Camp Verde is home to one of the best, most accessible swimming holes in the Verde Valley: Bull Pen.
A short hike and a number of forks take adventurers to the spot. Visitors must beware of their navigation, as a wrong turn can lead to much more time spent hiking.
But to get to the trailhead, some driving on moderate dirt roads is necessary; a standard car can do the job, but a recreational vehicle would be preferred.
The swimming hole is guarded by a number of trees that provide plenty of shade, but at the same time prevent much sunbathing. There is some clear, flat space, but the shore is mostly rock.
More rocks offer a shallow entry into the water, which at points is one to three feet deep and at others as deep as about 10.
The main feature of the spot is a big rock good for cliff jumping, about 20 feet tall at its highest point. More wary swimmers can find lower spots on the rock from which to jump to build their confidence. It is always wise to test the depth of the water in front of the rock to ensure safety.
It is possible to sunbathe at the top of the rock as well, but space is limited.
“It’s hot on the walk, but as soon as you hit [the edge of the trees] it sounds refreshing,” said Dylan Rudy, a visitor from southern California. “It drops five degrees when you hit the shade. It’s a little oasis.”
The water is not freezing cold like many other swimming holes and the current is weak, making for an easy and pleasurable swim.
“I enjoy it,” said James Cano, a first-time visitor. “I see myself here, hanging out for a while.”
The rope swing that was once there no longer exists.
The first dirt road, Forest Road 618, is about seven miles east of the intersection of Main Street and State Route 260 East in Camp Verde. Travelers heading east will turn left onto the road, which can be identified by a metal figure of a leaning cowboy on the right hand side.
After about two miles, there will be a fork in the road where the beginning of Bull Pen Road, or Forest Road 215, is located. Follow the split to the right, and a little further down will be a sign for Bull Pen Area to indicate you are heading in the correct direction.
A few miles after that you will come upon the parking area, and the trail, West Clear Creek Trail, is directly ahead between fencing.
A short hike leads to the first fork: Go right. Soon after there will be another fork: Go left. After a little way there will be another fork and a low-hanging branch: Go left.
Just after that is an embankment past a fallen tree: Go up the embankment.
Going right at the fallen tree is not necessarily a mistake though, as heading that direction will lead hikers to an adjacent swimming area. That area is more exposed to the sun and has shallower water than the actual Bull Pen site.
After heading up the embankment, a clearing comes into view with another fork and a small metal post in the middle. Go to the right, and just past that is a big metal contraption, which indicates you are almost there.
The sound of the creek should be audible by this point.
Continue past the contraption toward the trees. A short descent down and up some rocks will give way to the first view of the creek.
It was mentioned before that faulty navigation would lead to extra hiking. Luckily, there is another place to be stumbled upon.
After heading left at the very first fork and up a rocky slope, another fork appears. Continuing along a red trail with some red rocks to the left there will be a third split in the trail.
Go down the rocky slope to the right of it and soon after another swimming area comes into view.
It is a bit further of a hike, but it has more open, flat, sun exposed areas. The water is shallow throughout, and no place to jump into the water. Combining those factors, it is sure to be less frequented.
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