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Tortilla Trailhead Loop - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A long day hike or multi-day backpacking trip from the Tortilla Trailhead using the Hoolie Bacon, Red Tanks, Coffee Flat and JF Trails.
Directions: From Phoenix take US 60 east. Exit at Apache Junction (Idaho Road, Highway 88) and drive northeast (left) on State Highway 88. Follow 88 to the end of the pavement (about 25 miles) then a few miles further until you reach the signed parking area for Tortilla Trailhead on the right hand side. Follow the rough dirt road (FR 213), which has some rather aggressive stone steps at the beginning, three additional miles to the cul-de-sac at the end.
Road Conditions: 4-Wheel Drive
Navigation: Moderate
Length: 22 miles
Date Hiked: March 2003
Weather Conditions: Cool & mostly overcast with brief hail in the morning
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the cul-de-sac, the JF Trail begins just past the fence line and signs indicating the area is 'closed to motor vehicles' (0 miles). The JF Trail begins as an old rocky road as it climbs moderately through the desert grassland, soon passing a Superstition Wilderness boundary sign. After 0.8 miles you will reach a signed junction with the Hoolie Bacon Trail (which heads right), the JF Trail continues left (0.8 miles). Turn right onto the Hoolie Bacon Trail. The path winds its way through a few low hills, then descends to travel beside a wash, crossing it a few times. After the third crossing you'll come to a camp site, stay to the right (looking for cairns) as you exit the camp. The trail bends left, away from the stream bed, and begins climbing moderately, then more steeply up into the hills. It eventually tops out at a saddle, then descends down the other side. At the base of the hill, you'll pass the mouth of Trap Canyon (which will be on the right), then you'll cross a few washes and climb up and over a low hill. The canyon you see below you on the right is Upper La Barge Box and as you approach it, you'll reach the signed junction with the Red Tanks Trail which goes left and right (5.1 miles). Stay left on the Red Tanks Trail as it bends right traveling over a flat area until you reach a stream bed. When you hit the stream, it's a little confusing; turn left and rock hop upstream a short ways then look for the trail on the left side. When you're on the trail once again you will parallel the stream bed a short ways, cross it, then climb over a low hill down to another wash. The trail follows this wash up to where it boxes out, then climbs up the right side to a saddle. There is a similar canyon just on the other side of the saddle. The trail now travels down this wash (a few sections are a little overgrown, but otherwise the trail is in good shape). At the bottom of this canyon another drainage enters from the left, the trail bends right and follows the combined stream (if any is flowing) down canyon. Continue onward as the trail parallels the stream bed of Randolph Canyon.  Towards the end of this section, the trail becomes somewhat steeper, then drops you down to the red sandstone canyon bottom at the intersection of Frasier and Randolph Canyons (9.8 miles), and a sign for the Coffee Flat Trail, which heads left and right. Turn left onto the Coffee Flat Trail, dodging cow pies as you go, as you head up Frasier Canyon to the east. The path is distinct at first, but soon disappears entirely. When in doubt, simply walk right up the stream bed & keep your eyes peeled for cairns on one side of the drainage or the other. Eventually the path exits the wash on the left and then begins following a barbed wire fence (which will be on your right) until you reach a windmill and ranch house (this is the JF Ranch - the source of the environmental degradation that extends for miles in every direction). Walk through a fence, then continue down the dirt ranch road (12.7 miles). Now the tricky part. After about 10 minutes, just before the road bends to the right and away from the wash you have been following, look for an unsigned trail on the left which continues to follow the wash. Walk along this path for a while, and look for another wash that comes in from the opposite bank of the stream bed and an old toppled cairn and trail. Cross the wash to the left (even though the trail continues straight) and pick up the trail near the old cairn as it climbs a low hill, then drops down a short distance and winds its way towards a windmill. This area has been obliterated by cattle, so if you get lost, simply head towards the windmill. There is a tank and metal trough near the windmill. Look for cairns on the north side of the tank that lead to the left (13.5 miles). Once you find them, you are now on the JF Trail which heads north towards the crags of La Barge Mountain. The trail is level at first, then drops down and crosses a wash. On the other side, the path begins the long climb up to Tortilla Pass, which you will reach a mile and a half later (16.0 miles). At the pass (complete with shiny new trail signs) the Rogers Trough Trail branches right, we, however, will stay left on the JF Trail. The path winds through some hills, then traverses the left slope of Goat Canyon (with some fairly expansive views) through an area a bit overgrown with scrub oak. You then complete a short climb up to a ridge before descending on the right of another wide valley. The path then climbs out of this valley to the right to a ridge, then begins the long descent through the grasslands on a rocky path between rolling hills. Eventually you will reach the junction with the Hoolie Bacon Trail you had passed earlier (21.2 miles). Stay right and hike the remaining 0.8 miles back to your car (22 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this hike after several days of heavy rain. I almost didn't make it out to the trailhead since there was barely enough traction to climb the wet rocks at the start of the rough road. The hike was completed at a fairly brisk pace in 9 hours. 
Maps: Beartooth Maps - Superstition Wilderness Topographic Map
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
A rare stormy day
in the Superstitions.
Getting ready to climb beside
La Barge Mountain.