Weekend Trip: Agua Fria National Monument

Weekend Trip: Agua Fria National Monument

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With the Central Arizona weather heating up as we move into summer, getting outdoors can seem more challenging. Fortunately, while our local temperature cis climbing, there’s plenty of ways to escape the heat and still get out in nature. 

One great option is choosing trails that are adjacent to rivers, to beat the heat with a splash of cooling water. One of the closest local opinions for beautiful riparian hiking is the Agua Fria National Monument. Located to the north of Phoenix, Agua Fria National Monument sits about one-third of the way up to Flagstaff in an ecosystem that straddles the Sonoran desert and chaparral-dominant grasslands. Despite its beauty, Agua Fria National Monument is still off the beaten track, making it a great weekend trip for people looking to get away from it all. 

Remote Splendor

While sitting just 40 miles north of Phoenix, off of Highway 17, Agua Fria National Monument is unspoiled desert at its finest. The core of the area is the Agua Fria River which runs year-round through the main canyon of the Monument. Highway 17 is the easiest way to access the Agua Fria area, with trailheads at both the Badger Springs and Bloody Basin exits from the highway. The Agua Fria National Monument can be entered from other points as well but road conditions may vary or require 4-wheel drive. 

Trails in the Agua Fria National Monument will start in arid desert and descend into the river’s canyon. The lifeblood of the Agua Fria River supports a population of trees and other flora that make hiking in the monument much cooler than other desert hikes. The National Monument features dramatic boulder formations and a dormant volcano in addition to low pools and small waterfalls. 

The Agua Fria National Monument supports a rich variety of fish and wildlife including rare native fish species, antelope and javelina. Permitted hunting and fishing is permitted in the monument, with full information available from the Bureau of Land Management. The area is also a fantastic spot for bird watching, attracting a wide variety of species to the region throughout the year. 

Human Traces

With a rare year-round water source and abundant wildlife, there are traces of human history in the area throughout the Monument. Prominent well-preserved petroglyphs and pictographs are visible along many trails.  Hikers can also visit the sites and remaining structures of several historic buildings, including the Teskey Home Site and Schoolhouse and the Richinbar Mine. Always be respectful of historic sites- it is against the law to deface or steal from these important locations. Leaving sites as you found them means that others will be able to encounter them as well.

Hiking Safety

Being outdoors is one of the great pleasures of the desert, but hiking in the heat is also serious business. Always plan your hike and bring plenty of water for your trip. Drink water at regular intervals, even if you do not feel thirsty. When half of your water is gone, you should be more than halfway complete with your hike. If you are unsure of a path ahead, turn around rather than get lost without hydration. 

Time your hike for the early morning or the late afternoon when temperatures and sunlight are cooler. Don’t drink river water unless you purify it first. It is also important to hike with a friend and let people know where you are headed. Remember that when hiking in a remote region like Agua Fria, cell phone service can be limited or non-existant.


Agua Fria National Monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and open to camping. Visitors should be aware that there are not standard camping amenities in the area – so plan to bring in the water, food and other supplies you will need, and take all waste out with you when you leave. Limited access to restrooms are available at a few trailheads in the Monument, however potable water is not available.

For the outdoor enthusiast, roughing it is certainly worth it for the experience of the beautiful setting and gorgeous night sky.  While camping in the desert wilderness can be a great adventure, Agua Fria National Monument is close enough that you can make it there and back in a day, easily.