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Difficulty II-III
Length 36 Miles
Gauge BILL WILLIAMS RIVER BELOW ALAMO DAM, AZ
Flow Range 200 - 5000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 23.8 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 03/27/2020 7:07 pm

River Description



The Bill Williams River is a short, 36-mile long river flowing east to west through the Buckskin Mountains of westcentral Arizona from Alamo Lake to the Colorado River at Lake Havasu. Bill's sister, the Santa Maria River, flows into Alamo Lake from west of Prescott, or perhaps the river just had a sex-change operation when it reached Alamo Lake. Who knows? Bill's streambed forms the line between La Paz County to the south and Mohave County to the north, straddling the Swansea and Rawhide Mountain Wildernesses on either side. Its flow depends almost entirely upon dam-released water from Alamo Lake, which is primarily fed by the Santa Maria River with occasional monsoon seasonal help from the Big Sandy River, Burro, Trout and Date Creeks. The river has a shallow gradient and slow current with occasional Class I to II rapids that can escalate to Class II to III status in rare high water conditions. The mountainous area surrounding the Bill Williams River is very remote low desert with limited access and no services or signs of civilization to be found. This is a Mojave Desert run just south of Needles, California, where the hottest U.S. temperatures are routinely recorded.

The Bill Williams River, named for an Arizona mountain man who inhabited this area long ago, is a natural wilderness area that is protected from development. Three sections of about 21 miles total are being considered for "Wild and Scenic" designation. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, birdlife, fishlife and indigenous vegetation. Riverbanks are lined with willow and cottonwood trees. Deer, javelina, ringtail cats, foxes, bighorn sheep, coyotes, turtles, beavers, muskrats, and raccoons may be seen along the river. It is suitable for canoeing, kayaking and rafting, but much of the land adjacent to the river is privately owned ranchland, and trespassing is strongly discouraged. There are only two public access roads below Alamo Dam, the El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline Crossing and SH 95 at Lake Havasu. The El Paso pipeline crossing is no "major highway". High clearance vehicles are recommended. Off-road vehicle operation is illegal and strictly prohibited in this wilderness area. If you plan to paddle the Bill Williams River, then make sure that you are thoroughly prepared and have adequate drinking water and other provisions. The run will be long and slow, probably taking 2 full days, and possibly more, from just below Alamo Dam depending upon river conditions and paddler stamina. 1-day trips can be taken by starting at either of the two public access roads, This is a scenic desert adventure for strong-willed and strong-bodied boaters who really like to get away from crowded rivers. This one will NOT be inundated with throngs of paddlers!
The most significant hazards on the Bill Williams River are desert temperatures, scoarching sun, cactus, rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, hot, desert sand, hot, desert winds and a vast remoteness that has paddlers a long way from any type of services. Mountains along the riverbanks make cellular communications next to impossible, if possible at all. There are no significant hazards to navigation on the Bill Williams River.
The Bill Williams River almost always has water, but seldom is it at navigable levels. Late-winter through early-spring months offer the best chances of finding boatable conditons. If you can make it from Alamo Lake to the Colorado River, then you will find plenty of water for relaxing flatwater trips down along the Arizona-California border, assuming you have any energy left after the first 36 miles. Remember the Boy Scout motto - BE PREPARED! Personally, I would have my .44 Mag with me on a trip in this area - one never knows what he or she might encounter in the desert wilderness of western Arizona.
Bill Williams is a "expert" level trip when the river is high enough to boat. (acording to the State Park folks. First 6-7 miles are in a tight canyon.

Access Alamo Lake Rd to US 95

Rapid Descriptions

Comments

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James Holderer
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3 months ago

Also, this link was super helpful. https://resreg.spl.usace.army.mil/pages/bwms.php You can pull up a data set showing Alamo lake level, acre/feet, average inflow (cfs), and instantaneous outflow (cfs). With this data plus knowing that the targeted lake level elevation is 1,125', you can start to gauge how long they will be letting water out. Furthermore, using the Water Control Plan at https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Media/Fact-Sheets/Article/1511614/alamo-dam-water-control-plan/ you can even figure out a sort of release schedule. Definitely get in touch with the UACE Los Angeles division and ask them what they are planning. Even the Alamo SP staff can help. Wouldn't wanna be out there and have the water shut off or turn up to 7k cfs!

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James Holderer
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3 months ago

Another access point is at Lincoln Ranch (seen as Reid Valley on USGS topos). This is definitely private property (owned by an old mining operation) and is DEFINITELY a weird place.. however all the gates are open, it is abandoned, over run with burros, and is clearly used by OHVers. The vibe of the place is abandoned agriculture despite it being owned by a mining firm. I counted two two-tracks which diverge from the main route and access the Bill Will. One is on the eastern edge of the property along a fence line adjacent to the Rawhide Wilderness. Hope you like desert pinstripes! Another way in is through the fields and ultimately gets you to the same spot. Just watch for burros, potholes, and old fencing in the grass. The Reid Valley take-out makes for a ~7 mile run through a SUPER esthetic canyon. Plenty of strainers in this section for sure. You gotta be on your toes, scouting blind turns, etc. Stellar camping abounds. Ran this in a 17' canoe and it was mostly chill. A couple portages around unavoidable strainers. Putting in below the dam is fine if you're down for carrying all your shit down .75 miles to the river. You can leave your rig at the Bill Williams Overlook in Alamo State Park for $12 a night. I spoke with a ranger; this is fine to do. Unload gear directly at the Army Corp dam gate. As far as the shuttle goes. I'd recommend against taking the obvious line (Alamo Lake Road to Pipeline Road to Lincoln Ranch Road) because the Pipeline Road sucks. Its just as efficient if not faster to take the "Powerline Road" to Midway, turn right onto Johnson Ranch Road, and then right onto Lincoln Ranch Road. These are cruiser roads. Powerline road is a little sandy and rougher nearest to Alamo, but takes shape approaching Midway. Or, for a smoother ride, just take paved roads to Bouse, AZ and hop on Johnson Ranch there. Johnson Ranch will also take you to the Pipeline take out if you're looking for a longer run. And you don't need a 44 magnum with you...

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n/a
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9 years ago

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Gage Descriptions

This Army Corp link was super helpful: https://resreg.spl.usace.army.mil/pages/bwms.php You can pull up a data set showing Alamo lake level, acre/feet, average inflow (cfs), and instantaneous outflow (cfs). With this data plus knowing that the targeted lake level elevation is 1,125', you can start to gauge how long they will be letting water out. Furthermore, using the Water Control Plan at https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Media/Fact-Sheets/Article/1511614/alamo-dam-water-control-plan/ you can even figure out a sort of release schedule. Definitely get in touch with the UACE Los Angeles division and ask them what they are planning. Even the Alamo SP staff can help. Wouldn't wanna be out there and have the water shut off or turn up to 7k cfs!

Directions Description


No description for Alamo to Colorado River. But probably pretty straight forward.

For Alamo to Reid Valley or Pipeline:  I'd recommend against taking the obvious line (Alamo Lake Road to Pipeline Road to Lincoln Ranch Road) because the Pipeline Road sucks. Its just as efficient if not faster to take the "Powerline Road" to Midway, turn right onto Johnson Ranch Road, and then right onto Lincoln Ranch Road. These are cruiser roads. Powerline road is a little sandy and rougher nearest to Alamo, but takes shape approaching Midway. Or, for a smoother ride, just take paved roads to Bouse, AZ and hop on Johnson Ranch there.

No Accident Reports

Alerts

News

article main photo

AW launches Important Flow Studies on Arizona streams.

4/7/2014
Nathan Fey

Camp Verde, AZ - As part of our Colorado River Basin Project, AW has launched two new surveys of the effects of streamflows on recreation quality. If you have paddled the Verde River or the Bill Williams River, and are knowledgable about water levels - we need your input!

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James Holderer

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Kestrel Kunz

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Matt Muir

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1214547 03/27/20 James Holderer updated description
1214548 03/27/20 James Holderer directions to the river
1214549 03/27/20 James Holderer directions to the river
1214550 03/27/20 James Holderer updated description
1208032 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz
1189903 03/11/06 n/a n/a
1208038 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz