Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness

Arizona > Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness

The Virgin River has helped to create several impressive Southwestern landscapes, starting with the great white cliffs and canyons of Utah's Zion National Park and ending at the upper end of Lake Mead in Nevada, where it eventually meets the Colorado River. In between, it flows across the very northwest tip of Arizona for 30 miles, through two gaunt ranges of hills - the Virgin and Beaver Dam mountains, which have similar, Grand Canyon-like scenery of eroded, stepped cliffs and terraces of metamorphosed sandstone. The Virgin Mountains are the more extensive and isolated range, running alongside the river as far as the north edge of the lake, and forming the southwest edge of the Colorado Plateau; to the west stretch the flat, arid plains of the Mojave Desert, terrain that extends for hundreds of miles across Nevada and California. The Beaver Dam Mountains are a little more accessible but just as rugged and scenic, and part is a designated wilderness area - an untamed region of Joshua trees and cacti, lizards and mountain sheep, and much colorful, weathered rock.

Virgin River Gorge

The river has carved a great gorge between the two mountain ranges through a region that was undisturbed and almost impenetrable until the construction of interstate 15 in 1975, which now runs right along the valley floor, its twin carriageways curving through the canyon over a succession of high bridges and quite a steep gradient. The river below may be nearly dry in midsummer but usually has some flow and despite the proximity of I-15, the gorge is still quite spectacular and worth exploring on foot for a while. In spring when the river is fed by melting snow, the waters are high enough to allow raft trips through the canyon, and these are sometimes quite challenging, encountering large waves and rapids up to Class IV. To the east side of exit 18 is the BLM Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area, which has a riverside campsite (the Cedar Pockets Campground), picnic areas and several nature trails. This area is also renowned for rock climbing and has some of the hardest recognised routes in the USA, rated 5.14 on the Yosemite Decimal System.


Junction 18 of I-15 is also the exit for the only road through the Beaver Dam Mountains wilderness area (BLM 1005); a steep, stony, bendy track that should still be fine for any vehicle, this climbs several hundred feet to a ridge then drops down the western face of the hills into the desert beyond, joining Littlefield Road, which before the interstate was the main route north from Nevada. Now it is not much travelled but provides a good alternative to I-15, running northeast and across a less rugged part of the Beaver Dam Mountains, into the Shivwits Indian Reservation then (as UT 8) southeast to St. George. The exit 18 road seems quite popular and has many good places for free camping, usually with sweeping views over the rocky terrain. Besides the varied desert plants and wildlife, the area is also geologically interesting, and specimens of various minerals can be collected such as crystalline gypsum. There are no official trails but it is easy to hike into the hills for even better views over the mountains, the Virgin River Gorge and I-15. Nine miles north along the interstate, a short side track (Black Rock Road) begins at exit 27 and leads first to an evocative old wooden building - the only remnant of the settlement of Black Rock, Arizona - then over a small ridge to more places that make excellent free campsites, again with distant views of colorful cliffs and canyons further north.


The nearest town with hotels close to the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness is St George in Utah.
Highlights: Wild, rugged, colorful mountains in far northwest Arizona, on the border between the Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert. Vegetation includes cacti and Joshua trees
Nearest city with hotels: St George, 18 miles
Management: BLM
Location: 36.954, -113.797 (I-15 exit 18)
Seasons: All year; very hot in summer

Beaver Dam Mountains - Photography

  • 17 views of the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness
  • QTVR panorama - middle of the Beaver Dam Mountains
  • photograph
    Cliffs around the Virgin River
    I-15 through the mountains

    Black Rock, Arizona
    Joshua tree basin
    Nearby places Similar places

    Whitney Pockets, Nevada (40 miles) - colorful desert area north of Lake Mead

    Snow Canyon State Park, Utah (25 miles) - red rocks, white cliffs and black lava
    Nearby places Similar places

    Vermilion Cliffs National Monument - remote plateau, high cliffs and desert canyons
    Beaver Dam Mountains is part of the Grand Canyon itinerary


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