This short yet interesting hike about 11 miles East NE of Florence offers fabulous views. South Butte is one of the two buttes known as the Twin Buttes. The Gila River which runs from New Mexico then west across Arizona to the Colorado River cuts right between North and South Buttes.
The Gila River most see today is the dry swath they cross on route from Phoenix to Tucson on the I-10 highway. With the reason being, roughly three miles after passing between the Twin Buttes the Gila River is dammed up and diverted through canals.
Pardon my never ending straying but this is interesting stuff!.. The Gila River is the northern boundary of the 1854 Gadsden Purchase. This was the 10-15 million dollar US purchase of land from Mexico. At the time is was thought to be overpriced for mere desert landscape. The land was purchased by the US in an effort to run an "all-weather" railroad to fuel the California gold rush that started five years prior. (think forty-niners... oh now it makes sense...lol) What wasn't realized at the time was Arizona's abundance of copper that would later become oh so important to the spread of electricity and telephones. So unknowingly the Gadsden Purchase turned Arizona into the Copper State! Copper being cheap and heavy compared to gold really relied on the railroads tracks already in place.
Hike: The hike starts from the east of South Butte. There is a well defined trail leading up the right side of a ravine formed by a spur fin like butte to the east of the main butte. See the map or download the GPS route. You should see the trail approaching via Donnelly Wash. It will be pretty obvious where to park and start. Although you won't find the trail immediately you should be on it after a few minutes at most.
It starts off somewhat steep on loose terrain but on a very well defined trail-of-use. Upon reaching the low saddle, head off trail left. Follow the cairns or easy-to-figure route up the butte. You will need to use your hands in some spots. Nothing is scarry-steep coming up or going down, well unless you're off course. Be sure to note where you top out on the various layers so you can get back down without confusion.
The terrain is interesting. Large plate type rocks are in various piles about. Tall grass fills some of the slopes between the cacti. Going into a hike I knew nothing about I finally lucked out by wearing gaiters. In similar past off-trail outings I've suffered catclaw butchering and foxtail terror. Albeit hot at 100 degrees in the late-summer afternoon-sun, I was tickled to be hiking nuisance and pain free!
At the top is a monument sized cairn at the edge of the west drop off. The views are sweet all around. Explore the ridge north for better northern views. Sunrises are awesome in this area, though I've yet to experience from up top. North views offer the best mid-day photo ops. I can only imagine how stunning sunsets are in the area.
This was my third visit this summer alone. The area is interesting to explore from Price to Cochran. Including the Coke Ovens, a railroad, a bridge, a tunnel, the river and enough uncharted 4x4 routes to keep you busy for days. The butte can be hiked from the north too. Either way it's not even as steep as Camelback Mountain. However, reaching the north by vehicle requires driving through a five foot high tunnel of mesquite and palo verde trees guaranteed to pinstripe your paint. Though it's kind of fun... I couldn't resist!
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.
To hike A few miles south of Florence take the East Florence-Kelvin Hwy to Cochran Road. Turn left/north (only way you can turn) onto Cochran Road and follow to Donnelly Wash. It's pretty easy to figure out. Donnelly is the first sandy wash you DROP down into and have the option of going left OR right. Go left! 4x4 is best from here to South Butte due to the sand. Follow Donnelly Wash to starting point SE of South Butte. Easiest to figure out by downloading the GPS route.
Warning: heat kills!
Avoid 8am to 6pm over 90 degrees. Prehydrate & stay hydrated. Avoid Heat Illness - do NOT hike when temps exceed 100 degrees, period.