In this area, the access to the AZT is often along roads not suitable for passenger cars. This relatively unknown trailhead has a paved road all the way to the starting point, and it gives you good access to a rarely used section of the AZT. The trail follows the upstream along the course of an unnamed stream, from the point it enters Sycamore Creek to its head. Then it continues in the high country to an old mining camp at McFarland Canyon, with good water, and good campsites. The hike is about 15 miles round trip.
There are no parking fees or wilderness permits required. There are no restrooms or public water supplies anywhere that I have found within many miles.
Access to the trailhead is along the old Beeline Highway, prior to building Highway 87. To get there, drive Highway 87 from the Phoenix area toward Payson. About N33° 55.288' W111° 27.311', 4.7 miles past Sunflower Ranch, the old highway comes in from the left. Turn onto it and stay on the paved road almost to the very end. The trailhead is shown on the Forest Service map, but its location is ambiguous. It is at N33° 54.549' W111° 29.021'. Parking is immediately across the paved road.
As you start up the trail, you'll first see the large metal AZT sign, shortly beyond a wood sign giving some distances. The first 0.5 mile is a trail unto itself, the Little Saddle Mountain Trail #244
. After that, it merges into the AZT - Passage 22 - Saddle Mountain
As the trail leaves the road, the exact location soon becomes a little ambiguous. Watch for large cairns, and stay generally in the floodplain, and you'll not get lost. At about 0.3 miles, there is a gate. The trail to the left through the gate is a shortcut to the large parking area just south of the trailhead, but the parking is fully surrounded by barbed wire fence. Keep the creek on your left. There may be a spring flowing in the creek bed here, and it is very pleasant in the trees, with good camping.
There is a gate in 0.5 mile. Pass through and bear right. Keep the fence on your right as you head up the hill, and meet the AZT at 0.7 mi. Continue right on the AZT.
Soon the trail turns into the canyon. At 1.3 miles, there is a wildlife camera, and the beginning of water in the creek bed. There are pools off and on for about 0.25 mile. This is the last easily accessible water on the trail before McFarland Canyon. The canyon is pretty here, with lots of shade. Enter the wilderness at 2.1 miles.
An interesting technical feature of this trail is that there is cell phone service whenever you can see the towers on the Mount Ord across the highway.
At 4.1 miles, the trail intersects Saddle Mountain Trail 91. At this point, you can go right to the Mormon Grove TH. Access to that TH requires 4WD up FR 25. An SUV is sufficient. Much of the way ahead is now on broad paths that look like they were once roads. The grade is easy, but they are quite exposed to the sun.
At around 5.5 miles, there is an unlabeled trail off to the left, at the head of a canyon, that goes to "Potato Patch", a fairly level area, but there may not be water. The last half mile down to McFarland Canyon is quite steep.
I saw two white tailed deer, and lots of evidence of mountain lion. I heard woodpeckers and owls at night. There are also hawks. There are many different butterflies in the area.
There was bear scat near the campsite. Hang your food.
The destination was once a mining camp. There are two mines there.