Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Area 2-Lower Salt River Recreation Area

Located just northeast of Mesa lies the Lower Salt River Recreation Area of the Tonto National Forest, which provides birders with overall one of the better areas to bird in the county.  This recreation area is accessed by taking the Bush Highway as the central point to access many different recreation sites along the river.  Every site here is productive in it's own way.  The Salt River is in the middle of the lower sonoran desert habitats that make up this part of Arizona, and all along the river lies stands and forests of cottonwoods, willows, and mesquites.  With this excellent source of riparian habitat, the Lower Salt River is valuable to many different species, which includes resident and breeding birds, as well as migratory and wintering species. 

Getting to the Lower Salt River Recreation Area: The best way to get to the Lower Salt River Recreation Area is to take Power Road north until it turns into the Bush Highway.  The closest freeway is the Red Mountain Freeway, which is the Loop 202.  Take the Power Road exit from the 202 and head north on Power Road for two miles until Power Road turns into the Bush Highway roughly at mile marker 21.  If wanting to access the Bush Highway from it's northmost limit, that can be reached from Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) at 87's mile marker 199. 


Birding Locations:

Hawes Trail System

Granite Reef Recreation Site (eBird)

Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site (eBird)

Coon Bluff Recreation Site (eBird)

Goldfield Recreation Site (eBird)

"Foxtail/Sheeps Crossing stretch" Recreation Site (eBird)

Blue Point Recreation Site (eBird)

Pebble Beach Recreation Site

Water Users Recreation Site (eBird)

Saguaro Lake Recreation Site (eBird)

Butcher Jones Recreation Site (eBird)


Species List, Map Overview

Area B Species List

Lower Salt River Recreation Area eBird Data (all of the public eBird hotspots combined for a bar graph overview)

Lower Salt River Recreation Area Map


Things you need to know when birding at the Salt River:

Parking at all of the recreation sites (with the exception of the Foxtail site), require a Tonto National Forest Recreation Pass, which can be purchased at local gas stations south of the Salt River for a cost of six dollars per day.  Just south of Granite Reef, Power Road is what turns into the Bush Highway.  By taking the Bush Highway south, it turns into Power Road.  A Circle K a few miles south at the northeast corner of Power and McKellips Roads is the closest gas station a Tonto National Forest Recreation Pass can be purchased.  Vehicles without passes will be ticketed.  Also noteworthy, there are places you can park along the Bush Highway (that aren't part of the official recreation sites) that you can park without paying a fee.  You might have to walk a greater distance, but the bright side is a fee is not always necessary.

It is often crowded at the Salt River during the weekends, especially at the lake.  Pick and choose which birding places you go to because of this factor.  By birding the areas that are more likely to be crowded during the weekend and birding them first thing in the morning or earlier will increase one's chances of success.


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