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Sawmill Canyon - San Carlos Apache Reservation

Summary: An off trail excursion with rock hopping, wading and swimming in a wild setting. There were two mandatory swims when the author was here, conditions could be very different after recent rains. The canyon is located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, so you will need a recreation permit ($7/day or $10/day family). You can find permits at the following locations: Apache Gold Casino's convenience store (928/475-7800, ext. 3658), Express Stop in Globe (928/425-3911), Circle K Store in Globe (928/425-5952), Minit Market in Pima (928/485-3040), Pinky's Bait & Tackle in Safford (928/428-0056), Bob Keen's Store in Fort Thomas (928/485-2261), and Tempe Marine in Mesa (480/782-6813).
Directions: From Phoenix, head east on highway 60 to Globe. Turn north (left) on highway 60/77 ~20 miles to where the highway drops down and crosses the Salt River. Note: You might want to stop here and assess the flow in the river. The route described requires you to cross the river, which might be dangerous if flows are high. Drive approximately 3 miles past the bridge to a large pull off on the on the south (right) side of the road.
GPS: UTM 548493mE, 3740610 mN
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Easy
Length: You can turn around when you want, you can see the lower and most scenic part of the canyon in 6-8 hours.
Date Hiked: July 2005
Weather Conditions: Sunny and hot
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the pull off, look east along the hillside below the road and locate the prominent trail/old road that heads down the hillside towards the Salt River. Now that you know you're in the right place, gather your gear and walk due south out of the parking area on a use trail which soon bends left to connect with the prominent path you spotted earlier. The path is well graded and easy to follow as it switchbacks its way down into the Salt River Canyon. The trail ends about 100' above the river, but there is a well worn, if somewhat steep use trail that completes the passage to the bank. If conditions permit, wade or swim across the river. Sawmill Canyon is the prominent drainage just upstream from the path. Heading up canyon you'll find the lower layers composed of basalt. Soon you'll hit a pool and waterfall. You can bypass the falls by climbing around on the right. Just above is a narrows section that can be bypassed on the left. Shortly afterwards you'll reach the first swim through a water filled hallway. It's more rock hopping and bouldering as you continue up canyon through more nice scenery, eventually reaching another swim through a longer hallway. About 10 minutes after this swim (about 2.5 hours from the car) the canyon suddenly opens up, becoming wide and uninteresting. The author continued up canyon another 2.5 hours from this point, but did not find anything of note. The canyon is rather overgrown in places in this middle section, making travel difficult. When ready return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife spent a long day in Sawmill. We hiked upstream about 30 minutes past the junction with Tank Canyon and back at an unhurried pace in approximately 12 hours.
Maps: Click here for a map of the area.
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Salt River.

The first swim in Sawmill.

Climbing on basalt. Nice canyon wall.
Much of the middle canyon
looks just like this.
Heading out after a long day.