Agua Fria National Monument / Tonto National Forest
Cave Creek District
Arizona has its share of historical monuments, but few have such a checkered past as the Aqua Fria National Monument. Bloody Basin Road offers visitors a chance to access this very unique region where Native American ruins are found right next to old stone cabins of the early settlers. With a name like Bloody Basin, you would expect it to have a conflict-filled past. One of the most familiar conflicts occurred in 1873 when a group of Apaches was suspected of killing three men. Army Captain George Randall tracked them to Turret Peak, where the army stormed the camp at night. In the panic, some Indians jumped from the cliffs to their deaths. When the battle was over, 26 Apaches were dead.
Bloody Basin is also home to the Horseshoe Ranch, founded in 1882 by William Mitchell. It would eventually become one of the largest cattle ranches in Arizona. At one time, the ranch’s cattle ranged over 30 square miles. Cattle grazing still takes place in the area, but most of the original property is now part of Aqua Fria National Monument. The area is large. Give yourself the entire day to explore this unique part of the southwest. The numerous side trails offer countless points to walk among the ruins and search the nearby rocks for petroglyphs. There are hundreds of examples of this ancient artwork littering the monument region. Look along cliffs or even on stray rocks in the meadows. Please do not disturb or alter these precious artifacts to ensure they remain for future generations.
Sheep Bridge at the end of Bloody Basin Road, built in 1944 from surplus mine material, allowed local sheep herders to move their flocks safely across the Verde River. The Forest Service demolished the original bridge in 1987 and replaced it with a replica to provide access to the Mazatzal Wilderness. The bridge supports foot traffic only.
Trail Difficulty and Assessment
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
The trail becomes fairly rough after Waypoint 22. Prior to Waypoint 22, the trail rates a 1.
(Last reset on 08/28/2022)
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The hardest part of the trail that you
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Typically, more rock or undulated road surface. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 12" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 12" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 24" inches. Tire placement becomes more difficult. Can be steep.Read More about our Rating System
Bloody Basin Road is accessible by all high clearance vehicles, including most two-wheel drive trucks. You will even see cars on the early sections of the route. The early sections before FR24, Waypoint 25, are primarily well-groomed dirt roads. However, once past FR24, the road becomes much rougher, requiring a high clearance vehicle. The difficulty of the entire route increases dramatically in rainy weather. You cross numerous washes over the very long route, and all can be dangerous when flooded. The trail is long and remote but pretty popular on most weekends, so be cautious of traffic on blind corners.
Please do not travel this route in wet weather. It ruts the trails, causing long-lasting damage.
1. Trailhead 9269 (0
The trail begins at the Aqua Fria National Monument sign. There is an information board, and on most days you'll find very informative free maps of the monument region. There is a small camping and staging area with room for 4-5 trailers.
At the top of the hill is a small staging area with room for 4-5 trailers. Trail 9005 also begins here. It travels south through a difficult rocky wash to Badger Springs. High Clearance and 4x4 is required to reach Badger Springs.
5. Trail 9269A and Camping - Continue Straight (1.3
Trail 9269 travels north connecting with Trail 9009 and others.
6. Trail 9021 Cattle Tank - Continue Straight (2.8
Trail 9021 travels south past a cattle tank to a dead end with ruins and petroglyphs. Most of the sites are not well marked. Many sites require you to seek out the large rock piles.
7. Trail 9018 - Continue Straight (3.6
Trail 9018 travels north connecting with trail 9009 and others.
The large Horseshoe Ranch borders the east side of the road. At the second gate in the distance, trail 9017 travels north past the ranch.
9. Restrooms / Hiking Trail Parking (6.4
When you're approaching the large tree lined wash, there is a pull off to the north for hikers parking. Around the corner you will find the only restroom in the region. This is a popular parking point for hikers and people shuttling to campsites.
10. Trail 9269B - Continue Straight (7.7
Trail 9269B travels west for a very short distance, ending at a cattle pond.
11. Trail 9022 - Continue Straight (8.5
Trail 9022 travels northwest to a wide open camping area. See the 9022 trail write-up for more details.
12. Trail 9269C - Continue Straight (8.7
Trail 9269C travels south for a short distance before ending at a turn around above Hackberry Wash.
13. Trail 9023 - Continue Straight (8.8
Trail 9023 travels north to the main Native American ruin site in the region, Pueblo la Plata. Stay on 9023 until the parking area at the end. It's a short walk but worth it. See the write-up for 9023 Pueblo la Plata for details on this trail.
14. Trail 9269D - Continue Straight (10.2
Just after crossing the wash, trail 9269D travels north for a very short distance, leading to camping and parking for hikers.
Trail 9014 travels south. On the corner you will find information boards just like at the trailhead. 9014 offers some of the best ruins and petroglyphs in the entire region. See the write-up of 9014 Aqua Fria Ruins for complete details. Please be respectful and obey the law by not disturbing or removing any artifacts.
16. End 9269 / Start FR269 Tonto Forest (11.6
You leave Aqua Fria National Monument and enter Tonto National Forest land. The trail turns from 9269 to FR269.
17. FR677 - Continue Straight (11.9
FR677 travels north connecting with more trails and is considered part of the Great Western Trail.
18. FR36 - Continue Straight (12.7
FR36 travels to the south through a large steel gate. There is an empty info board sign as well. This trail leads you to the old stone cabin at the Copper Creek Admin. site. Find all the details at the FR36 Copper Creek Cabin write-up.
19. FR44 - Continue Straight (13.9
The first entrance to FR44 travels north in the sandy wash.
20. FR391 / Camping - Continue Straight (15
FR391 travels to the north to a couple campsites before ending at a narrow turn around.
21. FR44 - Continue Straight (17.6
The second entrance to FR44 travels north circling back to Waypoint 19.
22. FR58 - Continue Straight (17.6
FR58 travels south for quite a long ways before ending at an old cabin.
23. FR399 - Continue Straight (19.3
FR399 travels north for a very short distance before ending a turn around at cattle tanks. No camping.
24. FR578 Stone Cabin - Continue Straight (21.9
FR578 travels south downhill for a short distance, leading to an old stone cabin that is still in use. One half of the cabin was locked. The trail can be rough and requires high clearance.
25. FR24 Cave Creek Road - Continue Straight (26.1
The other main route into the region is FR24, Cave Creek Road leads you south to Carefree and the Phoenix Valley. This route requires high clearance in some sections. There is staging and signage here. The trail becomes rougher after this point, high clearance is highly recommended.
26. FR16 - Continue Straight (27
FR16 travels north, connecting to other trails and eventually ending at the Verde River 28 miles away.
27. FR18 - Continue Straight (29
FR18 travels north before ending at camping near a seasonal creek.
28. Trail End Sheep's Bridge (38
The end of the trail is when you reach the bottom of the hill at Sheep's Bridge and the Verde River. This is a popular destination for camping and swimming during the summer. There is an informative placard on the original bridge foundation that explains how the bridge came to be. Down along the river is camping and be sure to look for petroglyphs hidden in the rocks above the river.
Campsites are scattered along the entirety of Bloody Basin Road. The best camping is found later along the route where there are shade trees. At the end, near the Verde River and Sheep's Bridge are the best camping spots, but they are very remote. The camping throughout the entire region is primitive, and there are no services. There are very few trees in the area. Bring firewood to help preserve what little tree coverage there is.
Phoenix, AZ Hwy 17 & 101
Travel north on Interstate 17 for 44 miles and exit onto Bloody Basin Road at mile marker 259. Travel east on the paved road that soon turns to dirt at the Aqua Fria National Monument sign.
Ran this from 17 down to the river with a stop at the ruins. Last 11 miles to the Sheeps Bridge are pretty rough and slow going. Only came across two other people the entire way and there wasn’t anyone at the bridge itself. Definitely recommend going on a weekday. River water level was high and flowing at a quick pace.
We ran Sheep's bridge today. We were a group of 10. This trail has become a party spot with music blaring the last few times I've been there. The UTVs were everywhere, one even parked on the entrance to the bridge. They were particularly problematic on the road when passing. My advice is just be careful. Anyways, the trail took 8+ hours. Road was good, rough in spots. We took a stock 4 door Sahara with us and he did just fine.
This was a beautiful trail. We came in from the cave creek trail and headed west to the 17. We made it perfectly fine in a stock GX470. The last 5 miles were pretty bland closer to the 17 but I loved this trail.
I did the trail from cave creek and I don’t know if the rain jacked up this trail or what but it’s definitely harder than a 1 rating right now. Beautiful views and awesome bridge. Make sure you head out early. This is a slow trail towards the end.
I also ran this trail on 8/13/22, and from waypoint 25 through 28, the trail is MUCH harder than the current rating. It ran harder than Cave Creek (rated 2 which I felt was accurate). It ran more like a 3. Since the current rating is a 1 (fair rating through waypoint 25) I think “management” should consider updating it. I was ok in my rig; others might try it with a much lesser capable vehicle and get in trouble.
Edit: forgot my stars rating and want to tip my hat to those that updated the difficulty rating.
We hit the trail in search of the Sheep's Bridge. We had a small group and moved pretty quickly but it was still a very long day on the trail. The area is also extremely busy with other OHV users. Overall, the trail was great. The bridge has apparently become a big party spot but there wasn't a whole lot of garbage which was refreshing.
After last Wednesday's snow, we postponed our trip here from Friday to Monday. Trail was open and very dry and dusty. Although this trail is correctly rated a "1" and "Easy", it's no picnic. The last 11 miles are extremely rocky, with 4-6" rocks everywhere, which means it's bumpy and slow going. The trip to Sheep Bridge took us a good three hours one-way and that was with minimal stops. There is no way a passenger car should attempt this road. The annoying thing about this road is the number of bottles and cans discarded along this beautiful landscape. It's hard to understand how people can be so thoughtless, inconsiderate and disrespectful.
Sheep Bridge was scenic and picturesque. The weather was a perfect 81 degrees at the bridge. We also visited the hot springs, which are down a short trail to the left of the bridge.
Finally, there were a few stream crossings. Nothing deep, just enough water to capture a few good photos.
Due to extremely high fire danger, exceptional drought conditions, resource availability, and increased fire activity, the Department of Forestry and Fire Management and the Arizona State Land Department will implement closures to State Trust Land throughout Arizona. These closures are also in conjunction with our USFS partners.
As of 8am on June 25, 2021, closures will be implemented on state-owned and managed lands in all 15 counties. All state-owned and managed lands are closed to entry for recreational purposes, including hunting, camping, and off-road vehicle use. Target shooting and fireworks are prohibited year-round.
AZ State Land Closures Notice
The Backbone Fire has closed the area. Extreme fire restrictions are in effect. Coconino National Forest is closed and it's expected Tonto NF will close soon. To help fire crews, please avoid the area. Backbone Fire Inciweb
The Verde River Sheep Bridge
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love chasing archaeology in the surrounding areas. That would include ghost towns, mining towns, indigenous peoples ruins, rock art and much more.
Yesterday while exploring we found a very cool hot springs resort way out in the middle of the desert. Upon returning, We did some Google searches and found the nightly rate at that spa was $2000 per couple per night. That’s a little too steep for a spring fed mineral bath.
So the next best thing, go find our own natural Hot Springs. After a little research we decided we were going to head up the mountain to find the natural hot spring in the area of the sheep’s bridge.
Because we had a definite destination we traveled right on by the many indigenous peoples ruins in the area. Can I say, the area in and around Agua Fria national Monument is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to go four wheeling.
The road was in good condition but extremely rocky, which made for a very slow commute. It was about a 38 mile dirt road that took us just under three hours. But it was so worth it. What a cool place to see and with amazing history.
Verde River Sheep Bridge is a historic suspension bridge spanning the Verde River about 30 miles north of Carefree, Arizona. It is found at the end of the 36 mile long Bloody Basin Road from I-17 or about 30 miles north of Carefree.
The area surrounding the Verde River, which includes much of Bloody Basin, is lush and was a favorable location for grazing animals. In 1926, under permit from the U.S. Forest Service, sheep herders began using the area as they moved sheep between winter grazing areas in the south and summer grazing areas in the north. There was a problem however. The Verde River was a formidable obstacle and while swimming sheep across the river, it was not uncommon to lose a few sheep at each crossing.
An early solution to this problem was a pontoon bridge built at Red Creek, about 6 miles north of the current Sheep Bridge. A suspension bridge was later built and used for about 3 years at Tangle Creek. This worked, but the bridge would have to be disassembled and reassembled each time a herder wanted to cross since flash flooding could sweep the bridge away. A more permanent solution was needed
The Flagstaff Sheep Company, which owned around 11,000 head of sheep, decided to construct a permanent bridge over the Verde at the current site. A road to the site was built in 1943 and construction began immediately. Because construction took place during WWII, supplies were limited and the bridge was largely built out of surplus materials from the area. The cables on the bridge were brought from old mine tramways at the Bluebell and Golden Turkey Mine to the west. The bridge was completed in 1944 for a cost of $7,277.
The supports were originally built out of wood and later reinforced with concrete.Sheep Bridge was used by sheep herders until 1978. The bridge sat for 10 years and was weakened from years of use followed by years of flooding. In 1988, the old bridge was disassembled and the current bridge was built by the Forest Service in 1989.
Portions of the old bridge remain today on the west banks of the Verde.
The bridge today is primarily used by curious travelers and those hiking into the Mazatzal Wilderness to the east. Combined with other historical stops in the area, it makes for an interesting day of exploring. The walkway spans over 400’ across the Verde River which flows year ‘round. Exploring each bank you can find large anchor points where the steel cables are sturdily affixed to the rock. Numerous foundations (including a hot spring) can be found on the west banks of the Verde and mark the former homestead of sheep herders when the bridge was in use. Enjoy exploring the area and the opportunity to look back into a unique part of Arizona’s ranching.
We always LOVE this trail. Not especially for the 4-wheeling but for the exploration of history in the area.
This trail leads to amazing location. The Perry Mesa is home to over 400 archeological sites.
This is a great trail. Having family in town I was looking for something close to explore. Very scenic for the sparse desert area it’s in. Was closed where it meets the Tonto National Forest due to fire danger. Great “tame” road to soak up the views of the rolling hills and grasslands.
This was a very fun and relatively easy trail, mostly dirt roads with a few shallow water crossings. Be advised if you are going all the way to Sheeps Bridge the last 10 miles are extremely bumpy. After you pass FR24/Cave Creek Rd. it begins to slow down, Its nothing too difficult just really slow. We ended up loosing a sway bar bolt on the way out and had to use some cattle fence wire to hold it in place and get us home. Apparently its a common Subaru issue with that particular bolt, so dont let that scare you away from this trail.
All in all it was a fun trail and I have recommended it to multiple friends. It was warm and busy on the day we went. The warm weather would normally not be an issue because when you get to the bridge you can cool off in the Verde River, however this was a busy Saturday and very few spots around the shore line were available. We also did not make it to the hot springs due to the crowds and it already being 110 degrees outside.
This was a good fun trail, and I will definitely do it again in the future.
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
1.5" ADF Lift
235/75R15 Toyo AT2
Very simple but very fun trail! I went in spring and there were very few obstacles. The several water crossings were not deep in the least (but still fun). The views are beautiful, and the destination makes it all worth it. The river underneath the sheep bridge is wonderful. We spent a few hours on the rope swing and then camped under the stars. I would definitely recommend this trail even to seasoned off roaders because of the scenery. You can always check out my instagram (@tvincent92) for my pictures or to ask me trail questions!
Had a lot of fun, this one really takes you out in the middle of nowhere. There are some really pretty petroglyphs right after the sheep's bridge, they have been vandalized but are still visable. thre is a little cove turn off with some rocks on the left side and you will see them one rock has a big stray painted V on it. The route was beautiful there was a rare super bloom before the bridge with thousands of flowers. The Bloody Basin part was well maintained some rough patches and some slick areas becareful taking some of the mountain turns.
Managed to catch it on a snow day. Amazing trip! Beautiful views, especially the high point when heading east. The stretch between Seven Springs Rd and the Sheep Bridge is pretty rough, so you won't want to tackle that in a car, but much of the rest of the road is usually in pretty good shape and doesn't really require 4x4 if the weather is nice.
I have done this trail at least a dozen times. Very easy trail; saw 2wd passenger cars make it to the bridge several times but they had some minor damage. The last 10 miles are bumpy and should be taken slow. It takes about 4 hours one way.
There is a natural hot spring below the bridge. I'd say the water is about 80 degrees.
One of my favorite places to camp is under the bridge area along the Verde. If it's too hot, go in the rvier. A little cool, jump in the hot spring.
It tends to get a little crowded on weekends during the fall & spring. Watch out for rattle snakes.
We actually used bloody basin to get out to the I17 after visiting the sheep's bridge from cave creek. I was surprised to see so little trash on the trail. This is definitely an area to come back and visit again, so much to see if you know where to look. Great scenery and smooth road.
I drove on Bloody Basin back in June. Conditions remain the same. Good. A 2 wheel drive vehicle can drive this. Even an car with enough patience. This road is a gateway to other trails but also joins the road down to Carefree which is also passenger vehicle friendly.
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Mapping Crew - Arizona
While living in the Midwest, I developed a passion for searching out new trails and hidden spots. That passion continues to this day in the beautiful southwestern United States. My wife and I are full-time RVers who travel from region to region, exploring every nook and cranny we can find. While we're getting to know the locals, we gain insight into these areas then pass on that knowledge to our subscribers. We truly enjoy traversing long, beautiful back-country routes with epic campsites, but we equally enjoy pushing the limits on challenging rock crawling trails. Our rig was built to do everything, and that's what we hope to share with our subscribers.
Please visit our website https://www.xploremor.net to follow us and for opportunities to join us on our adventures. You can also view our vast video library on YouTube. Xploremor YouTube
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