West Clear Creek Backpacking

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About

Summary

West Clear Creek Trail is a summer retreat with hiking for all abilities, with day trip or overnight options

Written by

Jesse Weber

Distance

7.5 miles

15 miles round trip if doing the out and back

Destination Distance From Downtown

7.2 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

One part of the trail is very strenuous, but this is optional if hiking only the lower stretch as an out and back

Time To Complete

7 hours

Expect to take all day if doing the 7.5 mile trail as an out and back, or camp to make it a two-day

Seasonality

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Typically open all year, but winter is too cold to enjoy the river. Roads may be closed in wet weather.

Dog Friendly

Yes

Small dogs may have trouble

Fees Permits

No

None for hiking and backpacking, but the developed campground has a fee

Review

Intro

West Clear Creek is a gorgeous walled-in stream within Verde Valley, some distance south of Flagstaff. Cool water and green trees fill this this shady oasis in an otherwise rugged desert. There are a few trails in the canyon, but the one bearing the name West Clear Creek Trail is the most popular and most accessible. It is a good day hike distance, but can also be done as an overnighter with backcountry camping. Both ends of the trail are reachable by car, but it passes through the roadless West Clear Creek Wilderness Area.

What Makes It Great

West Clear Creek is a refreshing retreat when summer temperatures soar in Arizona. At a reasonable driving distance from both Flagstaff and Phoenix, it tends to draw crowds. The traffic is understandable, however, because this place is so tantalizing. Beneath a craggy rim of desert juniper and cacti, West Clear Creek has carved into prehistoric sand dunes, and volcanic eruptions have since strewn the hillsides with rocky debris. The result is a prismatic contrast of green trees, red cliffs, and black boulders framed between emerald water and bright blue sky.

West Clear Creek Trail is most commonly done as an out and back that takes all day, at about 7.5 miles each way. The hike requires crossing the creek four times in ankle to knee-deep water. The first 5 or so miles are easy as the trail meanders along the riverbanks, but the final portion departs from the creek and climbs a volcanic talus slope to the top of Bald Hill. the hiking is strenuous, but rewards with sweeping views of the canyon below and desert around.

Setting car shuttle is possible if you wish to do the hike only one way. Another option is to camp overnight in the canyon. There are several undeveloped backcountry spots along the creek. There is also a developed Forest Service campground further downstream and down the road, near Highway 260.

Who is Going to Love It

West Clear Creek is popular for people of all ages and abilities. Families with kids as well as hardcore backpackers come to enjoy this wilderness. Casual day trippers can wander just a mile or two along the trail, while the more intrepid can venture deep into the canyon. It is possible to hike beyond the trail’s terminus, trekking further up the creek to spend multiple days. This is a regional destination that draws locals and tourists alike, so you are likely to meet a variety of people from all around.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Take exit 298 from I-17. Instead of getting on Highway 179, turn the opposite way onto FR 618, doubling back under the freeway. Follow this for approximately 9 miles then turn left on FR 215. In 3 more miles you will reach Bull Pen Ranch, which is the starting point of West Clear Creek Trail.

Parking at the trail’s opposite end is useful for setting car shuttle or enjoying the overlook without the leg work. To get here, follow the same directions but go only 8 miles on FR 618 and turn left on FR 214. Take this about 6 miles to Bald Hill and a signed trailhead. The last mile is rather rough.

To get to the developed campground, continue south on FR 618 toward AZ-260. You can also get to this end of the road by taking Exit 287 then taking AZ-260 E for 8 miles and turning onto FR 618 at a sign for West Clear Creek.

Dogs are allowed within the wilderness area. Dispersed camping is allowed in the river corridor, but not within one mile of Bull Pen Ranch. This is to reduce impact on vegetation restoration in the area.

Location

Lava Tubes

AZ,
35.293441, -111.70343

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