Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we highlight one of the best hikes from around the U.S. We aim to inspire you to not only read about it and look at pictures but to get out there and explore it for yourself.
This week's hike takes us to White Rock Springs, located in Arizona's Superstition Mountains.
Featured Photo: Sunset at Superstition Mountain (photo by Geoff Livingston)
Why this Hike?
Located in the Superstition Wilderness Area of the Tonto National Forest, this hike is a great place to explore the beauty of the desert and canyonlands while avoiding the crowds of some of the more well-known parks and rec areas in the state, such as the Grand Canyon. This 160,000-acre wilderness area contains over 170 miles of trails traversing the Sonoran Desert. It is full of history and tales of gold, as well as 100-year-old saguaro cacti, vista views, and wildlife.
- 23-mile figure 8 loop trail
- 3-day, 2-night trip
- Elevation gain-3,000ft
- Trail rating: Moderate to difficult with steep, loose, rocky climbs in areas
- Best time to go-Spring and fall (Water sources are more reliable during these times as well.)
- One of the best parts of this route is that you can leave your camp set up and take a lighter load the second day since you will be returning for another overnight here after you go sightseeing along with one of the nearby loop trails.
- Other interesting things you'll find and see on the trail: Teddy bear and jumping cholla, wildflowers (spring), and interesting rock formations, such as Weaver's Needle, Black Mesa, and Bluff Saddle. If you're lucky, you might also see mountain lions, javelinas, ring-tailed cats, and more.
- There are lots of crisscrossing trails in the area, lending the opportunity to extended trips and exploration. (It should be noted that many of the trails are not well-maintained. Make sure to have a GPS, good map, solid wayfinding skills, or all of the above!)
Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The Forest Service website states to, “...contact the Tonto National Forest Mesa Ranger District to get an up-to-date backcountry water report” before you head out.
- Make sure to pack plenty of water (3 liters/person is recommended for desert climates). There are several streams along the route, but the Charlebois Springs, near your campsite for both nights, is the most reliable water source.
How do I get there?
If you will be flying into the area, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the closest major airport. From here, keep left to stay on E Sky Harbor Blvd. Merge onto AZ-202 Loop E and continue for 17 miles. Continue onto AZ-202 S for 3.2 miles. Take exit 26 onto Brown Rd. Stay on E Brown Rd for 4 miles before continuing on W Lost Dutchman Blvd for 3.4 miles. Turn left onto AZ-88 E/N Apache Trail, continuing for 3.4 miles. Make a right onto N 1st Water Rd and the trailhead parking lot will be on your left after 2.6 miles.
The following map outlines our recommended route. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.
- Day 1: White Rock Springs (7 miles)
- Day 2: Second night near White Rock Springs (9.5 miles)
- Day 3: First Water Trailhead (6.3 miles)
Beginning from the First Water Trailhead, head a short 0.3 miles in before taking a left onto the Second Water Trail. Enjoy the gradual ascent and views as the trail widens before reaching the Black Mesa Trail junction, where you will head right. This 3-mile section offers views of Black Mesa, Weaver's Needle in the distance, and saguaro cacti aplenty. When you reach the Dutchman's Trail junction, make a left and reach the Bull Pass Trail after a short 0.2 miles. Although more difficult (the steep, rocky area we mentioned above) than continuing on the Dutchman's Trail, this path offers even more stunning views of the surrounding area as you make your way up.
Be aware of the cholla on your 1.5-mile descent to the Dutchman's Trail again, where you will continue going straight. After another short 0.4 miles, you will find the Calvary Trail and take a left, following it to check out White Rock Springs before heading back a very short distance to the trail junction and finding a number of established backcountry campsites just past here.
Whether you plan on taking today's loop counterclockwise or clockwise depends on how much water you still have available. The nearby Charlebois Springs is a reliable source of water just 1.3 miles away from camp...But you will also have to backtrack that much if you decide to hike counterclockwise.
Today you will partially head back the way you came yesterday, staying on the Dutchman's Trail at each intersection until you reach the Terrapin Trail junction, taking a left down it. Your ascent will begin quickly from here, but that only means even better views. Fortunately, you will descend gradually past Weaver's Needle and Bluff Saddle. Once you reach the Bluff Springs Trail, you will follow it left for about a mile before reconnecting with the Dutchman's Trail, taking it all the way to Charlebois Springs (don't forget to fill up on water!). Turn around and head back on the Dutchman's Trail to camp for the night.
For the first part of your last day, you will be heading back the way you came in, down the Dutchman's Trail through Bull Pass. Once you reach the Dutchman's and Black Mesa Trail junction, continue straight on the Dutchman's Trail all the way back, through Parker Pass and across First Water Creek, until reaching the trailhead again.
What will I need?
Although you will be visiting in spring or fall, it is still a desert habitat and you should be sure to take sunscreen and a hat. Average highs range around 85°F here in May! A larger water bladder, such as a 3-liter-one, is also a good idea to make sure you have plenty of drinking water at all times.
As previously mentioned, there are some loose, rocky climbs along the trail. A good pair of trekking poles will serve you well in these areas. We also recommend using rubber tips, both to protect the ends of your poles as well as help you grip rocky surfaces better.
A lightweight set of trekking poles, such as our Tri-Fold Carbon Cork trekking poles, are highly recommended for the rocky terrain in the Superstition Mountains.
Of course, you'll need a sturdy tent that doesn't add a lot of bulk or weight to your pack. A versatile down quilt and an ultralight sleeping pad will add to your nighttime comfort on the cool desert nights.
For a comprehensive list of what to pack for your trip, be sure to check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I need a permit?
No backcountry camping permits are required.
This 3-day excursion in the backcountry of the Tonto National Forest provides picturesque views of the Superstition Mountains area and some challenging hiking to boot. Have you ever visited this area of Arizona? Tell us about your experience or recommend another great hike you've been on in the comments below!