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Park Creek Falls, AZ

no permit
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Guide 11 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson S
4 of 5 by 5
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,645 feet
Elevation Gain 2,205 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,716 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 19.58
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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10  2019-02-16 MountainMatt
10  2017-01-25 The_N
8  2016-02-18 MountainMatt
15  2016-01-17 chumley
2  2016-01-17 JoelHazelton
13  2014-10-18
Sunflower- Camp Reno - Park Trail Loop
37  2011-01-22
Parallel Play Canyon
38  2011-01-22 suzaz
Page 1,  2
Author PrestonSands
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 149
Photos 5,534
Trips 1,317 map ( 6,690 miles )
Age 42 Male Gender
Location Oro Valley, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Apr, Oct → Early
Seasons   Late Summer to Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:22pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
acrophobia nightmare
by PrestonSands

Overview: Well hidden in central Arizona's Mazatzal Mountains is Park Creek Falls, one of many large, seasonal waterfalls in this rugged range. Park Creek Falls is located where Park Creek suddenly drops off the top of the range, below Edwards Park. There are two waterfalls here: a 30 foot upper falls, and the 100 to 160 foot lower (main) falls. The height of the lower falls is a guess, based on the U.S.G.S. topo map and my observations. The falls can be reached by a short, off trail hike, starting from either the Park Trail #66, or forest road #422 (El Oso Road). This description begins on the Park Trail.

The best time to see the falls is after wet winter weather or snowmelt. If Park Creek has a healthy flow at the trailhead, Park Creek Falls should, too.

Due to the narrow confines of its surroundings, a wide angle lens is essential for photographing Park Creek Falls.

Warning: This hike consists of both on and off trail hiking through rough country, that was severely burned during the 2005 Edge Complex wildfire. The Park Trail, which this hike begins on, receives little or no maintenance, so following it may be difficult. Boulders and dead trees cling precariously to the area's steep terrain, just waiting to injure unsuspecting hikers who may come into contact with them. Footing near the edge of the lower falls is sketchy, and a fall there would likely result in death. Basically, be very careful when hiking in this rugged area!

Hike: Beginning at the Park Creek Trailhead, start hiking up the Park Trail #66. After ascending a low ridge at the foot of the Mazatzals, the Park Trail starts a steady climb up the eastern wall of the range. Sweeping views of Tonto Basin and central Arizona provide motivation to continue the ascent.

After a 2000 foot climb in a little over 2 miles, the trail reaches a cone shaped hill I call "The Pyramid" (peak 4759). The Park Trail passes through Pyramid Saddle on the south side of the Pyramid, then begins to level out.

Once you are above the 4800 foot contour, and about 0.25 to 0.5 miles past Pyramid Saddle, pick a ridge or ravine below the Park Trail, and head for the bottom of Park Creek.

When you reach Park Creek, begin heading downstream (north). The creek reaches the upper falls at about the 4400 foot contour. Down climbing along the east side of this waterfall provided me with a do-able route.

From the upper falls, it is a short walk down the bouldered creek bed to the lower (main) falls. As the creek crosses the bedrock shelf at the top of Park Creek Falls, it enters a chute carved into the pale granite by countless years of runoff. Park Creek Falls does not make a vertical drop, but rather cascades over a 60 degree granite wall. The falls disappear into a maze of polished monoliths at the base of the cliff. It is so rugged here that one cannot see the bottom of the gorge.

For a better vantage point, carefully work your way north from the top of the falls, along the east canyon wall, until you cliff out. At this point, you should be able to see most of Park Creek Falls. Be extremely careful where you step, so as not to slip into the abyss.

In the distance, Park Creek can be seen entering a narrow gorge with smaller waterfalls, before curving east to enter Tonto Basin. The top of Park Creek Falls is the end of the line for this hike, unless you are a climber (or crazy!)

Return the way you came.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2008-04-11 PrestonSands
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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
Park Creek Falls
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After lazily sitting on the couch watching football on Saturday I was happy when Joel suggested a 6-7 mile hike on Sunday. He neglected to mention the 3000 feet of gain. ](*,)

I'm not sure what the term is -- must be related to bucket list -- but different. In any case, I'm glad to get it checked off while hoping to never again have to hike in the snow through catclaw (two things that should never occur together). Add off-trail and after dark and one wonders why more people don't come here! :lol:

Ultimately, it was a fantastic day. Awesome water flow in the entire canyon. Plenty of amazing cascades, along with the incredible waterfalls downstream. I'm impressed by the canyoneer folks who rappel down this thing. It's impressive.

Love to see the water flow at this time of year. Hopefully that el nino thing happens because except for a 5-day stretch two weeks ago, it's been a whole lot of sunny.
Park Creek Falls
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Sunflower- Camp Reno - Park Trail Loop
I've been looking for a way to loop the Bushnell Tanks, Park trail and FR422. I drew up a route on HAZ and away we went.
Fan & I started about 7:30 and the weather was very cool. We came across two hunters who had spotted a bear in the area.

Soon we were hiking down the backside of MT.Ord on FR524. We hopped off of FR524 to an old ATV trail that took us close enough to the Camp Reno. We bushwhacked around a bit before hitting the Camp Reno road. Fan took a break as I explored around Camp Reno.

Park Trail #66
We topped off our water at the Park creek. We knew it was going to be warm climbing up in the sun.
The Park trail is no "walk in the park". The trail goes from 2,700 feet to 5,000+. There is little shade. The lower part is easy to follow. But once you get to 4,000 foot range, it changes. The tall grass hides the trail and cairns. We keep on missing the trail and bushwhacked back to it. We started to dread the HAZ split stats because we slowed down to a mile an hour!
The trail is there, it's just the tall grass increases the route finding. After a couple of hours we made it to the Edwards park. Now that is a one great park!

We headed down the AZT to a point where we bushwhacked to a series of abandoned Jeep roads that lead us back to the Jeep.

We were amazed at the amount of flowing water everywhere. The song that keep playing in my head was the "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The verse was “Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink" Except it was good potable water. The 1st mile of FR22 was wet and overgrown with plants. This area got hit with a lot of rain. It looks like the road moved again.
Park Creek Falls
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AKA Park Creek Falls in the hiking community.

Well a climbing trip fell thru when a partner got sick, so Michael & I fell back on this canyon as a backup. After doing Parker Canyon, we'd been talking about the flow of snow runoff down this equally amazing canyon across the lake. Susan's plans fell thru also, so she was a last minute addition than morning. Gotta love the fluidness of canyoneering! :D

With 200ft ropes & full wetsuits, we slogged up the Park trail passing a hunter with a recent kill of a beautiful bobcat. ;) The views of Tonto Basin were amazing, but we were so glad to be done climbing up the mountainside and dropping into the lightly flowing canyon. :y: Geared up, rock hopped a bit downstream, and made the first 40ft drop. A little further downstream is the amazingly HUGE ~250ft waterfall. :o The creek oddly went underground here and came out a crack in the wall about 100ft from the bottom. This is a mulit-stage rappel and the first drop is about 150ft down that slick angled chute and then head to a midway ledge on the right (looking up canyon). Once all down on the ledge, we pulled the ropes while soaking in this super sweet waterfall & rigged the anchors for another ~100ft drop into the hallway below. From this amazing waterfall, we again pulled the ropes, and made another 20ft drop into a chilly swimmer. Wow, that was flipping amazing! :D A little further downstream, we hit a second huge multi-stage drop past a series of falls & cascades. :y: It starts off with a 40ft drop past a huge chockstone to the top of the main falls, but we rappelled 100ft into a dry grotto on the rightside. That put us down to a ledge with a few options, but the quickest way is to down climb the slick flowing chute and wade another chilly pool. That was the end of the rappels, but we left the gear on until we knew we were done with the cold pools. ;) Loads of rock hopping, some more down climbing, and a few pools to try and avoid as we continued down canyon until we felt confident enough to drop the gear and put on some dry clothes. :) The canyon slowly opened up and eventually we popped out of the mountains and into the flat Tonto Basin where we got out of the rocky canyon and bushwhacked back to the TH. :sweat:

Such a great short & sweet canyon that I'm glad to have come back and caught when it was flowing on this relatively dry winter (so far). :D
Park Creek Falls
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Wow, yet another amAZing canyon tucked away in the Mazatzals. :y: AKA as Park Creek Falls in the hiking world. I wanted to do a dry run down this canyon on a warm fall day to get a feel for the canyon before heading back next spring to catch it flowing from snow runoff. : rambo :

The road is looks to be recently graded so my car made it in no problem. Like Preston says, the trail receives little maintenance and is overgrown with thorny bushes as you climb 2000ft in 2 miles but nothing that my half shredded canyoneering pants & shin guards can't handle. ;) Once a little past Pyramid Peak, I bushwhacked down to the dry creek and soon reached that first day fall. The upper creekbed had a few clear pools but nothing I couldn't thankfully avoid since I didn't bring the wetsuit in order to make hauling two 200ft ropes up the mountain a tad easier. :sweat: Geared up and dropped down that first 40ft rappel to the rocky creekbed. I left the rope in place to run down and check the anchors for the big rappel #2 & after finding some interesting yet solid anchors I rock hopped back up and pulled the rope. The main falls is actually more like sloping 225-250ft drop. :o About 150ft down, there's a ledge on the left LDC with another anchor to rappel from but you need to angle that way on rappel in order to reach it. Midway down I threw the rope the rest of the way to get a feel for the length and there looked to be another 25-50ft of drop past the ropes end before reaching the hallway at the bottom. So I pulled the rope and setup from the ledge anchors and dropped another ~100ft into that super sweet hallway. There's another 20ft drop out of the hallway and another set of anchors in there also but I decided to snap some quick photos and continue on using the same anchors from above. There's a cold knee-high pool to wade and from across the way after a little bit of struggling I was able to get a good angle and make the rope pull. In hindsight, It might be best to just make the rope pull from the hallway and get an additional rappel, especially if the water is flowing descent. I gave this canyon an extra R due to this huge mulit-stage rappel and it's exhilerating enough when it's dry and can only imagine how sweet it is when it's flowing. :D A pool around the corner I avoided and then you're faced with a 3rd falls with a few different options though they might be more limited when its flowing. I found an anchor on the left side that was shreeded and easily came loose when I test pulled it :o plus it dropped down almost into a tree. So I went back to try another way and choose the middle option. I ended up build an anchor and dropping down 20ft thru a tight chute to get past that huge chockstone and found myself on top of the next set of anchors. Hmm, looks like an interesting one... I rappelled under a chockstone hanging there so that the rope pull would be easier and continued down that angled chute a good 100ft before reaching a ledge flat. Hmm, no anchors down here but it looks down climbable so I pulled the rope, scrambled down, and waded across another knee-high pool. It looked like that was the end of the technical section, as it was, but I kept the gear on in case I ran into something further down canyon. No more rappels, but I did do some light down climbing and loads & loads of rock hopping while enjoying more fall colors. :sweat: Eventually I reached a flat bench on the side of the creek that I could scramble up and made pretty good time weaving thru the brush back to the TH while enjoying the sweet view of the Tonto Basin.

Now that I know the canyon better I could prob shave an hour from todays time but I suspect that flowing water would add another hour or two on top of that. ;)
Park Creek Falls
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Our Salt River rafting trip over, the Sands boys went home. I continued north to Preston country (Mazatzalia) for spring break. Park Creek was flowing nicely, so I decided on an afternoon visit to an old friend in the Mazatzals. The Park Trail gave a good workout on this warm spring day. I met a couple from Tonto Basin who frequently hike the Park Trail, and help maintain it. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on.

In the wake of the Edge Complex Fire, the off trail descent to Park Creek was much easier, and I reached the upper falls quickly. Nostalgia set in. Was it February 2001? Were the Mazatzals still my backyard? Today, yes. I carefully descended the upper falls, then set up the tripod in the creek to capture its beauty. Excitement was in the air as I reached the edge of Park Creek Falls. Wow! What a treat to be here again! :D And just as terrifying as I remember. I noticed the juniper tree on the lip of the abyss where I had hung over the edge on my last visit, taking photos. "Oh ####! I can't believe I did that!" I guess I'll have to do it again. Against my better judgment, I scrambled down to the tree. Adrenaline coursed through me as I stood on the precarious precipice again. The juniper served as a tripod for photos and video. A dead agave stalk was thrown into the abyss, quickly growing tiny and vanishing. Ooh! With the hour growing late, I made my trip back up the canyon. Darkness arrived, and I finished the trail by flashlight. A quick clean up, and I was off to Payson for supplies, before disappearing into Cypress Thicket for a few days. What a great day. I didn't have a care in the world.

VIDEO: ... EMdXxl6Tpc
Park Creek Falls
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Hiked up the Park Trail to the 4800 foot level, left the trail, and went down to Park Creek itself. The creek was flowing well with snowmelt. Got to an upper fall, descended it on the right (east) side, then continued downstream to get to a 160 foot waterfall I had seen on the topo map. With one arm around a juniper branch, I leaned over the edge of the abyss and took some pictures of the big sloping waterfall. On the way back, a big rock rolled over my foot. In pain, I carefully hiked out, getting back just after dark. Thus ended my Park Creek adventures. This was one of my most memmorable hikes from "back in the day". :)

Permit $$

Map Drive
FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To hike
From Payson, head south about 15 miles to the AZ highway 188 junction, and turn left. Follow highway 188 south for about 13.8 miles, to the south end of the Punkin Center Business District road. The business district road (paved) takes off to the left (east), while forest road 409 (dirt) takes off to the right (west). Follow forest road 409 for approximately 1.7 miles, to where it forks. The left fork drops off the mesa, and goes another 0.1 miles to the Park Creek trailhead, along Park Creek.
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