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Difficulty II-III
Length 36 Miles
Flow Range 200 - 5000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 25.2 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 07/15/2017 3:18 am

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


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8 years ago

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article main photo

AW launches Important Flow Studies on Arizona streams.

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!


Kestrel Kunz


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1208032 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz
1189903 03/11/06 n/a n/a
1208038 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz