May 2023
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Cottonwood Waterfalls

How cool is it to find out about a waterfall that neither you nor most others know about?

It’s not even on the Prescott National Forest map, probably because it hardly ever runs, but it was running like crazy this year thanks to the rain and snowmelt.

A wet winter brings these falls to life.

One group that knows about it is the Verde Valley Skyliners hiking group in Cottonwood. Skyliners refer to it as the Hidden Gem of Cottonwood, or just “the waterfall,” because it doesn’t appear to have a name. So, for this column I’m naming it the Dave Beach Waterfall, because Beach was the hike leader for this trip. The fall is off Black Canyon Trail #114, easily accessed from the end of Ogden Ranch Road. About three miles in you have to go off-trail to get to it. The trek to the fall is considered difficult, but that’s not the case for six of the eight miles. The first three miles in and the last three out are fairly easy to follow, because you’re on clear path switchbacks. At the trailhead the mountains above still had a touch of snow. By the time we reached a gate just a little into the hike, most hikers were starting to switch layers.

Just before you hit the three-mile mark, a nice-sized orange-painted rock appears. Who knows who painted it or why, but it marks a great place to rest before the descent or after the ascent, because the rocks are good to sit on, in the shade of a big juniper.

A painted rock points the way.

The difficult part is the last mile, which drops more than 1,000 feet, with “perilous footing,” in the words of a fellow hiker. Indeed, two of the 13 people in our party fell, fortunately hurting nothing but their pride. I was amazed I didn’t fall myself. Not realizing that there would be tough footing, I didn’t pack my hiking sticks. But another hiker was kind enough to lend me one. Hiking sticks help with perilous footing  and scree on trails. My problem is that I like to carry a camera in one hand and my GPS in the other. As it was I did put my camera in my backpack and dry pack to protect it from damage if I fell.

Once we reached the stream it was clear that the trek was worthwhile, because it was beautiful to behold. Shortly after you rock-hop across the stream, you’ll find the first waterfall. We were in awe.

Then you come across a chain of pools in the canyon, then the second, more impressive waterfall. The beauty of falls, the sight and sound of cascading water, made this a wonderful experience.

Once you leave the switchbacks the trail is not well defined, so you have to both watch your footing and stop periodically to confirm which way the trail is heading.

I would not recommend that you try this trail alone if you’re not a very experienced hiker. On the way out we passed a few people coming in who were not prepared for this kind of hike, not carrying enough water, and some not in shape for the descent. The good news is that these falls are hard enough to reach that practically no one will be going to go there to party. There was no litter.

Black Canyon Trail #114 offers other hiking opportunities as well, with panoramic views of the Verde Valley, the red-rock country above Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks. It makes an elevation gain of over 2,200 feet from the bottom of  the trail to where it meets FR413, making it a good choice for horseback riders and hikers looking for a more challenging route.

The upper portion of the trail enters Gaddes Canyon, where Ponderosa pines grow alongside large walnut and oak trees to create the kind of lush, green canopy not often encountered in this part of Arizona.

Black Canyon Trail #114 connects with several other roads and trails for diverse recreation opportunities across a large area. The trail is 80 miles long, stretching from the boundary of the Prescott National Forest to Carefree Highway.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com