Bloody Basin Trail
On this trail, travel the rough but scenic Bloody Basin Road as it winds 36 miles through the Agua Fria National Monument and Tonto National Forest. The trail ends at the historic Sheep Bridge over the flowing Verde River, deep in the Tonto National Forest.
Where to go:
From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 for 60 miles to exit 259, Bloody Basin Road. Stay right as you exit the freeway. The trail heads southeast and turns to dirt almost immediately. Staging and an info kiosk off to the right.
Head southeast. The road becomes a wide, graded road as it passes an info kiosk and enters into the Agua Fria National Monument. The trail parallels the interstate for approximately a mile before heading east. The road remains very wide as it twists and turns in and out of several washes. This is the fast moving portion of the trail – don’t let it fool you. At around the 4.3 mile mark, the trail makes a long right turn as it drops down toward the Agua Fria. Off to the left here is a private ranch. Stay right downhill and cross the Agua Fria at 4.8 miles. Depending on the season, there may be flowing water. We found it bone dry in June but there is a concrete ford there for a reason – use caution when crossing flowing water.
After the Agua Fria the trail continues generally east. Another long right downhill as you pass a restroom off to the right at 5.8 miles. After the facilities, the trail immediately gets rougher as it begins to climb the mesa. You’ll be treated to some nice views off to your left before arriving at the top at 6.7 miles. The trail passes through a volcanic lava flow before passing a junction at 8.1 miles. To the left here is Road 9023 which leads to a side trip to Pueblo La Plata. Pueblo La Plata is a moderate drive 1.3 miles to an old Native American dwelling. There are still lots of pottery shards all over the place. It’s worth the drive and short hike to see it. Continue straight on the main road if you’re not stopping.
Past Pueblo La Plata, the trail remains easy, occasionally crossing sections of wash where the brush is tighter and the trail is bumpier. A Y-junction at 10.4 mile mark has an info kiosk. Stay left. The trail continues to climb and before long, you’ll find yourself surrounded by green. Be alert for cattle. As the trail follows along a wash at 13.5 miles, we saw some cattle on the trail – who weren’t in a rush to get out of the way. At 14.8 miles the trail switchbacks before reaching the ridge at 15.7 miles. This marks the highest point on the trail – 4,981’. The trail smooths for this short flat section. Ignore side roads.
At 17.3 miles the trail begins to drop and comes to an impressive overlook of Bloody Basin. From here, you can see far out into the Mazatzal Wilderness area as well as see the windy road below you. Use caution for the next 6 miles as the trail width varies and there are numerous tight turns as it drops nearly 2,000 vertical feet. At 20.8 miles, you’ll come to another small junction which marks another possible side trip. Stay right on F.R. 578 on a half mile spur trail that leads down to an old cabin and homestead. This trail is more difficult and will require more clearance and 4WD, but is worth the effort.
After the cabin, stay east on F.R. 269. The trail continues to drop. At 24.8 miles you’ll come to one final junction. Stay left under the powerlines. To the right is F.R. 24 which leads to Carefree 30 miles away. From this point, it is 12 miles to Sheep Bridge. The trail winds in and out of Tangle Creek several times which could have water in it. The trail begins to climb one final time at 28.2 miles. Things get rockier along this final section. At 29.9 miles it levels off before dropping down to Sheep Bridge. The trail continues to cross several washes and a few last switchbacks make this trail busy until the very end. At 35.5 miles you’ll pass a pullout overlooking Sheep Bridge, then navigate another set of switchbacks before ending at 36.4 miles at Sheep Bridge.
Park and check out Sheep Bridge as well as the numerous remnants of the past bridge. There are old foundations north of the bridge as well as a manmade hot spring that mark the site of past sheep herder homesteads. There are also information signs on either side of the bridge. The Verde, which flows year ‘round can be accessed from both sides of the bridge, however it seems that most people tried crossing it from the north. Use caution and check the depth before attempting a crossing. Consider spending some time hiking, camping, or fishing along the Verde.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
Overall, this trail is longer than you think. The wide sections at the beginning give you a false sense of how fast you can do the trail. We found the trail to be far longer and rockier than expected. Up until the overlook at 17.3 miles the trail is maintained – past that things have deteriorated. Allow 2.5 hours each way to complete the 36 mile trail. Allow all day if going out and back in one day. We’ve rated this trail a 2.5 out of 10. Stock SUV’s can make this trail. High clearance required and 4WD helpful on side trips which are more difficult. Because of the elevation, snow and ice is possible in winter months which mean this trail changes difficulty with the season. Expect more water crossings in the fall and winter. This is a great trail for UTV’s and ATVs.