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Hotspots Near You

203. Agua Fria National Monument, Black Canyon City, Arizona

A protected area north of Phoenix that is home to several species of conservation concern, including Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The 71,000-acre Agua Fria National Monument is known primarily for the many Native American petroglyphs that can be found on flat rocks next to the Agua Fria River. The birding, however, is just as impressive. The Badger Springs Wash Trail leads down a flat, sandy wash to the cattail-choked, boulder-strewn river. Two miles long round-trip, the trail is part of an Important Bird Area that covers the monument’s riparian corridors.

Agua Fria supports one of the higher densities in Arizona of nesting Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a species declared Threatened in the West in early October. Other birds of conservation concern at Agua Fria are Common Black-Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Juniper Titmouse, Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, and Abert’s Towhee.

I enjoy the quiet of hiking in the desert environment and have watched Phainopepla, thrashers, Gila Woodpecker, hummingbirds, and warblers in spindly ocotillo and creosote bushes. I’ve spotted raptors soaring over the tranquil river and perching on clifftops. I’ve rock-hopped for miles up and down the river, where flycatchers and Canyon Wrens utilize tall cattails, and various ducks bathe in shimmering ponds. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154, Mendocino Headlands State Park,  Mendocino, No. 167, Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185, and Pinnacles National Park, No. 200.

203. Agua Fria National Monument, Black Canyon City, Arizona


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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
34°13’53.47″N 112°6’0.09″W


Desert, river, riparian woodlands, mesas, plateaus, and grasslands.


Rough and rocky. Flat in soft river sand along the Badger Springs Wash Trail. Agua Fria River is littered with boulders and requires rock-hopping. Elevation changes from 2,000 to 4,000 feet.


Nearly 200 species. Zone-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Western Screech-Owl, White-winged and Inca Doves, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Green Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Poorwill, Anna’s, Black-chinned, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Gila Woodpecker, Cliff Swallow, Hooded Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Wilson’s and Lucy’s Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Phainopepla, Black Phoebe, Bell’s Vireo, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, Canyon Towhee, Lark Bunting, Lincoln’s Sparrow, American Pipit, and Cedar Waxwing.

When to go

October through May.


Minimal. Car park, restrooms, interpretive signs, checklist.


National monument. No fees. The dirt road from the Badger Springs exit to the trailhead is fine for two-wheel-drive vehicles; most other roads require a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle.


Bring a spotting scope, a hat, sunscreen, and two liters of water. You can set your scope on the broad, flat rocks in the middle of the river.

For more info

Agua Fria National Monument, (623) 580-5500
Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument, (623) 249-4460
Arizona Important Bird Areas Program

Sites nearby

Sonoran Desert National Monument
Fifty miles south of Phoenix off I-8 at exit 144. More than 487,000 acres of the most biologically diverse North American desert.

Walnut Canyon National Monument
Ten miles southeast of Flagstaff. Elevation over 6,600 feet. Mexican Spotted Owl, White-throated Swift, Pinyon Jay.

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