Hassayampa River, which is interpreted to mean "upside down river," usually has significant dry river bed areas unless there is a rain.

So make sure you avoid driving up the river when it is raining or threatening to rain -- the river can flood quickly. It goes without saying that you should not go driving up the river without a 4x4 vehicle and desert driving skill.

Who Owns the Area?

The Box Canyon area is privately owned. This is not a park and therefore is not patrolled by rangers. Unthinking campers and visitors can leave trash behind, unfortunately. You'll often see cattle or wild animals roaming along the river. It can be a beautiful place to camp, tour or hike.

What You Will See

Allow a couple hours for your trip to the area, for hiking around and exploring and for the trip back. You'll marvel at the beauty of the riverbed, the cacti literally growing on the rocky cliffs, the geology of the area, and the mining history left behind. It's also a fairly cool place to go when it's hot in the Phoenix area with cottonwoods, tamarind, and willows to shade you.

Taking a Jeep Tour

If you've never been to the Box Canyon or have never driven in sandy soil, a jeep tour is the way to go. BC Jeep Tours is a solid choice -- you can find their office as you enter town on the Best Western Hotel property. They have regularly scheduled jeep trips to the area and provide you with a sturdy jeep and informed guide/driver.

Preparing for the Trip

Anytime you travel out in the desert, you'll need water, a brimmed hat, day hiker shoes (that you can get wet), sunscreen and snacks. In the winter, be prepared to layer on your clothing as it can get chilly along the river and, if you take a jeep tour, from the wind chill as you ride along. And don't forget your camera!

Directions to the Box Canyon

From the center of Wickenburg, take 93 (North Tegner) north out of town. Turn right on Rincon road. The road will become dirt and then return to a paved road. You will cross the Hassayampa river bed twice. You'll continue on the road as it becomes a dirt road and pass an abandoned mine. There is an intersection. Rincon Road continues up and to the left but go straight and then to the left to take you on a rough rocky road to the river. This will take you on a rough road that goes right down to the river. Once you get to the river bed, head left and follow the tire tracks. The Box Canyon will eventually be on your left.