Tonto National Forest

87 Trails in 6 Wildernesses

The Tonto National Forest radiates from the center of Arizona. One of the largest national forests in America, the Tonto embraces nearly three million acres of rugged land -- a lot of it roadless, a lot of it designated wilderness. This area is right where the Rockies, the Sierra Madre, the Colarado Plateau and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts meet and mingle: you'll find plants and animals here that you would more commonly expect to encounter further north or further south. Elevation ranges from 1,300 to nearly 8,000 feet. At one time, the high areas of this region was the home of the world's largest Ponderosa Pines. While the old growth is gone, the region is still compellingly beautiful and biologically rich. It is alive.

All or parts of eight designated wildernesses, encompassing more than 589,000 acres, come under Tonto National Forest jurisdiction. GORP has compiled extensive hiking information on six of them: the Supersition, Four Peaks, Mazatzal, Sierra Anche, Hellsgate and Salome . We'll leave the other two, Salt River Canyon and Pine Mountain, for another time.

Let's go. . .

Superstition Wilderness has a well-developed system of 34 trails, tracking a total of 180 miles. A place of legend, this wilderness was first designated in 1939. It now contains approximately 160,200 acres. The western end of the wilderness receives heavy use during the cooler times of the year. The area is starkly beautiful, often rugged, almost always tough, especially to the ill-prepared. Searing heat and a shortage of water are typical in the summer. Bitter cold, torrential rains, and even snowstorms are typical in the winter. To those hardy enough to meet the challenges, this wilderness offers scenic beauty, and a chance to study the many plants and animals indigenous to the area.

Superstitions and Legends is a personal account of trail riding in the Superstition Wilderness by Lin Sutherland

Four Peaks Wilderness was established in 1984, and contains approximately 60,740 acres with a major mountain rising up in its center from the desert foothills. The Four Peaks themselves are visible for many miles, and the rapid change in elevation produces interesting plant combinations. The Peaks are located in the southern end of the Mazatzal mountain range, in eastern Maricopa County and western Gila County. Eleven trails transverse 40 miles Four Peaks.

The Mazatzal Wilderness embraces the north end of the Mazatzal Range, and consists predominantly of rough desert mountains, sometimes broken by narrow, vertical-walled canyons. Further west below the brush-covered foothills, the Verde River flows through the Sonoran Desert. The Verde River makes a good float trip, along with its near cousin the Gila. Established in 1940; its name is Nahuatl, which is an old Indian culture of Mexico, and means"land of the Deer". Elevations range from 1,600 feet along the Verde River to 7,903 feet on Mazatzal Peak. There is an extensive system of 34 trails extending 240 miles; their condition varys from very good to poor.

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is small but special: precipitious box canyons, high vertical cliffs, and pine-covered mesas. The extremely rough topography limits (and in some places prohibits) cross-country travel; however, the area has a good system of 13 trails covering 60 miles. The many plant and animal species vary from those found on the desert to those found at 8,000 feet.

Hellsgate Wilderness has a major canyon and perennial stream extending its entire length. Deep pools of water are sometimes separated by impassable falls. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit this area; however, with only 4 trails coming in at 30 miles, access is limited.

The Salome Wilderness is another wilderness with a major canyon running practically its entire length. At the upper reaches of Salome Creek and Workman Creek are small perennial streams snaking their way through the bottom of this scenic canyon. Inviting pools of water can be found nearly all year. Elevations range from 2,600 feet at the lower end of Salome Creek to 6,500 feet on Hopkins Mountain. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit this area however, with only 4 trails covering a mere 18.5 miles, access is limited.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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