In the early part of the 1900s the King of Arizona (KofA) Mine scoured this land for precious mineral deposits. Today, in a twist of fate, the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and subsequently Kofa Wilderness protect the region's precious plant and animal life, including: one of the Arizona's largest desert bighorn sheep populations, a species nearly extirpated prior to the Refuge's establishment; Sonoran pronghorn, a federally endangered pronghorn sub-species, less than 100 California fan palms, remnants of wetter days; and the rare Kofa Mountain barberry, found only in southwest Arizona. Kofa Wilderness makes up approximately 82% of the Refuge, making this Wilderness Arizona's second largest. In the north lie the Kofa Mountains, to the south the Castle Dome Mountains. Both are magnificently jagged peaks looming thousands of feet above the pristine desert floor of King Valley, which separates them.
The Kofa Refuge and Wilderness is open to visitation year-round, 24 hours a day. There are no entrance fees and visitors are free to camp wherever they choose, keeping in mind the vehicle restrictions. The vast majority of the public comes to the Kofa Wilderness between October and March when 'winter visitors' flock to southern Arizona. These 'snowbirds' as they are also called, tend to remain on or close to the designated roads. Thus, intrepid hikers can still find vast areas of the Refuge to themselves. The Refuge is virtually devoid of human activity during the hot summer months.
The Refuge was established primarily for conservation of desert bighorn sheep and their habitat. This is still one of the primary management objectives. Subsequently, wilderness visitors are apt to encounter man-made structures such as concrete dams, windmills, and other modified or enhanced water sources. Many of these structures, built in the 1940s and '50s, have been allowed to slowly deteriorate, while others are maintained by Refuge staff to provide essential water needs for desert wildlife. On occasion wilderness solitude may be interrupted by the sounds and sights of aerial overflights as Refuge staff conduct wildlife surveys. The airspace over the Refuge is controlled by the military; thus, you may also see and hear military jets and helicopters during your visit. By and large, however, the remoteness and solitude of Kofa's backcountry is unmatched by other, more heavily-visited wilderness areas.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Kofa Wilderness.
The Kofa Refuge and Wilderness is located between Yuma and Quartzsite, Arizona east of U.S. Highway 95. The southernmost of the six entrance roads is found about 40 miles north of Yuma and leads to the southern Castle Dome Mountains. Other popular entrances are located at King Valley, Palm Canyon, and Crystal Hill, which is the northernmost entrance 10 miles south of Quartzsite. An exit off U.S. Interstate 10 at the Vicksburg Road provides access to the northeast corner of the Refuge.
Old roads, remnants mostly from the mining era, connect all areas of the Refuge; therefore, explorers can negotiate the Refuge from north to south or east to west. Four-wheel drive vehicles are a must; some of the more remote sections of the Refuge will take 3 - 4 hours of driving to reach from the highway.
There are no visitor facilities on the Refuge. The nearest restaurants and motels are found in Yuma and Quartzsite. Gas stations are located in Yuma, Quartzsite and at Interstate 10 and the Vicksburg Road (Exit 45). The Refuge Office is located in Yuma at 9300 E. 28th Street.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
The Kofa, like all national wildlife refuges, is a wonderful place to enjoy wildlife viewing. People must remember, however, that refuges are places for wildlife first; people are visitors and their presence is permitted only to the extent they don’t adversely affect the native wildlife. Practice the ideals of Leave No Trace, particularly with respect to wildlife and their habitats. By respecting nature and practicing ethical conduct, you will be rewarded by increasing your chances of observing animals. Usually, spotting desert bighorn sheep is directly related to the amount of effort visitors are willing to exert, but on occasion you may get lucky and find sheep grazing placidly along the lower slopes of the mountains, or even in desert washes. Even if you never see a sheep, though, there are lots of other creatures to capture your attention, not to mention the magnificent desert landscape.
Another popular activity on the Refuge is hunting. Hunting is permitted on the Refuge coinciding with designated State seasons. Contact the Refuge Manager for more information on hunting opportunities.
If you're into strenuous activity, the Refuge offers challenging opportunities for hiking and backpacking. There are no established or designated hiking trails on the Refuge with the exception of the ½-mile trail from the parking lot to the viewing point in Palm Canyon. Backpackers and hikers are welcome to find their own way to whatever destinations they choose.
Rock climbing is permitted (no permanent anchors allowed), although not encouraged due to the poor quality of the rock. If you rock climb you do so at your own risk.
Virtual geocaching is currently allowed on the Refuge; physical geocaches are not. Any physical geocaches located on the Refuge will be considered abandoned property and subsequently removed and discarded.
Keep in mind that when recreating in the high country portions of the Refuge, desert bighorn sheep will have their lambs during the winter months, which peaks from January through March. Please consider avoiding "peak bagging" during this time period.
The Refuge provides opportunities for unparalleled sightseeing on its road system. More than 300 miles of primitive roads provide access year-round. High ground clearance vehicles are necessary everywhere, and most roads are best traversed with four-wheel drives. Remember, summer temperatures are searingly hot in the southwest and often exceed 100 degrees. Please come prepared with plenty of water and food, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Camping is allowed anywhere on the refuge except on private inholdings. Camps must be set more than one-quarter of a mile from water sources by Arizona State law. Stays are limited to 14 days in any 12 consecutive month period. Campfires are permitted, but they must be small and fueled by deadwood only, collected outside designated Wilderness.
Rock collection is allowed only in the 1.5 mile square Crystal Hill Rock Collection Area in the Refuge's northwest corner. Contact the Refuge Manager for more information on rock collection on the Refuge.
There are several historic cabins on the Refuge. These are restored buildings from the mining and grazing era. Two of the cabins--the Kofa and Hoodoo cabins--are available for day use and overnight stays. They are first-come, first-serve and no cost to the public. If you utilize these facilities, please be advised that you do so at your own risk. The other cabins should not be entered for your personal safety.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The best time to visit the Refuge and Wilderness is during the winter months when temperatures are more conducive to outdoor activities. Nights can get chilly, so prepare accordingly. On rare occasions, snow falls at higher elevations, but generally only lasts for a day or two. Daytime highs are typically in the 60s and 70s; nighttime lows are seldom below 40°. Rain showers are not uncommon during December through February but tend to be of short duration and low intensity.
Summers at the Refuge and Wilderness are hot. Beginning in May, daytime high temperatures are over 100°F, and by mid-July peak at close to 115°. For those adventurous few who may opt for a visit during the summer, be sure to prepare for the dangerously high temperatures. Bring lots of water are needed, even when not engaged in any physical activity (usually 1 gallon per day). Hats, sunglasses, long-sleeves, and loose-fitting clothing are highly recommended, along with plenty of sunscreen.
Safety and Current Conditions
The Kofa Wilderness is vast and remote. There are no services available and cell phone service is absent over most of the Refuge. Therefore, it is critical that you inform a family member or friend of your travel plans, including when you plan to return. Let them know who to contact in case of an emergency as well (e.g., the Refuge Office or Yuma County Sheriff's Office).
There are numerous abandoned mines throughout the Refuge and, though they may be intriguing, they pose serious danger to the inexperienced visitor. Be safe and stay out of them. Entry into abandoned mines is prohibited on National Wildlife Refuges (since November 2010) in order to reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed millions of bats.
General Patton and other military leaders used the area that is now the Refuge for military training exercises before and during the Second World War. As a result, unexploded ordnance (UXO) is sometimes discovered. If you see anything that could possibly be UXO do not attempt to pick it up or handle it in any way. Leave it in place, take a picture, record its location,and report it to Refuge officials.
Visitors may contact the Refuge Manager or another staff member for specific information and get updates on current habitat and road conditions, or by visiting the office or calling (928) 783-7861. The fax number is (928) 783-8611.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.