TRIP DETAILS: Superstition Wilderness

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 through Monday Dec. 19, 2016

85 miles.  AVERAGE MPH: 2 mph (about 1.8 rough trails; 2.3 better trails)

16,000 feet up/ down (32,000 feet total)

TRAILHEAD: Canyon Reservoir / Boulder Canyon #103 (Loop Trip)

Strenuous up and down on well-marked but rocky, sometimes poorly maintained trails (Boulder, Calvary, Peter’s Mesa, JF Ranch, Red Tanks); better trails sections in Roger’s Canyon, Reavis Ranch, Fraser, Whiskey Spring, Dutchman)

Winter, preferably after substantial rainfall (December-March is most likely cool-temperature rainy season in Arizona, although varies year to year)

: Numerous springs but check with Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest on current availability; although Forest Service does not actively patrol, they do have wide network of volunteers to update infomation. Second Water, Charlebois, Kane, Hole, Rogers Trough, Whiskey, and Bluff springs used on our trip; also Reavis Creek running).

WARNING: Do not assume springs marked on maps are running. Many of these were engineered from seeps (for drought season water) during peak cattle ranching days and are no longer maintained; thus, just as dependent upon seasonal rain as creeks. Plan to camp near dependable water source; otherwise carry up to one gallon water per person per day and always carry about 1 liter in bottom of pack for that unexpected “dry night”. From the photos and memories of our past 11 December/January trips, 2016 was our driest year ever; perhaps climate change effect.

Peralta, First Water, Windy Gap and Rogers Trough trailheads are, respectively, the most heavily used trailheads for backpack trips on westside. If you are flexible, plan your hike midweek to avoid crowds. Boulder Canyon #103, although heavily used by day hikers, is surprisingly not so popular for backpacking and offers safe enclosed parking at Canyon Reservoir. A fair trail, although it’s severely eroded and washed out into LaBarge Canyon.

This wilderness is heavily overused along popular trails and the desert top soils in the few open non-rocky areas are fragile
 ̶̶ ̶̶ handle with care. Please bury human waste and toilet paper with at least a few centimeters of soil and certainly pack out trash, peels, egg shells, etc. (we saw EVERYTHING mentioned in preceding list, particularly toilet paper. One reference offers camping practices to protect the wilderness ̶̶ ̶̶ we agree with most advice on this website except the advice to pack a trowel and dig “cat hole” to bury waste 6 inches. Many decomposing agents are in the top layers of soil. Lifting a large rock and kicking some organic soil or leaf litter on top before replacing rock is probably sufficient and reasonable for the rocky, shallow-soil of the Superstitions.)

Nelson, Dick and Sharon. 1978 Hikers Guide to the Superstition Mountains. (oldy but goody, includes some of the Superstition lore and more popular trails particularly in front range)

Carlson, Jack and Stewart, Elizabeth  2002 Hikers Guide to the Superstitions Wilderness: with History and Legends of Arizona’s Lost Dutchman Gold Mine.

USDA Forest Service. Map of the Superstition Wilderness. 2010. (Author’s note: this is my favorite go-to map on the Superstitions for scale and usability.)

National Geographic. Traills Illustrated Guide to the Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness Areas Topographic Map (2009). (Author’s note: ok for planning; however map mileages consistently under report about 20% from what we measure with GPS. We suspect new trail maps that show mileages must be based on digitizing existing maps without field checking.)

Topographic maps: USGS Store Arizona Map Index
Website hard to use; I recommend calling Customer Service (1-888-275-8747 option 1)
NOTE: USGS recently “updated” all topographic maps with current satellite imagery; backcountry features like roads and trails were NOT even added. (
“The original USGS 7.5-minute topographic map series (1945-1992) included feature classes that are not yet shown on US Topo maps. Examples include recreational trails, pipelines, power lines, survey markers, many types of boundaries, and many types of buildings. The USGS no longer does field verification or other primary data collection for these feature classes, and there are no national data sources suitable for general-purpose, 1:24,000-scale maps.”

GPS: most GPS layers are also based on old topographic maps so roads and trails may be out of date.