This area 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 found there. This river was designated by Congress in 1984 as Arizona's only Wild & Scenic River.
Elevations range from 1,600 feet along the Verde River to 7,903 feet on Mazatzal Peak. There is an extensive system of trails their condition varys from very good to poor.
The Mazatzal Wilderness now contains over 252,500 acres of the Tonto and Coconino national forests. Established in 1940 and expanded to its present size in 1984, its name is from an old Indian culture in Mexico, and is correctly pronounced "Mah-zaht-zahle," meaning "Land of the Deer".
Location: Mazatlal mountain range of Arizona
Size and Elevation: 252,500 acres, 1,600 feet to 7,903 feet
Ecosystem: Desert scrub to grasslands.
Features: Varying -- rolling hills, mountains, canyons
Activities: Hiking, Horseback Riding
Before you hit the trails, you may want to learn more about the topography, vegetation, geology, climate, wildlife, livestock regulations, water, or natural fire management. Still not satisified? Check out more sources for information and other Tonto wilderness trails.
There are a network of some 240 miles of "system" trails serving the Mazatzal Wilderness and contiguous areas. System trails are defined as those trails on the Forest Transportation Plan which the Forest Service attempts to periodically maintain. Their condition varies from excellent to poor. Routed signs are installed at trail junctions, but unfortunately they are often damaged or stolen. There are also a number of miles of "unmaintained trails'' shown on the map which may be anything from an abandoned cat-road to the remains of a sheep-herder trail not used for decades.
While we do not with to take away the visitor's sense of discovery and adventure, we do feel a few brief comments about each system trail are in order:
Dead Man Mesa Trail - 4 miles, outside of Peninsual.
Highwater Trail - 4.4 miles, route up east side of Verde River.
North Peak Trail - 3.5 miles, steep middle section
Rock Creek Trail - 3.3 miles, very scenic
Davey Gowan - .1.5 miles, alternate route to Deer Creek
Cornucopia - 2 miles. Overgrown and hard to find.
Saddle Mountain - 4.4 miles. Interesting and popular.
Thicket Spring Trail - 2.6 miles. Difficult to find.
Fisher Trail - 3.3 miles. Nice trees.
Sandy Saddle Trail - 3 miles. Easier to take west to east.
Little Saddle Mountain Trail - 3.5 miles. Begins at highway. Very scenic.
Brush Trail - 4.2 miles. Sharp switchbacks.
West Fork Trail - .5 mile. Connecting trail.
Brody Seep Trail - 1.5 mile. Chilson Camp is on this trail.
Midnight Trail - 2.2 miles. Useful connecting trail.
Short Cut Trail - 1.2 mile. Name says it all. Difficult to find.
Half Moon Trail - 3 miles. New, well constructed trail at base of mountains.
Saddle Ridge Trail - 9.5 miles. Starts outside wilderness.
Deadman Trail - 5.7 miles. Significant, but steep trail.
Bull Spring Trail - 6.5 miles. Former primitive road.
Barnhardt Trail - 6.2miles. Scenic, but what an uphill slog!
Y Bar Basin Trail - 6 miles. Popular.
Deer Creek Trail - 8.8 miles. Follows north form of Deer Creek.
South Fork Trail - 6.4 miles. Interesting canyon with good shade.
Gold Ridge Trail - 5.3 miles. Outside wilderness, so motor vehicles are allowed.
Copper Camp Trail - 7.2 miles. Steep, difficult to follow.
Sears Trail - 6.9 miles. West end is difficult to locate.
Verde River Trail - 28.3 miles. Runs parallel to Verde River.
Dutchman Grave Trail - 12 miles. Difficult to follow at parts.
Mazatzal Divide Trail - 29 miles. Popular and well laid out.
Sheep Creek Trail - 10 miles. Passes through little-visited area.
Davenport Wash Trail - 15 miles. Passes near Club Cabin.
Willow Spring Trail - 16 miles. Major east-west route.
Red Hills Trail - 12.5 miles. Parts are steep and difficult to follow.
17 - Dead Man Mesa Trail
4 miles in length. Totally outside the Wilderness. Parts are rocky and very steep.
Elevation: 2,600 to 4,880 feet.
Termini: Road #591 and Verde River Trail #11.
20 - Highwater Trail
4.4 miles in length. Provides a route up the east side of the Verde River, eliminating two river crossings.
Termini: Trail #269 on Wet Bottom Mesa and Trail #11.
24 - North Peak Trail
3.5 miles in length. Middle section is very steep. East end is hard to find. West-to-east travel is recommended because of grade. Not recommended for horses.
Elevation: 4,240 feet to 6,220 feet.
Termini: Road #414A and Trail #23 ear L.F. Ranch at East Verde River.
42 - Rock Creek Trail
3.3 miles in length. Very scenic trail but with very steep grades; not recommended for horses.
Elevation: 3,980 feet to 7,080 feet.
Termini: Trail #23 and Trail #288.
48 - Davey Gowan
1.5 miles in length. An alternate route into or out of Deer Creek. Located in a stand of mixed conifer and named after a pioneer explorer of this area.
Elevation: 4,760 feet to 5,250 feet.
Termini: Road #201 and Trail #45.
86 - Cornucopia
2 miles in length. Southern end is an old road. Overgrown and difficult to locate in spots.
Elevation: 4,400 feet to 5,250 feet.
Termini: Road #25A and Road #201.
91 - Saddle Mountain
4.4 miles in length. An interesting and popular trail that is the remains of an old prospecting road.
Elevation: 5,000 feet to 5,500 feet.
Termini: Road #25 and dead end at Story Mine.
95 - Thicket Spring Trail
2.6 miles in length. North end begins near the end of Road #201 and is difficult to find.
Elevation: 4,840 feet to 5,600 feet.
Termini: Trail #86 and Trail #88.
230 - Fisher Trail
3.3 miles in length. Parts are steep and rocky. Passes through some especially nice stands of trees.
Elevation: 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet.
Termini: Trail #23 and Trail #264.
231 - Sandy Saddle Trail
3 miles in length. Very long, steep grade east of Sandy Saddle. West-to-east travel is recommended due to grades.
Elevation: 5,620 feet to 6,400 feet.
Termini: Trail #43 and Trail #23.
244 - Little Saddle Mountain Trail
3.5 miles in length. Beginning at Highway 87 difficult to find, but it is very scenic.
Elevation: 3,720 feet to 5,020 feet.
Termini: Highway 87 and Trail #91 (only trail which begins on paved road).
249 - Brush Trail
4.2 miles in length. Northern end is old cat-trail with sharp switchbacks.
Elevation: 5,200 feet to 5,900 feet.
Termini: Trail #34 and Trail #262.
260 - West Fork Trail
0.5 miles in length. A short trail connecting the Thicket Spring Trail to the west fork of Sycamore.
Elevation: 4,720 feet to 5,200 feet.
Termini: Trail #95 and Trail #86.
264 - Brody Seep Trail
1.5 miles in length. Chilson Camp is located on this trail.
Elevation: 5,400 feet to 6,000 feet.
Termini: Trail #23.
272 - Midnight Trail
2.2 miles in length. A little used but useful connecting trail.
Elevation: 4,820 feet to 5,360 feet.
Termini: Trail #262 just west of Fuller Seep and Trail #25.
274 - Short Cut Trail
1.2 miles in length. Provides a short-cut to Squaw Flat but has not been maintained to date. Both ends very difficult to find.
Elevation: 5,120 feet to 5,600 feet.
Termini: Trail #88.
288 - Half Moon Trail
3 miles in length. New well-constructed trail running generally on contour at base of mountains. Suitable for short day hikes.
Elevation: 4,000 feet to 4,300 feet.
Termini: Trail #42 and Road #442.
14 - Saddle Ridge Trail
9.5 miles in length. Northern end outside the Wilderness is a road. Not recommended for horses.
Elevation: 3,240 feet to 5,800 feet.
Termini: Road #194 and Road #406 near L.F. Ranch at East Verde River.
25 - Deadman Trail
5.7 miles in length. A significant trail with some steep grades. Crosses Deadman Creek and gains 2,200 feet in elevation in less than 2 miles. Ends near Mountain Spring.
Elevation: 3,100 feet to 5,300 feet.
Termini: Trail #89 and Trail #223.
34 - Bull Spring Trail
6.5 miles in length. Most of this trail was once a primitive road.
Elevation: 3,400 feet to 5,240 feet.
Termini: Road #406 and Trail #269.
43 - Barnhardt Trail
6.2 miles in length. Scenic but with long uphill grades. One of the heaviest used trails in the wilderness. Not recommended for horses.
Elevation: 4,200 feet to 6,00.0 feet.
Termini: Road #419 and Trail #23.
44 - Basin Trail
6.0 miles in length. Popular hiking trail. Northern end near Barnhardt Trailhead may be difficult to locate.
Elevation: 4,200 feet to 7,100 feet.
Termini: Road #419 and Trail #23.
45 - Deer Creek Trail
8.8 miles in length. Follows the north fork of Deer Creek, subject to heavy flood damage. Parts were recently reconstructed but this trail is not recommended for horses.
Elevation: 3,400 feet to 5,600 feet.
Termini: Highway 87 and Road #201.
46 - South Fork Trail
6.4 miles in length. East end begins as old roadway. Travels up an interesting canyon with good shade.
Elevation: 3,400 feet to 6,040 feet.
Termini: Highway 87 and Road #201.
47 - Gold Ridge Trail
5.3 miles in length. Location outside the Wilderness with motor vehicles allowed (west end is abandoned road with no turnaround at its end).
Elevation: 3,400 feet to 6,040 feet.
Termini: Highway #87 and Road #201.
87 - Copper Camp Trail
7.2 miles in length. Some parts are steep; some difficult to follow.
Elevation: 2,600 feet to 5,360 feet.
Termini: Road 477 (requires fording Verde River) and Trail #88.
90 - Sears Trail
6.9 miles in length. West end difficult to locate.
Elevation: 2,000 feet to 4,120 feet.
Termini: Road #479 and Trail #88. Road #479 requires fording the Verde River due to closure of Horseshoe Dam crossing.
11 - Verde River Trail
28.3 miles in length. A long trail much of which runs parallel to the Verde River. Northern 7 miles and two mile portion north of Red Creek were both primitive roads. River crossings at Red Creek and Pete's Cabin Mesa may be dangerous and may also be difficult to find. Do not cross at high water levels.
Elevation: 2,080 feet to 5,900 feet.
Termini: Willow Spring Trail #223, one-fourth mile east of Sheep Bridge, and Twin Buttes Road #194.
22 - Dutchman Grave Trail
12 miles in length. Some parts difficult to follow.
Elevation: 2,400 feet to 4,840 feet.
Termini: Trail #11, one-fourth mile north of Sheep Bridge, and Trail #25 near Mountain Spring.
23 - Mazatzal Divide Trail
29 miles in length. A popular and well laid-out trail, which is major north-south route.
Elevation: 3,500 feet to 7,180 feet.
Termini: Road #406 and Road #201.
88 - Sheep Creek Trail
10 miles in length. Passes through a little visited area. Very steep section northeast of Squaw Flat.
Elevation: 3,020 feet to 5.520 feet.
Termini: Trail #89 (West of Club Cabin) and Trail #91.
89 - Davenport Wash Trail
15 miles in length. Passes near Club Cabin. Portions steep northeast of South Fork of Deadman Creek.
Elevation: 2,000 feet to 5,600 feet.
Termini: Road #474 and Trail #264. Road #474 requires fording the Verde River due to closure of Horseshoe Dam crossing.
223 - Willow Spring Trail
16 miles in length. A major east-west route, which begins just east of the Sheep Bridge (bridge not recommended for horses). Some steep grades on trail.
Elevation: 2.080 feet to 6,160 feet.
Termini: Sheep Bridge and Trail #23.
262 - Red Hills Trail
12.5 miles in length. Parts are steep and some sections may be difficult to follow. Goes into a little-visited area.
Elevation: 2,820 feet to 6,280 feet.
Termini: Trail #23 and Trail #22.
269 - Wet Bottom Trail
9.4 miles in length. A little-used but scenic trail ending near the Bull Spring Cabin.
Elevation: 2,360 feet to 4,900 feet.
Termini: Trail #11 and Trail #34.
Directions to Trailheads
Not uncommonly one of the more challenging parts of a back-country trip is attempting to find the trailhead itself. For this reason, we have developed the following explanation of how to reach various trailheads. This will also enable those who wish to "get away from the crowd" to locate areas that receive less use.
To reach this trailhead, drive north from Mesa on Highway 87 (the Beeline Highway); approximately 2 1/2 miles past the Sunflower store, there is a small turn-off on the right (east) side of the highway. (If you go under the power-lines, you have gone too far.) The Little Saddle Mountain Trail #244 starts across the highway on the west side. Use care when crossing the highway because of the high-speed traffic. This is the only trail going into this Wilderness that can be reached via a paved road.
Trail Accessed: Little Saddle Mountain Trail #244.
Drive north from Mesa on Highway 87 (the Beeline Highway) for approximately 46 miles to the Slate Creek Divide. Turn sharply left on Road #25. Drive down this road approximately 2 miles, then swing up the West Fork for 1/2 mile (horse trailers and sedans are not recommended beyond this point). Turn left at a road junction, cross the creek and drive up this road (still Road #25) approximately 1 1/2 miles to the corral at the end of this road.
Trail Accessed: Saddle Mountain Trail #91.
Pine Mountain Road
Again, drive up Highway 87 to the Slate Creek Divide. Turn left up Road #201. There is not a single trailhead on this road, but rather six (6) interesting trails branching off at different locations. The road gets progressively rougher and finally becomes impassable. A high clearance vehicle is recommended. Not recommended for horse trailers.
Drive up Highway #87 (the Beeline Highway) to the junction with Highway 188. Across from this junction, a small road turns off to the left. The trailhead is a short distance up this road.
Trail Accessed: Deer Creek Trail #45; South Fork Trail #46; Gold Ridge Trail #47.
Drive up Highway #187 (the Beeline Highway) to the junction with Highway 188. Approximately 4 miles beyond this junction, turn left on Road #419 (this turn-off is just before crossing the Rye Creek Bridge, about 1 mile south of the Rye Creek Store). Follow Road #419 for 4.7 miles to the trailhead. Stock water may be available. The Barnhardt, Basin, and the Half Moon Trails begin at this point. This is the most heavily-used trailhead for this Wilderness.
Trail Accessed: Barnhardt #43; Basin #44; Half Moon Trials #288.
From Payson, drive west on Main Street (becomes Road #406) approximately 5 1/2 miles (after turning off Highway 87) towards the East Verde. Turn left on Road #413. Follow this road approximately 6 miles to a parking area and corral. The North Peak Trail begins approximately 1/2 mile west of this point up a jeep road in Mineral Creek.
Trail Accessed: North Peak Trail #24.
From Payson, drive west on Main Street (which becomes Road #406) towards the East Verde. Approximately 11 miles after turning off highway 87, turn right into a small parking area (located a few hundred feet beyond a sharp switchback). This road is very steep in spots, and 4x4's are recommended for hauling horses. There is a small pipe corral available at the trailhead. The Mazatzal Divide Trail begins across the road.
Trail Accessed: Mazatzal Divide Trail #23.
From Payson, drive west on Main Street (which becomes Road #406) towards the East Verde. This road ends at the trailhead after approximately 12 miles (approximately 1 1/2 miles beyond the City Creek Trailhead). This road is very steep in spots and 4x4's are recommended for hauling horses. A private road under permit to a rancher extends into the Wilderness, however no other vehicles are allowed beyond this point. Stock water is available. The Bull Spring Trail is accessed approximately 3 miles down this private road.
Trail Accessed: Bull Spring Trail #34.
From Payson, continue north on Highway 87 (the Beeline Highway) approximately 19 miles to Strawberry. Turn left at the Strawberry Lodge on Road #428 for approximately 5 miles; turn left on Road #427 for 6/10 miles, then turn right on Road #194. Continue down Road #194 for approximately 5 miles to the trailhead. Only 4WD vehicles are recommended for this road.
Trail Accessed: Verde River Trail #11.
Note: The Saddle Ridge Trail #14 begins approximately one mile before reaching the trailhead
From the town of Carefree, continue east and north on the Cave Creek (Tom Darlington) Road #24 for 35 miles to a T-junction with Road #269. Turn right for 3 miles to Road #18. Turn left on Road #18 for approximately 2 1/2 miles to Red Creek. High-clearance vehicles are recommended for reaching this trailhead. Be sure your vehicle has plenty of gas. From this point it is possible to hike or pack down Red Creek (a primitive jeep road follows the creek) for approximately 3 miles to the Verde River.
Trail Accessed: Verde River Trail #11.
From the town of Carefree, continue east and north on the Cave Creek (Tom Darlington) Road #24 for approximately 35 miles to a T-junction with Road #269. Turn right for approximately 12 miles to the trailhead. High clearance vehicles are recommended for this road; however, there are times (after rains, etc.) when even a 4x4 has trouble.
Trail Accessed: Verde River Trail #11; Dutchman Grave Trail #22; Willow Spring Trail #223.
From the town of Carefree, continue east and north on the Cave Creek (Tom Darlington) Road #24 for approximately 10 miles. Turn right on the Horseshoe Dam Road #205 for approximately 6 miles; turn left and continue on Road #205 for 7.7 miles to a corral where Road #161 turns right. From this point, it is possible when the river is low to cross the river to get to Road #479. (Crossing the river is done at your own risk!) Salt River Project has blocked the normal access by prohibiting vehicles from crossing Horseshoe Dam. Continue northeast on Road #479 for approximately 3/4 mile to Road #474. Turn right on Road #474 for approximately 1/2 mile to a parking area.
Trail Accessed: Sears Trail #90 (and an old jeep road).
Proceed as to Sears Trailhead; however, continue on past it on Road #474 for approximately another 2 1/2 miles to the end of the road. Recommended for 4x4's only.
Trail Accessed: Davenport Trail #89.
There are a number of other points besides the above trailheads that can provide access to this Wilderness. Contact a local Forest Officer if you have any questions.
This area ranges in elevation from approximately 2,100 feet near the Sheep Bridge up to 7,903 feet at Mazatzal Peak. Within this large area, topography varies greatly. The western portion is level to rolling on each side of the Verde River. The central and eastern portions contain rugged but picturesque mountains, characterized by deep, nearly inaccessible canyons and sheer walled escarpments. Routes of travel are dictated by topography and visitors soon learn NOT to fight the terrain.
The vegetation of this Wilderness is representative of southwestern mountain ranges which rise up from the desert floor.
Above the western areas of Sonoran desert shrub, the vegetative community changes to semi-desert grasslands. Above the limited grass-lands occur a mountain shrub vegetative community (Turbinella oak and Manzanita are common). A woodland type (with Pinyon pine and Juniper) is found in other areas. The uppermost areas of the Wilderness support stands of ponderosa pine, and there are even small pockets of Douglas Fir.
The southern half of the Mazatzal Mountains consists almost entirely of granitic rocks that locally are somewhat gneissic and are Precambrian in age. At the lower altitudes on the west side of the range, older rocks are locally covered by volcanic flows and associated tuffs.
Eastern portions show how the topography has been greatly influenced by the hardness of the rocks. Outcrops of rhyolite and porphyry Jasper are resistant to wear and form steep slopes, while predominately slate areas in the south are smooth and have rounded slopes.
Large peaks and rock outcroppings consist of Precambrian Mazatzal quartzite and related Deadman quartzite and Maverick shale. In the immediate vicinity of the quicksilver prospects near Sunflower, crystalline schists that vary considerably in mineral composition and texture occur.
At the lower elevations, the climate can be a challenging adversary during the summer months when temperatures may reach over 110 degrees F.--with very little shade! On the other hand, conditions during the fall and spring can be quite pleasant and inviting. The winter months at the lowest elevations can also be enjoyable if you are properly equipped. The following graphs will give an idea of conditions which can be expected at the lower elevations in the western parts of the Mazatzal Wilderness.
At higher elevations, snow is common during the winter and travel is restricted. Spring, fall, and even summer can be pleasant in the higher "backbone" of this Wilderness. The following graphs give an idea of conditions which can be expected at these higher elevations.
Be aware that intense rain storms can occur at any elevation and flash flooding can be expected.
Some people do not realize that the grazing of cattle, sheep, horses, and burros is allowed in designated wilderness. This grazing was provided for by Congress with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. There are 10 grazing allotments under permit which have acreages within the Mazatzal Wilderness. The Forest Service objective for livestock management in wilderness is utilization of the forage resources while maintaining wilderness values. if you wish to avoid livestock, check with the local ranger for areas that will be free of stock during the time of your visit.
If corrals are used, please be sure they are not damaged. Also, do not deny cattle access to water by camping at inappropriate locations. Close all gates unless it is apparent they are meant to be left open.
Mining claims may no longer be established within this wilderness. The majority of it appears to have little economic mineral potential, and has not been significantly damaged by this type of activity. In certain areas, the "works of man" are quite evident including some old bulldozer trails that are now slowly recovering. This activity has primarily occurred in the areas of Copper Camp Creek, Mineral Creek, Copper Mountain, and east of Saddle Mountain.
As the uses of National Forests grew and intensified, there was again concern that selected small areas should be preserved in a somewhat natural condition, before no such areas remained, The Forest Service and concerned citizens, under the leadership of Aldo Leopold, established such a classification system in the early 1920's. This area was established as the Mazatzal Primitive Area by the Chief of the Forest Service in May 27, 1938. It was upgraded to a wilderness classification on June 13, 1940.
Later, the United States Congress became aware of and interested in the concepts of wilderness preservation and on September 3, 1964, the President signed a law, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Mazatzal Wilderness was one of the areas identified as a part of this original system. On August 28, 1984, the Arizona Wilderness Act added some 35,000 acres to that originally designated, giving the Mazatzal Wilderness its present size and shape.
Hundreds of years before this happened, Native Americans were making their homes adjacent to this area. It has been more or less continuously occupied for at least 5,000 years. By 1400 A.D., overpopulation and destruction of key elements of the natural resource base apparently resulted in economic and political stresses which ultimately caused the downfall of prehistoric civilizations throughout most of Arizona.
From about the early 1 500's, the Mazatzals have provided resources for the Yavapai Indians who roamed over large areas in this part of the State. After about 1700, they were joined by a few Tonto Apache who lived primarily to the east of the Mazatzals. This situation was maintained until the late 1 800's, when American army units from Fort McDowell subjugated both the Apache and Yavapai and confined them to reservations. Mazatzal (locally mispronounced "madda-zell," but properly pronounced Mah'zat zall) is itself apparently an Indian word. In Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) Mazatzal means an area inhabited by deer. Since Aztecs were never in this area, how the mountain range was named remains a mystery.
Trappers were likely the first Anglo-Americans to enter the Mazatzal region. A party including Kit Carson is reported to have trapped for fur-bearing animals down the Salt, then up the Verde River in 1829. Indian hostility curtailed more permanent use of this area until the General Crook's successful campaign in 1873. the early-day mining camps known as Mazatzal City and Marysville, and the Mormon community called the East Verde Settlement were established just east of the present wilderness boundary in the late 1870's and early 1880's.
During this same period, large numbers of cattle and sheep were being brought into the area and homesteads were established. By the turn of the century, the entire area was heavily stocked.
For those interested in the history of the area known as the Mazatzal Wilderness, there are a few reference books, but much remains unrecorded and forgotten. Our only clues are the remaining sites and artifacts (both historic and prehistoric) which are strictly protected by Federal law.
Sources for More Information
"Desert Survival", by D. and S. Neslon (Tecolote Press, 1977).
"The Arizona Scotsman", by Jerrell G. Johnson (Land Publishing Co., Mesa, AZ, 1970).
"Arizona's Mazatzal", by Francois Leydet (National Geographic Magazine, February, 1974).
"Our Wilderness Heritage", (Arizona Highways Magazine, November 1981).
"Arizona Trails", by David Mazel (Wilderness Press, 1981).
"Walking Softly in the Wilderness", by John Hart (Sierra Club Books, 1977).
"11,000 Years on the Tonto National Forest", by M. McAllister and J.S. Wood (Tonto NF Report 81-70, 1981).
"Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Uplands", by Francis Elmore (Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1976).
"Geology of Arizona", by D. Nations and E. Stump (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1981).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication