There are many opinions on the length of this trail, ranging from 50 to 54 miles, but for this description it will be 52 miles. Because of its long length, this trail will take the average hiker from 3-5 days, although te-wa and myself completed it in just under 2 (not recommended). There are now two sections of this trail that have received damage from wildfires, one section between the Hatchery TH and Washington Park TH which was damaged by the Dude Fire of 1990, and the February Fire of 2006, which burned a portion of the trail east of the Geronimo TH. However these areas have been decently marked, so finding your way along them will not be that difficult.
You can choose to start from either the Pine Trailhead or the 260 Trailhead, for this hike we started at the 260 TH. From the start of the trail, you will begin to head west toward the See Canyon TH, with constant climbing and descending, with a large descent right before the See Canyon TH (approx. 6 miles from 260 TH) and the crossing of Christopher Creek, which will likely have water. Right after Christopher Creek you will began a large climb for the next few miles. As you wind your way around Promontory Butte you will reach great views of the surrounding forest, and then switchback down right before you reach Horton Springs (approx. 13.5 miles from 260 TH), which is a great place to camp or refill your water.
After Horton Springs you will yet again be on the rise, and around 3.5 miles you will reach Tonto Creek and the Hatchery TH (approx. 17 miles from 260 TH), which has a few campsites nearby with easy access to the creek. From the Hatchery TH you will be starting out with, once again, another uphill. But now, as opposed to the Ponderosa pines that have dominated the first part of the trail, you will now be walking on sandstone surrounded by chaparral and other knee high grasses, and the charred remains of trees burned in 1990. However with all of the downed wood this has lead to great views. About 6.5 miles after leaving the Hatchery you will past Myrtle Trail and Ellison Creek. After crossing FR 144 you will continue through the burn area crossing over several more smaller creeks and then a few more ups and downs until out of no where East Verde River appears along with the Washington Park TH (approx. 33 miles from the 260 TH) along with it's scattered campsites.
After crossing the road at the Washington Park TH you will need to keep a close eye out for the trail markers, being sure not to turn onto the Col. Devin Trail, you will cross another road and walk past the Girl Scout cabin, working your way up the trail passing by another two creeks that had enough to filter from. You will continue to work you way up the hills, although nothing as tiring as the eastern end of the trail, you will soon happen upon the area hit hard by the February Fire. At the time I was there the forest was just now starting to sprout up small grass and shrubs, but for the most part was dominated by large blackened stumps and fallen trees. After you reach the outer edges of the fire you will pass Bear Spring and you will gradually, and then more rapidly descend down toward the Geronimo TH and Webber Creek (approx 43 miles from the 260 TH). From there the trail faintly makes its way up toward Milk Ranch Point, slowly but constantly climbing the next 4 miles, passing by both Pine and Red Rock Springs. At the time of my visit, Pine Spring was nothing more then a muddy spot on the ground, and Red Rock Spring had a constant trickle into its trough. However after filtering a few quarts from the Red Rock Spring the water tasted heavily of rust so we dumped out our water and made the last 4 miles of the trip with out any water. I would suggest not relying on those two springs, we were quite disappointed and after coming 28 miles we were unable to drink until we reached our car. After around another mile you will begin the long descent down Milk Ranch Point, lasting 2 miles until you intersect with the Donahue Trail, afterwards you will reach level terrain which after the previous 50 miles, you will be able to cruise through, walking though a way marked Ponderosa forest. Alas, 52 miles later you will reach the Pine TH and the cabins that surround it.
One-Way Notice: This hike is listed as One-Way. When you hike several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
Plenty of options
5:53am - 6:57pm
Mar, Apr, Sep, Oct → Early
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To hike 260 Trailhead - 27 miles east of Payson on Highway 260, on the west side
Pine Trailhead - 15 miles north of Payson on Highway 87 on FR 297
Trailheads West to East
Red Rock TH
Washington Park TH
See Canyon TH
Babe Haught Trail #143
Col. Devin Trail #290
Derrick Trail #33
Donahue Trail #27
Drew Trail #291
Geronimo Trail #240
Horton Creek Trail #285
Myrtle Trail #30
Promontory Trail #278
Pump Station Trail #296
Red Rock Trail #294
See Canyon Trail #184
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.
Warning: heat kills!
Avoid 8am to 5pm over 90 degrees. Prehydrate & stay hydrated. Avoid Heat Illness - do NOT hike when temps exceed 100 degrees, period.