“This very popular trail on the edge of Tonto National Forest leads to a beautiful valley with native hieroglyphs.”
— Paul Wright
Cave · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife
Searching for and discovering the many hieroglyphs is so much fun. Some of the time, you can play in the water as well. Just be safe, as bouldering can be dangerous.
Hieroglyphic Trail #101 is one of the amazing, easy-to-reach trails in the Superstition Mountains that provides the fun family access to climbing and discovery that my kids just love.
Heading out from Gold Canyon, you slowly climb along a ridgeline until you enter a steep valley hiding away a creek, ancient rockflows, and best of all, native hieroglyphics (likely drawn when Native Americans came to play in the natural pools that fill after periods of rain).
Need to Know
At some times of the year, flies and even mosquitoes can be a nuisance when you enter the valley. Additionally, leaving within three hours of sunrise will normally provide a nice level of shade toward the top of the trail and within the valley itself.
Finally, be safe with children. There is a lot of fun climbing, but it can be dangerous.
Immediately after a rain in the area, be VERY careful. A lot of water can flow through this area, and if it is raining, I recommend coming back another day. Flash floods are a reality here. However, if you have come a few days after a rain, you'll often find large basins that have filled with fresh rainwater and small waterfalls connecting them. These are a ton of fun to play in. Be wary of the small ledges above though, as they are very tempting to jump from but the basin may not be deep enough. The high school group I went with once took full advantage of this one fall. They had a blast!
After a brief set of reasonably steep switchbacks, the trail begins a steady climb along a ridgeline that quickly takes you away from the nearby housing development and the trailhead. There is a steady climb up as you rise toward a small valley in the Superstition Mountains to the northeast. Over the roughly 1.5 miles, you'll climb around 600 feet.
As you approach the mountain, you can begin to make out the valley in which the hieroglyphs are tucked away. If you left the parking lot early enough, usually within three hours of sunrise, you'll enter the shadow of the mountains that provides nice shade and cool air. The ridgeline blends into the surroundings as you begin to wind through the verdant nature that often clings to the siphons throughout the desert. These siphons provide a vital oasis for plants and animals.
If you watch closely, you'll pass a very large, flat rock with unusual bowls in it. These are believed to have been created by the Native Americans for grinding their grains. Just around the corner ahead, you'll enter the valley of the hieroglyphs.
A little climbing will be needed at this point. If you take your time, watching your path, the climbing will be no more than large steps, however the obvious path becomes hard to spot as you enter the full valley and the creek bed nestled within the carved out rocks and boulders.
Hieroglyphics can been seen almost immediately upon entering the valley. If you have young explorers that you feel comfortable with climbing among the boulders, it is time to set them loose. However, I strongly recommend that you choose wisely, as many of the hieroglyphs are quite high up the rock faces. My youngest one found it very easy to get up to them, however, coming back down required help from Daddy'O.
If you continue up the valley past the trail's end, you can find many more hieroglyphs. I have marked the trail ending at the entry to the valley, as it is the safest place to stop. Above the start of the valley, the trail becomes difficult and really is a "find your own way" situation. Be careful and have fun.
Stay until the sun starts to come into the valley. I find it heats up fast. Thankfully, the trek back out is all downhill.