Coon Bluff can become a very busy location, especially during the hot summer months. However, the area provides an opportunity for some terrific views, year-round flowing water and other treats as close as one can get to the city. This loop hike can be either a simple matter of "exercise"; or, it can prove to be filled with enchantment. Everything is in the timing.
Getting to the trailhead is simple enough. From the west take Power Road past the Granite Reef Dam and along Bush Highway until you see the turnoff for Coon Bluff Rd. From the east, travel along Bush Highway about 1 mile past the intersection with Usery Pass Road. Once on Coon Bluff Road, proceed about .4 miles to the parking area on your left. The trailhead is at the far southwest corner of the parking area (33.54400N, 111.63541W).
I recommend that you forego this hike during the summer months, or on holiday weekends when crowds and debris infiltrate what is otherwise a placid environment. If you can start out on a weekday morning just as the dawn approaches the eastern horizon so much the better. Travel the route counterclockwise and you will undoubtedly get to appreciate views in all directions, the glow of the morning sun as it paints across the buttes to the west and a calming mist as it rises from the Salt River to the northeast.
The Hike: Almost immediately after you leave the trailhead you will begin a steep, but short, climb up to the ridge that crests the hills leading north to Coon Bluff. Water runoff erodes the hillside trail, but it is easy to find with only moderate difficulty maintaining ones footing. Once atop the ridge it is a fairly flat trek across to the bluff. Now is the time to enjoy sunrise, the sounds of the river, and if you are fortunate, an encounter with the Wild Stallions. On earlier hikes I have come within inches of these beautiful creatures, but this day I saw the band of stallions across the intervening valley and upon a hillside to the west. They were engaged in grazing and "horseplay" in the early sunlight.
The trail continues on to the Bluff itself and from here you can descend to the east for a visit to one section of the Lower Salt River Recreation area. You will notice that by parking at the trailhead you have avoided paying the recreational area fee. The route described here does not include a descent to the river, but instead proceeds to the northwest along a game trail that terminates just shy of an unnamed wash which separates Coon Bluff from a plateau that overlooks the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area. Pick your way down the steep walls of the wash (33.54570N, 111.65165W) and then head south a short distance through the wash until you locate a viable location for climbing out the western wall. [I've rated the hike a 2.5 difficulty only because of this wash crossing, else it is a 1.] From here you will bushwhack up and across the plateau maintaining a closeness to the northern edges for the better views of the river. There are an abundance of game trails to assist you and eventually your west-by-northwest trek will cross an abandoned jeep trail. Follow along the jeep trail to the northwestern most edge of the small plateau and what appears to be a gravesite marked with a tall vertical "headstone". From this point you will descend toward the flat ground which abuts the entry drive to the recreation site. Make your own path back toward the trailhead by selecting among the numerous washes, game trails and horse tracks that cover the area.
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To hike From the west take Power Road past the Granite Reef Dam and along Bush Highway until you see the turnoff for Coon Bluff Rd. From the east, travel along Bush Highway about 1 mile past the intersection with Usery Pass Road. Once on Coon Bluff Road, proceed about .4 miles to the parking area on your left. The trailhead is at the far southwest corner of the parking area (33.54400N, 111.63541W). Forest Service Permit is not required as long as you proceed no farther into the recreation site.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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