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Browns Peak/Amethyst Mine - Four Peaks Wilderness, Tonto National Forest

Summary: The Four Peaks Wilderness was established in 1984, and contains approximately 60,740 acres with a major mountain rising up in its center from the desert foothills. The Four Peaks themselves are visible for many miles, and are one of the most widely recognized landmarks in central Arizona. Two nice hikes can be done on, or in the shadow of, the Four Peaks using the Lone Pine Saddle Trailhead as your starting point. Those looking for adventure can perform a semi-rugged 5 mile roundtrip climb to the summit of Browns Peak (at 7,657 feet the highest and northernmost of the Four Peaks as well as the highest point in Maricopa County). Those more interested in hiking than climbing, an easier 7.5 mile roundtrip stroll to the site of the Amethyst Mine (the only active amethyst mine in North America) along the base of the peaks is available.
Directions: The Lone Pine Saddle Trailhead can be accessed from either FR 143 from the west or from El Oso Road from the east. El Oso Road is by far the nicer of the two.
From the west: Drive east out of Phoenix on the Bee Line Highway (Highway 87) to between mile markers 203 & 204 (just before mile marker 204). Turn right at the sign for Four Peaks onto the dirt Forest Road 143 (bumpy and rough in a few places) and follow it about 18 miles to the top of the ridge. Turn right at the sign for Lone Pine Saddle & follow this twisty road 1 mile to the trailhead.
From the east: Turn west onto El Oso Road (which lies about 8 miles south of Punkin Center on Highway 188). Follow this well graded dirt road 11 miles to the turn off for Lone Pine Saddle. Turn left at the sign and drive the remaining 1 mile to the trailhead.
Caution: These roads are narrow and heavily used by jeeps, ATVs, motorbikes and other yahoos on the weekends. Keep your speed down, since there are many blind corners.
Road Conditions: El Oso Road - Passenger Car
FR 143 - High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Easy
Length: 5 miles - Browns Peak
7.5 miles - Amethyst Mine
8 miles - If you do both on the same trip
Date Hiked: March 2004
Weather Conditions: Pleasant and sunny
Required Skills: - Brown Peak
None - Amethyst Mine
Hike Description: At the trailhead there is a map which features the progress of the 1996 Lone Pine fire (supposedly caused by an improperly extinguished cigarette) which damaged much of the area. Walk past the sign to the trail junction where Browns Trail #133 leads straight, Four Peaks Trail #130 heads left. Go straight on the Browns Trail which begins climbing moderately up through the oak, pine and juniper forest. The trail soon reaches a ridge and bends left along the top of the ridge a short ways, then along the left side of a hill, heading towards the peaks. As you continue to climb you will see increased evidence of the Lone Pine fire. Just before reaching a saddle, you will reach a signed junction with the Amethyst Trail #253 which enters from the left. Stay straight (you are now on the Amethyst Trail). Climb the remainder of the way up to the saddle, then turn left and walk a short distance to a prominent fire ring.
Browns Peak: To get to Browns Peak, continue straight through the camp on a well trodden use trail which immediately begins climbing up towards the prominent cleft in the rock above you. The path climbs to the base of the rock, skirts it a short distance to the right, then enters the skree slope of the cleft. Standing at the base of the cleft, you'll now see that the route is a steep slope, rather than a vertical climb. Climb up the loose rock straight up the cleft. Be careful about your foot placement, not only so that you won't fall, but also so you don't send rocks careening down onto other climbers below. There are a few short climbs as you continue up the slope, all have good hand and foot holds. Once you've reached the top of the cleft, it's a short and easy climb to the left to gain the summit and some terrific views. There is a trail register and a bunch of junk in a small ammo can on the peak. When ready, return the way you came (taking it slow for the climb back down).
Amethyst Mine: To get to the Amethyst Mine, from the fire ring, look for a somewhat faint trail which leads slightly down the slope to the right (south). The Amethyst Trail contours along the slope just below the peaks, descending gradually as it does so. The path is slightly overgrown, but is otherwise easy walking, with the exception of one short, steep downhill section as you round the third peak. The Amethyst Mine lies on private property beneath the 4th (and final) peak. There is a gate, razor wire and no trespassing sign marking the end of the trail. Return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars): - Browns Peak
- Amethyst Trail
The author
hiked to the summit of Browns Peak then out to the mine and back at a fast pace in 4.5 hours. There was a bit of snow remaining in the cleft on the climb to the peak, but it was soft and didn't add much to the difficulty.
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

The cleft route to Browns
Peak (on the left).
Self portrait on
the summit.
View of the peaks from
the Amethyst Trail.