Avoid the Commie Paratroopers
Overview: This is a less-traveled trail that begins at Dripping Springs continuing through Upper La Barge Box. It follows the creek westward until intersecting with the Dutchman Trail #104 at La Barge Spring. Peralta Trailhead is generally the trailhead of choice.
Due to its length and the fact that neither terminus is near a trailhead, doing the entire Red Tanks trail as a day hike is not recommended as an entire loop would be over 20 mi. However, portions of the Red Tanks are used on many popular day loop hikes, and a backpacker could easily travel from Dripping Springs to La Barge for a short 9-mile day. Excellent campsites can be found at both ends of this trail. Primarily used by backpackers, it is excellent for those seeking solitude.
For those considering the Red Tanks, I recommend following it in a clockwise direction, primarily for the climb to the Red Tanks Divide on the east side of Coffee Flat. Although uphill in both directions, the portion from Dripping Springs to the Divide seems to be a worse climb than going from the other direction. However, as I did this in the reverse direction, I will describe it going counterclockwise.
Hike: Red Tanks is primarily composed of 3 sections used by many loop hikes:
A: Dripping Springs to Hoolie Bacon (Red Tanks Divide portion)
B: Hoolie Bacon to Whiskey Springs (this section is also known as "Upper La Barge Box")
C: Whiskey Springs to La Barge Springs
Portion A: This segment seems to me to be the toughest of the 3 parts of the Red Tanks Trail. Beginning at Dripping Springs, you are at the intersection of Frasier and Randolph Canyon. From here, you follow the creek bed of Randolph Canyon north. The high route follows high on the east bank, but some prefer to stay in the creek bed. After about 0.8 mi, or about 15 minutes, the trail crosses (or leaves) the creek and proceeds on a steep climb directly west. It is imperative you pay close attention and keep your eyes peeled. Those following the trail high on the east bank will probably discover the crossing, however from the easier route up the creek bed, it is EXTREMELY easy to miss the turnoff to the west, it is not marked well at all and one might find themselves unfortunately heading up Randolph Canyon. It was marked by a tiny cairn about 40 feet off the trail under a bush when I went. I thought that surely that couldn't be the marker for the creek exit, but I had been warned by a fellow hiker to keep my eyes open and luckily I investigated a bit and followed it up. It wasn't until I had climbed a few hundred yards that I actually convinced myself this was part of the Red Tanks and not some game trail. Those going in the reverse direction are likely to not have this problem, but I feel compelled to warn those headed north to watch closely.
Once you get out of the creek, the trail climbs to the Red Tanks Divide. This climb can be unpleasant if it is sunny out as you get full exposure to the east rising sun. I would recommend those attempting this to pick a day where the high is no more than the upper 70s as the combination of climb and full sun exposure can beat you up pretty good.
Climbing up to the divide, my trail map indicated there were a few offshoot trail segments. I have no clue where these might be, the Red Tanks trail is faint but distinguishable, but I didn't see any cairns or distinguishable side trails leading off from the Red Tanks at this point.
At the top of the Divide, the view to the north is excellent. You can see all of the Horse Tanks Basin, Herman Mountain, and some of the untamed area near Brad's Canyon. Take a break here to rest from the climb and grab some lunch.
The rest of this portion descends down from the divide to Upper LaBarge Creek. You will have problems once you finally reach the creek. Finding the Red Tanks Trail the last 0.2 mi to get across La Barge Creek and the numerous tributary streams at this point to the intersection with Hoolie Bacon will take some guesswork and a few wrong turns. I recommend you generally try to follow your compass mostly north, slightly west and follow the creek beds that head in the direction you are going. Keep a lookout for cairns and don't be afraid to return back to your starting crossing point if you see nothing after heading about 8-10 minutes in one direction. It took me three tries at this point until I spotted the final portion of the Red Tanks to the signed intersection with Hoolie.
In general the trail in the Red Tanks Divide portion is less traveled and there are the two difficult route-finding sections. There is significant cat claw along this portion, so pants are recommended.
Portion B: The Upper La Barge Box portion of the Red Tanks is a short, scenic, climbing trail that follows high above the creek on the north side of the creek. Climbing on Herman Mountain, the lower portions are shaded by Picacho Butte to your south in winter early and late in the day.
You will climb from the intersection of Hoolie Bacon along a somewhat easily followed trail that gradually gets cliffier. I recall there being a very brushy section shortly into it that provided some good shade for a break on a hot day. After a few hundred feet of elevation gain, the trail precariously follows along a ledge of Herman Mountain and provides outstanding views of La Barge creek. Short, 45 degree steep sections are common, probably about 6 sections no more than 50-100 feet or so long, are encountered, so it may present some difficulty for some hikers, think of something like portions of Cardiac Hill, maybe a bit steeper. There is one decent campsite along at about the halfway point on this segment which would be great for those that wouldn't roll over in their sleep, :D.
For about 50% of this portion, you can look at Herman's Cave. Herman's cave is on the north side of the creek and faces southeast. If you wish to check it out, be warned there is significant scree and it is fairly steep. The cave itself may have bats, birds, or just their droppings. It is steep inside the cave too, so camping would not be possible. I'd recommend you take a picture and move on since it is not really worth the climb in my opinion. Fragile Arch is worth gawking at for a bit, it is located on the top of a hill to the south of the cave.
After you descend back into the creek near the final leg, you will have one difficult section. The trail drops you off into the creek bed. The crossing actually goes backwards along the creek, so use this knowledge wisely and you should have no problem. IE, it goes the REVERSE direction in the creek bed for about a hundred and fifty feet. If you are traveling going west along the trail, this will be the section it dumps you in the creek and you go upstream. If you are traveling going east along the trail, this is easily recognizable because you just emerged from a clearing under a canopy of trees from the south side of the creek bed and you should go downstream.
After this section, the trail is somewhat gnarly and crosses the creek a few more times before reaching the signed intersection with the Whiskey Springs trail. There are a few campsites between the intersection and the backwards-crossing section that could cause a slight bit of confusion as well.
Overall, the Upper La Barge Box portion is somewhat difficult due to the climbing, but it is short and there is not a lot of cat claw. The views are outstanding.
Portion C: The section from Whiskey Springs Trail intersection to LaBarge Spring (and the intersection with Dutchman Trail) is one of the flattest sections of trail you are going to find anywhere in the Superstitions. Unfortunately, it is full of cat claw.
The trail follows along La Barge Creek, crossing it numerous times. There are several campsites along this section, which may unfortunately cause the hiker to lose the main trail. If you find yourself in one of them and cannot locate the trail, I'd recommend you backtrack, as many of the campgrounds are right near where the trail crosses the creek.
This section is the most traveled and usually is decently cairned, except for those few spots you need them to distinguish where a campsite trail shouldn't be followed.
Pants are recommended, as well as long sleeves. Those with Kevlar would want to don it for this section. The crossings are generally a few dozen yards of rocky creek crosses, and unless it has rained in the past two months, you generally don't have to be concerned about getting your feet wet.
After traveling along and admiring the cottonwoods and cat claw, you will hear the sound of water as you near the end. La Barge spring is one of the most reliable in the western Supes and it is a mini-oasis of vegetation and wildlife. There are some ENORMOUS trees thriving in this micro-climate and if you are a birder, break out the glasses and stay awhile.
If you do check out the trough, please beware of the poison ivy and keep any trash, food, etc away from the trough and pipe. The quality of water in the spring seems excellent. There may be a snake known to inhabit near the spring as well, please leave him be. Campers should not camp within a few hundred yards of the spring, as the wildlife needs the water as much as you do. Besides which, who wants a skunk in their tent?
Overall, this portion is easy and flat with some rocky creek crossings, but if you can make it to the Red Tanks, you should be able to navigate this portion without much difficulty.
Triplogs: Consider your options before posting a triplog to this page.
• Day hikes to consider: (go to the page and post)
- (difficult) Charlesbois Loop II
- (difficult) Whiskey West-Red Tanks Loop
- (strenuous) Dripping Springs Super Loop
- (strenuous) Red Tanks Super Loop from Peralta TH
- (strenuous) Tortilla Loop
• Backpack loops and others starting on other segments
- Post a triplog from the beginning segment (not here)
- Adjust your mileage, elevation gain & accumulated elevation gain
- After it post, link other this and other trail segments using the "Link Hikes: <- Link to other Hikes!"
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking 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.
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.