Dead Horse Ranch State Park Cottonwood Arizona

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In Northern Arizona near the small town of Cottonwood, a short drive from Sedona, you will find a beautiful park with a very strange name.

Of course, there is a story behind the name. Keep reading to find out how Dead Horse Ranch State Park became known by this odd name and why you should visit the park in autumn.

Arizona is not the place most people think of for fall colors in the United States but trust me, the Cottonwood trees put on a show. And the weather is pleasant for outdoor activities in the fall.

In Northern Arizona, from the Grand Canyon North Rim down to the Verde Valley and Sedona area, you’ll find beautiful fall colors in October.

Fall is an excellent time to hike the West Fork Trail at Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona. And it’s the perfect time to visit Cottonwood Arizona and Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Cottonwood Arizona fall road trip

Why is it Called Dead Horse Ranch State Park?

What a strange name for a state park, right?

Before the ranch became one of the Arizona State parks it was owned by the Ireys family. When they were looking to buy a ranch in Arizona the family looked at several properties.

At one of the ranches there was a dead horse along the road. When the parents asked their kids which ranch they like the best they answered “the one with the dead horse” and so the name stuck.

The Ireys family sold the land to the State of Arizona in 1973 and one of the conditions of sale included keeping the name.

Arizona fall colors along a lagoon

Where is Dead Horse Ranch State Park?

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is in Cottonwood Arizona, only 20 miles from Sedona.

Address: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd, Cottonwood, AZ 86326

The location is great for day trips from several cities in Arizona. Here are the distances to Dead Horse Ranch State Park from some popular places in Arizona.

Distances to Dead Horse Ranch State Park

  • Flagstaff: 65 miles
  • Jerome: 9 miles
  • Phoenix: 105 miles
  • Prescott: 45 miles
  • Sedona: 20 miles

Cyclists at Dead Horse Ranch State Park with autumn foliage

Dead Horse Ranch State Park Info

The main attraction at Dead Horse Ranch State Park is the water! And not just for people but also the birds and wildlife around the park.

Three beautiful lagoons are home to dozens of bird species. So bring your binoculars and enjoy some excellent bird watching.

There are trails around each of the lagoons and kayaking is also a popular activity.

And these lakes are stocked with catfish and rainbow trout making it a popular fishing spot in Arizona. Largemouth bass and sunfish also make their home in the lagoons.

Fishing Limits Dead Horse Ranch

  • Bass: 2
  • Catfish: 4
  • Sunfish: 10
  • Trout: 4

Fishing limits for Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Remember to get your Arizona fishing license, you can buy one online here.

Watch for the pair of Bald Eagles that return each year to nest near the water. You may see them fishing too!

With over 100 campsites and 8 cabins, Dead Horse Ranch State Park is an excellent choice for a family vacation in Arizona. Or the perfect day trip from Phoenix, Flagstaff, or Sedona.

A bald eagle sits in a leaf bare tree with blue sky background

Hours and Fees

The park is open year round except for Christmas Day.

Hours

Hours for day use: 8 am to 10 pm (seasonal hours may apply)

Holiday hours on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve: 8 am to 2 pm

Fees

$7 per vehicle (1 – 4 adults)

$3 per person walking or biking

A man fishing at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Arizona

Cottonwood Arizona Campgrounds

While I only visited Dead Horse Ranch during day trips to Cottonwood you may want to go camping and spend a few nights. You can stay up to 14 nights.

Reservations are highly recommended. You can book your campsite reservation online at the Arizona State Parks website.

Note that as of this writing the Dead Horse Ranch State Park campsite reservations cannot be made for same day camping stays or for same day extensions to existing reservations. So plan ahead.

Campsites

  • Pull-through sites (up to 40-foot RVs for most and truck/trailer up to 65 ft)
  • 30/50 amp service and a 20 amp GFI receptacle
  • Back-in sites have 110 volt AC with 30/50 amp service and 20 amp receptacle
  • Potable water
  • ADA accessible restrooms
  • Hot water and showers
  • Maximum 10 people (with a max of 6 adults per campsite)
  • Generators prohibited

Fees

$30 – $35 per night for sites with electricity included

$20 per night for sites with no hook-ups

Boat dock ramp at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Cabins

Not fond of camping but like the outdoors? You could rent a one-room cabin at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Since there are only eight cabins at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, you’ll want to make a reservation for you stay as soon as you know your travel dates.

Furnishings vary but do include the basics for your stay: full-size bed, bunk bed, table and chairs, dresser, ceiling fan, overhead lighting, and electricity.

  • Bring your own bed linens, pillows, sleeping bags as they are not included with cabin rentals.
  • Heat and Air-conditioning included.
  • No water in the cabin but hot showers and ADA accessible restrooms are a short walk from the cabins.
  • Several of the cabins are wheelchair accessible.
  • Barbecue pit, picnic table, and fire ring at each cabin.

Rates

$60 per night

14 night maximum stay

Book your cabin reservation online here.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park fall leaves in yellow and orange with reflection on the lake

Campgrounds Near Dead Horse Ranch State Park

If the campground is full at Dead Horse Ranch State Park you can try these other camping locations close to the park.

Verde Valley RV and Camping

Rain Spirit RV Resort

Best Time to Visit Cottonwood Arizona

The best time to visit is in fall when the leaves have started changing to brilliant yellow. Spring is also beautiful, but autumn is more special because of the beautiful fall foliage colors.

If you want the best chance to see the most bird species in the area then winter and early spring may be your favorite time to visit the park.

Cottonwood Arizona elevation is around 3,300 ft (1,010 m) above sea level. For reference, Flagstaff is around 7,000 ft (2,100 m) so the lower elevation in Cottonwood means it gets hotter in the summer compared to Flagstaff.

Temperatures in Cottonwood often reach the high 90’s F (38 C) whereas Flagstaff averages around low 80’s F (28 C) in summer.

Ducks in water with autumn colors in background

Things to Do Near Cottonwood

You’ll find many popular attractions near Dead Horse State Park and Cottonwood. You could take a scenic drive to Jerome Arizona and find out why it’s the “Wickedest Town in America”.

Or take Hwy Route 89A to Oak Creek Canyon and hike the West Fork Trail. This trail is unique in the area because it tracks along a creek in a canyon so you get shade most of the hike! That is a huge bonus during hotter months in Arizona.

If you want some sunshine and more elevation gain during your hike, then try Little Horse Trail in Sedona. This trail features spectacular views!

Also, in Sedona you can relax and meditate at the Peace Park and Stupa, there are hiking trails too.

Flagstaff is an easy drive from Cottonwood and it’s the perfect home base for exploring Northern Arizona. Find the best day trips from Flagstaff.

Several ruins, once inhabited by ancestors of the Hopi people, are located close to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Try Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle if you are short on time and want to visit the closest historic sites.

But it you want more of an adventure check out Honanki Pueblo and Palatki Pueblo – both are accessed from the same forestry road, beware it’s a bumpy one!

Enjoy exploring Arizona!

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Arizona in Autumn fall colors refecting off the water

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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