Bill Williams River

Arizona > Bill Williams River

Named after an early explorer of the region, Bill Williams is a relatively short but scenic and interesting river in a little-known area of Arizona - it flows from Alamo Reservoir through the wild Buckskin Mountains in the west central part of the state and joins the Colorado River at Lake Havasu, just above Parker Dam. The lower stretches, reachable by road, are wide, and the river meanders across a tree-lined valley, protected as a National Wildlife Refuge mainly because of the many species of birds found there. The upper part is rather different as here the waters flow through a narrow, pathless canyon where sheer cliffs and rocky terraces alternate with sandbanks along the edge while deep pools and occasional small cascades are found along the streamway, and so exploring the river can involve an easy walk around the NWR or a rather more strenuous hike through the Sonoran desert scenery of the upper gorge.

The Wildlife Refuge

After Parker Dam, AZ 95 turns due east for a while and winds above several rocky coves, passing some exclusive new property developments then drops down towards the estuarine mouth of the river. Where it meets Lake Havasu the land is quite level, with large areas of reeds, grasses and mud flats - perfect waterfowl habitat. There is a good overlook of the whole site just after the bridge, and a gravel road follows south of the river for 3 miles, initially up and down several steep ravines then across flatter ground, and has views over the cottonwood and willow-filled valley and the dark, twisted, metamorphic rocks at either side. Floods in 1993 washed out the last few miles but there is still plenty to see. The only other access is to the middle section, via the Swansea Mine Road that starts from AZ 72 in the south and leads to the Swansea Wilderness, in which is found one of the best preserved ghost towns in the state. Several other dirt tracks branch off, ending near to different parts of the river.

Approach to the Upper Canyon

The Bill Williams River begins at Alamo Reservoir, 25 miles due east of the end of the track into the National Wildlife Refuge, but 108 miles away by paved road; the route is along AZ 95, AZ 72, US 60 and finally the Alamo Lake Road, which leaves US 60 at Wenden, crosses the Harcuvar Mountains and the Butler Valley, rounds the edge of the Buckskin Mountains then descends towards the reservoir. A day use fee of $4 is required as this area is a state park. The main road leads directly to the dam at the southwest corner of the reservoir, below which the river begins, and although the last section is private, blocked by a gate with no trespassing sign, foot traffic is allowed. A hike down the canyon can last from two hours to two days.


The nearest towns with hotels close to Bill Williams River are Lake Havasu City and Parker.
Highlights: Relatively short, little known river flowing through a desert canyon, from Alamo Reservoir to Lake Havasu on the Colorado River. Surrounded by unspoilt desert landscapes
Nearest city with hotels: Lake Havasu City, 20 miles
Management: BLM
Location: 34.295, -114.087 (west end)
Seasons: All year

Bill Williams River - Hiking

Bill William River Canyon
Bill Williams River Canyon
1.7 miles, 200 feet
Hike follows a road then a trail alongside the river, ending at a narrows section

Bill Williams River - Photographs

The upper canyon
Grasslands in the
wildlife refuge
  • 13 views of the Bill Williams River
  • Nearby places Similar places

    Alamo Lake State Park (30 river miles from Lake Havasu) - distant reservoir at the head of the river

    Lake Havasu (20 miles) - popular lake on the Colorado River, enclosed by barren mountains
    Nearby places Similar places

    Agua Fria National Monument - river canyon in the high desert

    Kaiser Spring Canyon - warm spring and a seasonal river, at the edge of the Sonoran Desert


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