Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a beautiful park that offers camping, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The developed portion of Dead Horse Ranch State Park covers 423 acres. The 3,300 foot elevation accounts for the mild temperatures ideal for mountain biking in the Coconino National Forest, canoeing, picnicking, fishing, or wading in the cool water.

dead horse ranch state park
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is very much alive, despite its foreboding name. More than 300 birds fly through the park each year—from predatory falcons and migrating species to the inquisitive cactus wren, the state bird of Arizona. On a bench in a clearing, shaded by cottonwoods and studded with bird feeders, it is easy to spot at least 15 different types of birds in less than two hours. On the trails birders regularly identify dozens of species on any given day.

The 423-­acre park is an oasis for wildlife because it is located in the heart of Verde River’s lush riparian corridor, along the banks of the free­-flowing Verde River. Only a few minutes from Cottonwood’s busy Main Street, it is also a haven for humans who can leave the hectic world behind and retreat alone or relax with family and friends.

The park has 10 miles of well­-maintained trails (some connect to form loops) which are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse and riders, birders and even dog walkers. Most trails average around 2 miles in length and vary in difficulty from easy to moderate.

The Verde River Greenway, which has some of the best nesting habitats in the area, is contiguous with Dead Horse Ranch. A 1 1/2­ mile­ long greenway trail follows the meandering river and passes through the Fremont Cottonwood/Goodding Willow Riparian Forest, one of only 20 stands in the world. The park also borders the Coconino National Forest, where more trails offer recreational opportunities. It is minutes away from Tuzigoot National Monument.

Along its border is the Tavasci Marsh, one of the few fresh­water marshes in Arizona and an important birding area .

Popular activities in Dead Horse Ranch State Park include:
  • Fishing in the river or 4­-acre lagoon that are both periodically stocked with trout, sunfish and catfish to the delight of anglers and a resident population of Great Blue Herons
  • Camping (on a first­-come, first­-serve basis) in either one of 16 tent areas or 150 camp sites where there is optional electricity and water,
  • Group camping in the 23­site group campground, which has no hookups
  • Picnicking in one of two armadas or by the lagoon,
  • Grilling in the armadas or campsites and
  • Learning about the wildlife and attractions in the area.

Why is it called Dead Horse Ranch State Park?

In the 1940s when the Ireys family was shopping for a ranch, they stumbled upon a dead horse by the side of the road. They decided to name their ranch after the animal. When the property transferred to Arizona State Parks in 1973, the family insisted that the name go with the land.

Festivals at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park hosts two festivals each year. During the last weekend in April it is home to the Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival. The festival provides expert-­guided field trips to birding hot spots and instruction on topics relating to birding, archeology, geology, history and wildlife photography.

During the last weekend in September the park welcomes Verde River Day, which promotes preservation and care of the environment. The celebration also includes nature-­based exhibits and hands­-on activities.

Park Amenities

  • restrooms with hot showers
  • four horse corrals for overnight use with advance reservations and
  • a dump station
  • eight cabins that can each sleep up to four people. The cabins are equipped with bunk beds, double beds and seating areas.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is open every day except Christmas from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a day use fee of $6 per car and $2 per walk­-ins and bikers. Camping is $12 without hookups; and $19 with all the bells and whistles. The cabins rent for $50 a night.

Located at an elevation of 3,300 feet, the park has mild temperatures most of the year.

For more information, contact the ranger station at (928­) 634-­5283 or visit Arizona State Parks.