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Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop, AZ

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Guide 8 Triplogs  3 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Superstitions NW
4 of 5 by 5
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 3.1 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,285 feet
Elevation Gain 150 feet
Avg Time One Way 5.3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 3.6
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Possibly Connect
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
5  2016-01-28 SUICIDEKING
27  2012-02-19 johnlp
14  2009-01-23 nonot
12  2008-12-14 te_wa
13  2007-12-24 nonot
10  2007-12-24
Peter's Mesa
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:24pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Pleasure and Pain
by nonot

Page data is specific to the upper canyon only. To get there, hike on the trail approximately 4 miles on Peter's Trail #105 from Tortilla Ranch. Just until you are about to leave Peters Creek and climb up Peters Mesa, this is your starting point for a counterclockwise loop.

Looking at your trail map of the Superstitions, you may have noticed that Peter's Canyon extends far past Peter's Cave and the waterfall mentioned in those trip logs. There are two old trails on some maps, both named "Peters Canyon Trail" that split from Peter's Canyon. One follows the creek to the headwaters of the canyon and Peters Trail, the other heads up a short, but steep unnamed canyon. This trip attempts to take advantage of both halves of these trails, so that one can spice up the trip from Tortilla Ranch to Charlebois. The first leg of this trip will be a real treat, but you'll have to pay for it somewhat on the second leg if you do the full loop. Remember, nothing comes for free!

Crossing over the 2nd Saddle, Peters Trail follows Peters Creek downhill until it suddenly takes a southwest turn, climbing for Peters Mesa on the way to Charlebois Canyon.

This is the point you will want to take advantage of your knowledge of this area. Head north, following the creek. It twists and turns, but is gradually sloping. With as much water as there is following the recent winter rains, you may have to contemplate a bit at a few creek crossings, but for the most part it is very easy and level. Since the recent rains have replenished the Superstitions water sources and vegetation is thriving, you may see that signs of deer are everywhere. Keep your eyes open and you may spot as many as a half-dozen whitetails grazing on these seldom-traveled trails.

Within 10 minutes of leaving Peters Trail, you should arrive at a rather impressive cowboy dam. Cowboy engineering isn't quite up to snuff, as the dam has failed, but the structure that remains is still fairly impressive. It is also a magnificent area to grab lunch.

Once on the move again, follow the creek, admiring the impressive scenery and take notice that the once open landscape continues to tighten up into a canyon. Continue on, staying in or next to the creek. What may look like impassable obstacles without getting wet may make you want to climb around, but if you are persistent, you should find an easier route.

Soon, you will find yourself among white, red, and gray vertical rock walls, full of boulders and waterfalls. The final quarter mile until the merge is the most difficult as there are car-sized boulders blocking the path, distracting scenery, and wall-to-wall water obstacles. Rather impressively we managed to get through the area without getting our feet very wet.

At the junction, I was expecting to be able to see, or at least hear, Peter's Canyon waterfall, but the other waterfalls in the canyon drown all other sounds out, and it appears the waterfall I was in search of was a bit further downstream. At this trail junction with the unnamed canyon, you will finally see that what appears on the map to be a trail in the creek of a steep canyon is an absence of trail in a canyon devoid of water, but harboring a jungle.

Henceforth this canyon will be named "Bushwhack Canyon". The first 0.4 miles from the creek up the canyon is some of the most gnarly, impenetrable vegetation you will encounter in your travels anywhere. If you wanted to hone your bushwhacking skills, this is the place. I can't comprehend a trail originally went up this canyon. Things sure have changed. I was reminded of Joe's Iron Mountain trip log of what a trail could turn into when it isn't maintained.

The good news is that the vegetation is mostly all a type of thorn-less bush, so you won't get clawed to death. After getting through this brief unpleasant section, attempt to maneuver to the eastern side (hiker's left going uphill) and you will find a much easier path through the grasses and sparse bushes.

Topping out on Peters Mesa, take the trail east, and then skirt around the drainage slightly to your north getting over on the north side. Conserving your elevation, you should reach Peters Trail right on the top of the saddle you see after following the contour around the edge of the peak. Look back and admire the gorgeous view.

Rather than climb back onto Peters Mesa, one could probably elect to make this a shuttle trip to Tortilla Flats, if you elect to take Peters Canyon all the way downstream, however I am not aware of anyone who has attempted this yet.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2007-12-24 nonot
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This is one beautiful and demanding hike. Peters Canyon is a wonderful place lined with cliffs full of caves. The Dutchman mine may be in there somewhere, you never know. We gave Pistol Canyon a try, but the brush was so thick we gave up and returned to keep ascending Peters Canyon. We climbed out of Peters Canyon before the cowboy dam to meet up with Wally's track up Malapais. The views from Malapais are outstanding. We couldn't find a summit register. Odd. From here its all down hill and easier, right? Not. The descent from Malapais back to Tortilla Flat felt more difficult than all the uphill. Lots of agave, hedgehog, prickly pear, catsclaw, and ocotillo to dodge. Slopes are steep and loose. Some covered in slick green grass. The views make up for it though. Awesome hike with Dave1. Hope I didn't slow you down too much. Thanks for setting this one up! :)
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    This was a really tough day even though the mileage was short! It was all off-trail once we left Peter's Canyon (which could be considered off-trail as well).

    We started off at 7:15am from Tortilla Flat. Made our way along the trail that follows above Tortilla Creek and then eventually drops into the creek. After some rock hoping and light brush navigating, we made it through Tortilla and to the intersection with Peter's. Peter's Canyon starts off with some large, house-sized boulders but are easily climbed. Travel was slow through Peter's since it is all rock hoping or boulder climbing with a few short slick rock sections thrown in. We spent a lot time stopping and spying the various caves and alcoves found up above us. There is so much to see in this canyon, I could spend many days here! Fortunately we didn't have much problem bypassing any of the pools or waterfalls since there isn't much water at all in Peter's right now. I was happy to see that a large pool that had stopped me in February 2011 was completely dry today. I had planned on taking a small boat to cross this pool. Glad I didn't bring it.

    Once we got to Pistol Canyon we could see that it was completely choked with vegetation. We decided to give it a try anyway but only made it up a few hundred yards. Its not really sharp stuff but just very thick. Figuring it would take more time to fight through the veg, we turned around and resumed with Peter's. We followed Peter's around a long bend and eventually left the canyon to take a slope up to Peter's Mesa. The slope was covered in cat's claw, cactus and other various sharp, mean, evil, plants. This was pretty much how the rest of the day would be.

    From the mesa (its wasn't really Peter's Mesa, but close enough) we picked up Wally's track that leads up to Malapais Mountain. Looking at the proposed route, we were skeptical at first but this turned out to be a pretty good way up to the peak. We crossed over the heads of Squaw and Deering Canyon, passing by an old camp. I originally wanted to take a detour down Deering Canyon to the choke stone but decided to save that for another day. The views from Malapais were excellent even though it was a bit hazy today. I had never seen Battleship from above before, interesting to be able to look down on it! We could not find a peak register on top of Malapais, maybe there isn't one.

    From Malapais, we followed Joe's track all the way back to Tortilla Flat, skipping Geronimo Head. The first mile or so, across the other two peaks north of Malapais, was the most brutal part of the day. Every foot step has to be carefully placed as every bit of vegetation it out to assault you! The trip down from Malapai was quite unpleasant, I don't see my self ever doing it again. I'm glad I did it though, just never again.

    The long steep sloping section down to Tortilla Flat was made a bit more enjoyable as we had the sounds of a live band from the restaurant playing Elvis and rockabilly tunes to help motivate us. Pretty cool!

    Thanks for joining me, John!
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I actually did a Malapais Mt-Pistol Canyon-Peters Canyon Loop that's trip #37 from the Superstition Guide. Ever since I first descended this creek two winters ago I've been itching to come back, but this time as a loop hike instead of a shuttle. As you can probably guess from the topos and terrain this is quite an adventurous burly hike. Thanks to Joe's GPS track, I was able to stay mostly on course and made decent time on the cross country bushwhack thru a new area of the Supes I've yet to explore up to Malapais Mt to enjoy the amazing views up there. The descent off of the eastern slope was about as slow going as the steep climb up that canyon on the northside. :sweat: I ran across that old camp mentioned in Carlson's Book down near that unnamed wash with loads of white quartzite everywhere. I continued up and over a saddle into the western fork of Pistol Canyon which start out fairly open but then got brushy with some down climbs just before reaching Pistol Canyon. Pistol didn't have much of any climbing but was quite the bushwhack to navigate thru. So much for making good time... :roll: When I got to Peters Canyon it was flowing fairly good like is to be assumed after the recent storms, so I change into water shoes & neoprene socks and filter a couple liters of water. Though after filtering the water I totally forgot to clip my dry shoes to my pack and did nearly a mile of rock hopping down the creek before I realized my mistake. ](*,) I was on pace to finish near sunset, but I wasted 1.5 hours going back to the Pistol-Peters confluence to retrieve my $100 shoes... The upper narrows were pretty sweet and I got up to my waist in water but I wasn't in the mood to swim in that cold water and did some class 3/4 climbing to bypass the many pools/falls. It was about Peters Cave that I had to start hiking with the headlamp but thankfully its a mini spotlight so night hiking down the flowing creek wasn't too crazy. :whistle: The creek is flowing pretty good thru the narrows, so in total there's about a dozen large pools and/or waterfalls to bypass, swim with a wetsuit, or wait until it warms up. Thanks to the GPS, I was able to make my own bypass route out of Tortilla Canyon back to Tortilla Flat and I eventually stumbled upon the actual trail in the dark and got back to my car about 2 hours after dark... :sweat:

    I think this loop is about 12 miles though Carlson lists it as 14, but I added 2 extra miles for the sidetrip to get my shoes... Even though that's my second time thru lower Peters with it flowing both times, I've yet to have enough time/daylight/energy to stop and enjoy it. So I still need plan a trip just to lower Peters so I can fully enjoy this hidden gem in the desert. :D
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Took Peters Trail from the Apache Trail to Peters canyon and spent the most of 2 days making our way. There was about the same amount, or maybe a little bit more water from when I created this trip description. We exited at Tortilla Flats, so now I can finally claim to have done the whole thing as I was missing a mile in the middle. Surprisingly, below the canyon I referred to as "Bushwhack Canyon" and some members inform me that this may be called "Pistol Canyon" (though not all maps agree), the entire 500 gallon per minute creek disappears underground for about three quarters of a mile.

    Someone has done some serious trail maintenance for the first 2 miles of Peters trail all the way until you begin climbing up the steep grade as you near Kane Spring (Thank you!). Kurt broke out the snips at that point and I pitched in where I could clearing some brush from the trail, so it's in better shape then I've ever seen it before. Get out there and enjoy it while you can!

    You couldn't ask for better weather anywhere, anytime as this last weekend.

    Not everything went as planned as our group ended up camping in two different places, but by the time I woke up the next morning we were again a complete group. Great hike, great company, thankfully even though it didn't go by the book everyone emerged safe and happy.

    Note: The campsite I turned around at in my gps log of lower Peter's Canyon (starting from the bottom) is actually part of a bypass route that avoids a mandatory swim. Other than this there was one section I had to get waist deep in.

    Although Vaporman did this in a day, I would advise most people to take 2.

    I just realized this is my 100th trip I've logged, this was a great trip for it!
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    took a few others into the dreaded Peters canyon for an off trail adventure. this time, we were pushing daylight so opted to climb out of the creek a ways before Pistol Canyon. It was the easiest off trail approach to Peter's Mesa according to the map and after an hour of catsclaw boxing and route finding, we made it to the Mesa and descended to Charlebois for the night. We were "rocked" to sleep for a few hours with stiff winds and blowing rain. Awoke to a chilling 38 degrees and came out on Peter's trail proper under cloudy skies and cold breezes. Although I did not get to finish the loop, the views from the Mesa allowed me to spy some new routes, so I'll be back (the te-wanator)

    I was amazed to see Charlebois trough is completely dry - so much for the forest service and their pet minnows... :(
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This was a spectacular side trip with all the water. If nothing else, the cowboy dam near the beginning should be a highlight for the Peters Trail.

    The scenery is really awesome as you proceed downstream and its easy until you have to whack your way 0.4 miles up a 0.8 mile canyon. It's steep too on the way back to the top of the mesa, look at the GPS route.

    Give yourself plenty of time, It took us about 5 hours for this detour, probably because I stopped and took alot of pictures.

    Vaporman indicates continuing downstream to Tortilla Flats is possible, he did it the same day we did this loop without telling us until later!

    I look forward to returning. Cottonwood Canyon and some of the other unnamed canyons in this area are begging to be explored. I also intend to do the whole trip to the flats as well.
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Took Peters Trail to Charlebois. Deer were everywhere. The recent rains have made the creeks really spectacular and they are still flowing three weeks later.

    Took a side trip, apparently following Vaporman for awhile, except we were doing it on purpose (see forthcoming new hike description). Back up Peters Mesa we began the descent to the south and finished the last mile to Charlebois in the moonlight.

    Overnight at Charlebois was cold, temps were below freezing by 10PM and I was covered in frost and ice in the morning. It was probably about 10 degrees colder than I was properly equipped for. Thanks weathermen!

    The next day we headed out Dutchman taking the Red Tanks through Upper LaBarge Box and back north on Hoolie Bacon. Spotted tracks of a cougar stalking a deer on Hoolie, very cool! More deer tracks were spotted later on as well, but no deer and no cougars were seen the second day...too bad.

    Briefly lost the trail at the Tortilla Creek Confluence, same place I lost it last time, guess I didn't learn. The Hoolie and JF are in better shape for the most part. There is some catclaw between Horse Ridge and Trap Canyon, but it seemed better than last time I took it.

    Finished 5.5 hours later before it got too cold or dark. Great loop!
    Peter's Canyon - Upper Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Did this canyon on accident, but had the time of my life exploring this remote canyon; other than the fact that I didn't know exactly where I was half the time and hoping I wouldn't have to spend the night. I was attempting to do a Tortilla Super Loop but got 'diverted' down Peters Canyon instead. I ended up staying in the creek all the way to the highway and hitched a ride from Tortilla Flat back to my car at Tortilla TH. :)

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    Map Drive
    Info is below 'Directions to trail'

    To Tortilla Trailhead
    From the junction of Idaho Road & SR-88 follow SR-88 23.0 miles east to FR-213.

    If you do not have 4x4 you will need to park here and hike 3.4 miles to the trailhead. Otherwise drive in. The first 0.25 mile section is the most difficult.

    The trailhead is not well defined. If you are hiking out on Peter's Trail #105 steer right(west) at the end to the old windmill and water tower. If you are hiking out on JF Trail #106 or Hoolie Bacon Trail #111 continue straight/right to the fence. JF Trail #106 takes off immediately. Hoolie #111 is 0.8 miles off of #106.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 60.7 mi - about 1 hour 50 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 154 mi - about 3 hours
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 205 mi - about 4 hours
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