That part of the Verde River that flows along the edge the Mazatzal Wilderness is Arizona's only Wild and Scenic River Area. Most of the 252,500-acre Mazatzal Wilderness rises to the east of the river. "Mazatzal" is an Aztec word meaning "an area inhabited by deer." The area shows evidence of occupation by tribes like the Tonto Apache and the Yavapai going back for 5,000 years but there is no evidence saying the Aztecs were ever anywhere near here.

Apparently Kit Carson and a group of fur trappers operating out of Taos, New Mexico made their way up the Verde River (on the western side of what is now Mazatzal Wilderness) in 1829. Because of Native American hostilities, though, most Anglo-Americans avoided the area until after General Crook's campaign in 1873 succeeded (for the most part) in confining the local Yavapai and Tonto Apaches to reservations to the southeast.

The central and eastern parts of Mazatzal Wilderness have lots of deep, narrow, hard to access canyons. Elevations range from about 2,100' in the southwest at Sheep Bridge to 7,903' on the summit of Mazatzal Peak. The higher elevations carry a pinon and juniper woodland with a few scattered Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs at the top. Below that is a chaparral of manzanita and shrub oak. The lowest areas are covered with desert shrubs and semidesert grasses. A lot of folks contend that Mazatzal Wilderness doesn't have mountainsides, it has cliffs instead.

Mazatzal Wilderness sports about 240 miles of trails with varying degrees of maintenance. The Verde Trail is in good shape and follows the river for about 28 miles. The Mazatzal Divide Trail is also in good condition as it follows the top ridges of the Mazatzals for 29 miles. Because of the ruggedness of the area and the thickness of the underbrush, off-trail hiking is nearly impossible. But where you'll find most human visitors to the Mazatzal Wilderness is at the Bernhardt Trailhead, probably because it's the easiest place to get to in the entire wilderness.

Group size is limited to 15 head of people and 15 head of livestock. The stay limit is 14 days in any 30-day period.