Birding · River/Creek · Swimming · Views
Hellsgate Trail #37 is easily accessible directly off of AZ-260 East. Turn right onto Nf-405A. You'll cross over a cattle grate and onto a smooth, groomed dirt road. Little more than a quarter mile down and on the right, you'll find the small parking lot for the trailhead, along with the trailhead sign for Hellsgate Trail #37 with plenty of warnings. Heed them all.
An out-and-back hike from the northern trailhead down to Tonto Creek is a total of over 14 miles roundtrip, with the potential to continue across the water to the southern terminus. (On the out-and-back, I had roughly 1,100 ft ascent / 2,100 ft descent, one way.) There is no water source on this trail until you get to the canyon itself, approximately seven miles away from the trailhead sign. Take plenty of fluids with you. Very little shade from the sun, particularly on the backside of the trek out to the canyon.
The trail surface itself changes a lot in the seven miles to the creek, with the worst of it about mid-way in. You'll see lots of big chunks of red rock with scree in large sections of this trail and fire roads. This makes the trip to the canyon (mostly descent) a little tricky and then for the ascent back out, it is going to make you really dig deep to climb up these sections.
The first part of the trail is on fire road for almost exactly the first two miles. You'll see your first true trail marker for singletrack trail straight across the top of a large hill you top, right at the two-mile mark. From this point, the trail gets pretty rocky and only gets rockier and rockier from there on. You'll see lots of cattle in the area and they have their own tracks that mirror the trail itself. Sometimes they divert a little, but mostly they come back to the primary trail eventually.
You'll not see a Hellsgate Trail sign until you get to a clearing on a ridge around the 4.2-mile mark. This is about your only clue you are still on track.
Mostly the trail is well defined and if you logically stay straight as you head to the canyon, you'll stay on course. When you get to about the 5.5-mile mark heading to the canyon, your view will open up and you can see the canyon in the distance. You'll snake back and forth on lots of switchbacks and finally cross over to another ridge that places you to the right of the canyon. Then for the final half mile or so, you'll start the descent to the water.
Be extremely careful on the descent as it is fairly steep and the trail is covered in scree (loose rock). I didn't have poles on my trip, but I'd absolutely carry them if i did this again.
Shared By: Heather Dunphy