Located at the southwest edge of the Colorado Plateau in the Coconino National Forest, West Clear Creek cuts a long, winding passageway into the Mogollon Rim. West Clear Creek is formed by the confluence of beautiful and remote Willow and Clover Creeks. It flows into the Verde River near the town of Camp Verde.
West Clear Creek, a 25-mile tributary of the Verde River, is known for its water-carved canyon with rugged landscape, many long pools, waterfalls, springs, and narrows. Throughout the upper and middle reaches of the canyon, there are deep and sheer sides, creating a dramatic and impressive landscape for hikers, canyoneers, and photographers who come to this area of the creek from all over.
The creek is the heart of the West Clear Creek Wilderness area. The Wilderness area encompasses almost 14,000 acres and provides diverse habitats for a variety of plants and animals. With a year-round flow, West Clear Creek and the surrounding Wilderness offer a chance to visit all year long. There is a great difference in elevation between the eastern and western ends of the Wilderness – around 3,200 feet at the Verde confluence and around 6,800 at the headwaters. As the elevation varies, so does the climate. It can be variable over the length of a day, and it varies greatly over the year. When you visit, if it is too cold for wading and swimming, then perhaps hiking, scenic driving, horseback riding, or wildlife viewing may be more fun.
Opportunities are abundant for activities like hiking, swimming, and wading through cold pools in the hot summer season. The shady pools and eddies also provide for enjoyable and pristine fishing, while the main waterway is a fly-fishing paradise. Camping along the creek is allowed in many places. Additionally, multi-day backpacking routes, climbing spots on Coconino Sandstone, and bird watching are also available.
The middle and higher sections creek are among the more difficult to access in the Verde watershed since long hikes and drives on rough roads are required to reach these more pristine areas. If capable of an overnight hike, hikers will be lead into the most wild, scenic, and untouched areas of the canyon that few will ever explore. If overnight camping is not an option, upper reaches of the canyon can be accessed via Forest Service roads, which offer outstanding viewpoints into the canyon and river.
An easier point of access to the creek is at the Forest Service campground called Clear Creek. Premium campsites are offered at Clear Creek Campground off State Highway 260, east of Camp Verde. This area attracts families because of the close proximity to the river as well as the facilities such as grills, drinking water, vault toilets, and trails nearby.
In the spring and summer, when the weather permits, Bull Pen Ranch is a hot spot destination along the creek. This is an area outside of Camp Verde that has relatively easy vehicular access and no hiking required to reach the creek, however, it is also the site of the trailhead for the West Clear Creek Trail. The Bull Pen area is a pooling spot of the creek, with rocks to jump from, lounging spots, and occasionally a rope swing for the kids. Up the creek, cool waters and shady canyons offer excellent wildlife watching and fishing for those who wish to escape the family crowds at Bull Pen. Animals such as javelina, coyote, fox, rabbits, squirrels, and skunks are commonly seen in the area.
The geology and vegetation of this area are also main attractions for visitors. The three major rock layers are the Supai Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and volcanic deposits. The vegetation in the West Clear Creek Wilderness differs with the elevation and location in the canyon. Within the cooler and shadier zones of the canyon, Ponderosa Pine and Douglas fir inhabit the area. The warmer zones, such as the north side of the canyon which receives more sunlight, has traditional Arizona desert plants such as piñon and juniper. In the riparian zones along the creek visitors will find cottonwood, sycamore, walnut, alder, and even wild grape! One thing to be cautious of is the abundance of poison ivy that grows in shady and moist areas.
Another thing to be cautious of is the growing amount of garbage left behind by picnickers and other recreationists at the lower reaches of West Clear Creek. This behavior threatens animal inhabitants directly and through the degradation of water quality. It also threatens how recreationists can continue to use the area. The Forest Service requests that visitors follow their rule of “pack it in, pack it out” and leave no trace of their activities.