Agua Fria National Monument
The Agua Fria contains one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest, including Pueblo La Plata, a major settlement of stone masonry pueblos. In addition to the rich record of human history, the monument contains outstanding biological resources. The area is the home to coyotes, bobcats, antelope, mule deer, javelina, a variety of small mammals and songbirds. Eagles and other raptors are also a draw for birdwatchers. Hiking, viewing cultural sites, wildlife viewing, hunting (big game and upland game birds), scenic drives, and four-wheel driving are among the activities available on the monument. The elevation ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 feet.
A desert grassland extends across an extensive mesa cut by canyon walls and the Agua Fria River.
Agua Fria National Monument is located 40 miles north of Phoenix. Get there by traveling on Interstate 17 to the Badger Springs (exit 256), Bloody Basin Road (exit 259), or Cordes Junction exits.
From the Badger Springs Exit there is a maintained dirt road leading to the Badger Springs Trailhead. The Bloody Basin Road has a graded surface for the first five miles. Beyond that, a high-clearance vehicle is needed to travel the remainder of the road.
Pueblo la Plata
Pueblo la Plata showcases a major settlement of stone masonry pueblos. To visit Pueblo la Plata, travel 8.3 miles on Bloody Basin Road from the entrance of the national monument. Turn north and follow the dirt road for approximately one mile. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Limited parking is available. Walk to the site by following the rocky and uneven trail.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
Permits are required for organized events and visiting groups of 25 or more people.
The monument has no developed facilities. The terrain is rough and rocky – a high-clearance vehicle is required on the Bloody Basin Road.
Camping and Lodging
There are no facilities within the monument. Undeveloped areas are available for camping with a 14-day limit. Local campgrounds and motels are located in the adjacent communities of Black Canyon City and Cordes Lakes.
Food and Supplies
Grocery and hardware stores, restaurants, and gas stations are located in the adjacent communities of Black Canyon City and Cordes Lakes.
The elevation of the monument ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. If you're visiting in summer, you should drink plenty of water because temperatures may exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43ºC). We recommend wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a large-brimmed hat. Make sure your gas tank is full, carry additional water in your vehicle and make sure your vehicle is in good condition.
The hot desert sun stirs up rattlesnakes and other reptiles as early as February. Summer is rough on visitors, and recreationists must drink plenty of water. Flash floods caused by sudden storms can be dangerous in washes, so it is best to have a survival plan to prevent emergency situations. Contact the monument office for additional information.
There are no first aid facilities on site. The nearest medical facilities are in north Phoenix.
Things to Do
Hiking is a popular monument activity at the monument. There are no developed trails. The terrain is very rough and rocky with steep cliffs, canyons and remote areas. Be prepared with plenty of water, supplies, and proper hiking equipment. The monument is home to rattlesnakes, scorpions, javelinas and mountain lions and hikers need to be aware of their surroundings.
Learn: Outdoor Ethics
You can get to Badger Springs Trail by exiting Interstate 17 at the Badger Springs Exit 256. Follow the gravel road for about a mile to the trailhead parking area. Badger Springs Trail follows an informal trail, the Badger Springs Wash, down to the Agua Fria River. This is a popular hiking and equestrian trail through a cool and lush desert wetland. The river flows through early spring and it is possible to wade in the larger pools of water. Hikers looking for a challenge can use the river’s edge as a guide, viewing cultural sites and wildlife.
Dispersed/Primitive Camping only
There are no developed campgrounds on the monument.
Learn: Camping on public lands
Dispersed camping is allowed on the monument. You may pick your own campsite, but please use existing hardened sites and protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from water sources. Use biodegradable soap. Be prepared and bring your own water for all your drinking and camping needs.
Most of the public lands in Arizona are open to dispersed camping, as long it does not conflict with other authorized uses, occurs in areas posted "closed to camping," or adversely affects wildlife species or natural resources.
You may camp on public lands in Arizona for no more 14 days within any period of 28 consecutive days. The 28-day period begins when you first occupy a specific location on public lands. You could reach the 14-day limit either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28-day period. After the 14th day of occupation, you must move outside a 25-mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation. The purpose of this special rule is to prevent damage to sensitive resources caused by continual use of any particular areas. In addition, you must not leave any personal property unattended for more than 10 days.
To further protect your public lands, do not dispose of any refuse, hazardous materials, sewage, or gray water, in any manner that would pollute the surrounding area.
Learn: Outdoor Ethics
Please enjoy camping on public lands, and please take care of these lands like they were your own—because they are!
- Wildlife/Bird Watching
Connect with Nature via iNaturalist - Explore and share your observations from the natural world. Please observe and enjoy wildlife from a distance. This practice helps to reduce noise and stress to feeding animals and nesting birds.
The Agua Fria National Monument’s grass-capped mesas, deep canyons, and vital streams provide a haven abundant wildlife. The riparian ecosystems sustained by perennial water support native fish species. Many other birds, mammals, reptile, and amphibians reside within the monument’s boundaries.
The Agua Fria River and its tributaries within the monument are designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. To date, 194 species of birds have been recorded. The various habitats provide critical breeding grounds for some bird species, wintering grounds for others, and the Agua Fria River has recently been identified as a bird migration route.
Despite their shyness with people, herds of pronghorn are a common sight on the grasslands. In fact, several hundred of these antelope-like animals live on the mesas. Be quick in capturing photographs because pronghorn can quickly vanish into the distance to escape any perceived threats.
Other common residents of the Agua Fria National Monument are mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, and coyotes which roam the hills, mesa tops, and canyons. Elk and black bear occasionally venture into the area from the nearby mountains.
You should take caution when hiking because the monument is also home to many species of reptiles including venomous rattlesnakes and Gila monsters. However, more often than not, nonvenomous species of wildlife are encountered.
- Archaeology/Cultural Resources
Archaeological Site Viewing
There are hundreds of archaeological sites in the Agua Fria, from large pueblo home sites to rock art panels. Explore these sites, but leave artifacts as they are.
Agua Fria National Monument contains more than 400 archaeological sites, spanning some 2,000 years of human history. The first Indian settlers were Archaic people, moving seasonally to hunt game and gather wild plant foods. At about A.D. 1100, many families left their lowland settlements in central Arizona to establish new villages at higher elevations. These uplands included Perry Mesa and Black Mesa, separated by the river’s deep canyon.
Archaeologists call the late prehistoric people who lived on the mesas between A.D. 1250 and 1450, the Perry Mesa Tradition. They estimate that at least 3,000 people inhabited settlements in areas that are now visited only occasionally by ranchers, hunters, and hikers. Remnants of stone pueblos, some containing more than 100 rooms, represent a system of communities with economic and social ties. Pueblo la Plata, a large settlement of 80 to 100 rooms, attracts many visitors.
Bighorn sheep, deer, and human figures are prominent features on the impressive rock art sites created by the people who once called this place home. They traded with distant groups for painted pottery and other items. Networks of hilltop structures may have acted as communication systems, where smoke signals relayed information or warned of attacks. Structures sitting at the edges of steep canyons are though by scientists to have provided defense against invaders.
The people of the Perry Mesa Tradition abandoned their villages by A.D. 1500, possibly retreating from a drought. Early Spanish explorers encountered Yavapai Indians living in the areas, but their relationship to the Perry Mesa Tradition is unclear. In the 1870s, the U.S. Army forced the Yavapai to move to the San Carlos Reservation in eastern Arizona, from there eventually returning to their homeland. Today, Yavapai communities exist near Prescott and Camp Verde.
Many of the national monument’s archaeological sites are remote and inaccessible areas. We recommend exploring Pueblo la Plata as well as a rock art site at the confluence of Badger Springs Wash and the Agua Fria River (see Badger Springs Trail). Sadly, many sites have sustained damage from looting and vandalism. However, they continue to provide scientific, educational and cultural values. Please help protect these prehistoric and historic sites as an important part of the nation’s heritage.
A dedicated core of volunteers, called the Arizona Site Stewards, monitor sites to ensure their protection. They work with BLM archaeologists to record, excavate and stabilize sites.
Hunting is permitted within the national monument and is located in Game Management Unit 21. Be certain to purchase the appropriate Arizona Game and Fish Department license and permit and follow all federal and state regulations. Please stay on designated roads and close gates when passing through.