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Rock Creek Loop - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A seldom traveled, strenuous loop hike in the Four Peaks Wilderness with over 3600 feet of elevation gain and long stretches of brushy, poorly maintained trail.
Directions: Drive northeast out of Phoenix on the Bee Line Highway (Highway 87) towards Payson. Turn right (south) onto Highway 188 and drive 24.4 miles to between mile markers 232-231 and turn right at the sign for 3 Bar Road (which is also Forest Road 445). Follow this fairly well graded dirt road 3.1 miles (following the signs for the Rock Creek Trailhead) to a 'T' junction. Turn left onto FR 445A, then take the next right and drive down the hill to the parking area and trailhead.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle (though I believe a passenger car might make it?)
Navigation: Difficult
Length: 13.9 miles
Date Hiked: February 2006
Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy, windy and cool
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area (0 miles, 2880 ft), walk across the dry wash and past a sign for the Chillicut Trail #132. The path winds its way along a dry wash for a short distance, then makes a quick jog to begin climbing a ridge along an old road. The ridge travels between rolling, scrubby hills which show considerable evidence of fire damage. The path climbs at a moderate grade for a while, then suddenly makes a sharp left, dropping off the ridge to cross a wash only to begin climbing once again. After some additional altitude is gained, a saddle is reached which features a Chillicut Trail sign and arrow which points in an inexplicable direction. Turn left (do not stay straight on the road) at this sign, following a rutted track that drops off the ridge into a wide basin below. The path becomes rather faint as it crosses the basin, but is marked with cairns at fairly frequent intervals. Eventually, the path bends to the right and begins a steep ascent along a series of ridges. The trail becomes extremely faint to non-existent in this section, watch carefully for cairns. After switching ridges, the path levels out, then drops steeply down into the drainage of Baldy Canyon (flowing when I was here). Immediately after crossing the streambed, you'll pass by a Four Peaks Wilderness Boundary sign. The path then follows the wash on one side of the creek bed or the other. As you ascend next to the wash, the water fades underground and the trail becomes more faint, overgrown and unpleasant (fortunately the majority of the growth lacks sharp thorns). Eventually the faint path climbs out of the wash and climbs steeply up the hill at the head of the drainage (keep your eyes open, the track is difficult to follow and fallen trees disguise the route). After gaining some additional elevation you finally top out at a 'T' junction with the Four Peaks Trail #130 (5.7 miles, 6500 ft), which is also the Arizona Trail. Turn right onto the Four Peaks Trail which is considerably more distinct (though overgrown in spots) and level as it traverses the hillside in the direction of its namesake, eventually crossing a prominent saddle just below the peaks. The path crosses the saddle and  then bends right to continue traversing the hillside. About a mile later you'll come to a signed junction with the left branching Alder Saddle Trail #81 (8.6 miles), continue straight on the Four Peaks Trail as it continues its traverse with good views down into the valley, and Roosevelt Lake far below and the Sierra Anchas beyond. After rounding a little promontory which has a large fire ring on it, the path begins dropping steadily to eventually reach a signed junction with the right branching Oak Flat Trail #123 (9.7 miles, 5400 ft). Turn right onto the Oak Flat Trail which soon passes a wilderness boundary sign and begins descending steeply along a deeply eroded, 'V' shaped track. The path basically drops off the mountain and only levels out upon arriving at the Oak Flat Trailhead and Forest Road 445 (11.1 miles, 3675 ft). Turn right and follow this road (ignoring any branches) 2.6 miles to the junction with FR 445A (13.7 miles). Stay straight on FR 445A then turn right a short distance later to return to the trailhead and your car (13.9 miles, 2880 ft).
Rating (1-5 stars):
Although there are some nice views on this hike from the Four Peaks Trail, the downright unpleasant Chillicut Trail and 3 mile road walk make for a rather mediocre trip overall. The author
completed the hike at a fast pace in 6 hours.
Maps: Tonto National Forest Map, or click here (note: this route is approximate)
Books: Hiking Arizona's Superstition and Mazatzal Country  - Grubbs, Bruce
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
View from the Chillicut Trail. Brown's Peak from the saddle.
Roosevelt Lake from the Four
Peaks Trail.
Descending the Oak Flat Trail.