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First Water Loops - Tonto National Forest

Summary: Easy hiking through typical Upper Sonoran Desert with very little elevation change. Four loop hikes from this trail head described below.  Lots of options here. 
Directions: From Phoenix take US 60 east.  Exit at Apache Junction and drive northeast on State Highway 88.  Follow 88 about a mile past Lost Dutchman State Park and look for the brown sign on the right for the First Water Trail Head (FR 78).  Follow this well graded dirt road 3 miles to the trailhead.  Be sure to stop and pay the outrageous $4 per car load fee at the machine on the left just before the road end.  Gotta support the construction of more bathrooms at these trailheads. 
Road Conditions: Passenger Car 
Navigation: Easy - with a few sections of mildly indistinct trail in the Boulder Canyon Section
Length: Loop 1: 9 miles
Loop 2: 11 miles
Loop 3: 13.7 miles
Loop 4: 15.5 miles 
Date Hiked: January 2001 
Weather Conditions: Nice - highs in the mid 60's
Required Skills:
Hike Description: I'll describe this hike traveling counter clockwise, though unsurprisingly enough you can hike it any way you wish. See the map below for trails.  From the First Water Trailhead begin walking on the extra wide Dutchman Trail.  After 0.3 miles you will come to an intersection with the left branching Second Water Trail (0.3 miles), continue straight on the Dutchman Trail.  This 3.9 mile long section of trail winds it's way through typical upper Sonoran desert vegetation (hopbush, prickly pear, cholla, mesquite, palo verde, scrub oak etc.) for a few miles.  Once you reach an area labeled as Parker Pass on the Bear Tooth Map you will catch your first glimpse of Weaver's Needle and Black Top Mesa.  The trail descends gradually from here down to an intersection with the Black Mesa Trail (4.2 miles).  
Loop 1: Turn left onto the 3 mile long Black Mesa Trail which ascends moderately to the top of Black Mesa (what else?), then descends gradually passing through a nice section of chain fruit cholla forest along the way until it meets the Second Water Trail at a 'T' junction (7.2 miles).  Take the left fork of the Second Water Trail which descends gradually to level ground and follow it 1.5 miles back to the Dutchman Trail (8.7 miles).  Turn right and stroll the remaining 0.3 miles back to your car (9 miles).
Loop 2: From the junction of the Dutchman and Black Mesa Trails, stay straight continuing on the Dutchman trail.  After 0.1 miles you will come to the left branching Boulder Canyon Trail (4.3 miles).  You can turn left and follow the Boulder Canyon Trail 3.2 miles to it's intersection with the Second Water Trail (described below), then turn left and follow the Second Water Trail 3.5 miles back to the trailhead for a 11mile loop. OR throw in a loop around Black Top Mesa:
Loop 3: From the Dutchman/Boulder Trail junction, stay straight on the Dutchman Trail.  After 0.2 miles (4.5 miles) you will reach a junction with the left branching Bull Pass Trail, continue right on the Dutchman.  Hike 0.8 miles (5.3 miles) passing the right branching Peralta Trail, then up and over a small shoulder another 1 mile past the right branching Terrapin Trail (6.3 miles) then another 0.8 miles to the junction with the Bull Pass Trail (7.1 miles).  Turn left on this trail which climbs up to a low pass (with an unsigned use trail branching left if you'd like to climb to the top of Black Top Mesa with good views & a nice spot for lunch), then drops down meeting the Dutchman Trail once again (8.6 miles).  Hike the Dutchman Trail 0.3 miles, passing the Boulder Canyon Trail (see Loop 4) along the way (8.9 miles), then follow the Black Mesa Trail/Second Water Trail described in Loop 1 back to your car (13.7 miles).
Loop 4: From the Dutchman/Boulder Canyon Trail intersection (8.8 miles), turn right onto the Boulder Canyon Trail.  Follow this fainter, mildly overgrown trail on one side of the dry stream bed or another, crossing sides frequently (look for cairns at these crossings, they are occasionally somewhat confusing since the rocks lining the streambed obscure the trail).  After 0.8 miles you will pass a small canyon on the right that is worth poking your head into (similar to La Barge Canyon, but not as deep or narrow), another mile further brings you to the right branching Cavalry Trail (10.6 miles).  Continue on the Boulder Canyon Trail which becomes easier to follow at this point and walk 1.4 miles until you hit the intersection with the Second Water Trail (12 miles).  Turn left on the Second Water Trail which follows the stream bed a ways, then begins a gradual climb up to Black Mesa which is quite flat on top (like most mesas I guess).  You will reach the junction with the left branching Black Mesa Trail after 1.7 miles (13.7 miles), continue straight and walk the remaining 1.8 miles back to your car (15.5 miles). 
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author has hiked all of these trails on numerous occasions.  There are no really spectacular views to be seen on this hike and you will see a bunch of people & horses, but the walking is easy & the scenery is nice.  On his latest trip he walked loop 4 in just about 6 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.
Map of First Water area. Black Mesa as seen from
the Dutchman Trail.