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Malpais Trail - San Tan MRP, AZ

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Guide 24 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix SE
2.4 of 5 by 5
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Distance One Way 4.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,730 feet
Elevation Gain 197 feet
Accumulated Gain 460 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.73
Backpack No
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
5  2019-05-20
San Tan Mountain Regional Park
7  2017-06-25 DarthStiller
6  2016-01-24
SanTan Moon Star Malpais Loop
2  2015-04-25
San Tan Mountain Regional Park
6  2015-02-07
San Tan RP Outside Loop
10  2012-07-14
San Tan Trail - San Tan MRP
23  2010-03-14 ferazamboni
Author ferazamboni
author avatar Guides 7
Routes 0
Photos 216
Trips 41 map ( 212 miles )
Age 42 Male Gender
Location Boulder, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Nov, Jan, Dec → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:14am - 6:25pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
The best of San Tan Mountain Park
by ferazamboni

The Malpais trail is a 4.2 mile loop that accesses the beautiful and remote southwestern part of the San Tan Mountain Regional Park. If you have the time, this is the hike you'll want to do while visiting the park. Due to its more remote location, length, and significant hiking in sandy washes, this trail receives less usage than other trails in the park. Reaching the trail requires first hiking into the park from one of the three main trailheads, which adds length to the total trip milage. Much of the trail follows a sandy wash so it's a good idea to wear hiking boots that will give support and keep sand out.

There are three ways to access the San Tan Trail. If you want to minimize your milage, the Rock Peak Wash trailhead is your best bet. Starting from this trailhead only requires a 1.4 mile hike (one-way) to reach the start of the Malpais trail. Starting from the visitor center trailhead requires a 2 mile (one-way) hike to reach the Malpais trail, and from the Goldmine trailhead would require 4.1 miles (one-way). Consult the park map to decide which option suits your needs. This trail description is based from the visitor center for a 8.8 mile loop hike.

To access the visitors center trailheads you need to either pay per vehicle, or you can opt to bike/walk in from outside the park entrance and pay a smaller fee. From this main trailhead head south on the San Tan trail. This is a wide and flat trail that connects with many other trails in the park. Along this section be on the lookout for mountain bikers and horses. Bikers tend to ride fast on the flat and wide sections of this trail. The trail etiquette is for bikers to yield to hikers, and hikers to yield to horses. After 0.6 mile you reach the junction with the Stargazer trail. Continuing south on the San Tan trail another 0.3 mile you reach the junction with the Hedgehog trail. Head southwest on the Hedgehog trail, which climbs slightly between two hills. From this trail you'll have nice views of the Superstition Mountains, Four Peaks, and Pinal Mountains to the East. Continue on the Hedgehog trail for 0.9 miles until you reach the junction with the western end of the San Tan trail. From the junction with the San Tan trail head west on the San Tan trail for 0.2 mile until the junction with the Malpais trail. Take a break here before embarking on the 4.2 mile trek along the Malpais trail.

Heading southwest on the Malpais trail you will go up in elevation as you climb to the top of a hill. At the top of the hill is an interesting group of rocks guarded by a devilish saguaro cactus. From here you will begin a long trek westward along the fence that divides the park and the Gila River Indian reservation. This is a good time to watch for birds flying from one saguaro to another, and inspect some of the desert vegetation more closely. After about 2 miles the trail turns (finally!) south and drops into a sandy wash as it approaches the base of the large mountain range that encompasses the southern end of the park. It is here that the park really shines. The beauty of the mountains combined with the vegetation and wildlife make for the perfect Sonoran desert scene. Look for hawks making a ruckus and soaring playfully along the mountainside. The only thing missing in this part of the park are some benches to sit down and relax at (oh, and a summit trail!).

The trail now turns back east, continuing for 2 miles in the same sandy wash. As you head east Rock Peak will soon become visible. Once you reach the junction with the San Tan trail, take a moment to look back at the mountains you just hiked along. It's interesting how different they look from this perspective as compared to when you originally approached them on the Malpais trail. From the junction head north on the San Tan trail for 0.7 mile until you reach the Hedgehog trail. Return to the visitor the same way you came in using the Hedgehog and San Tan trails.

The park visitors center has a nice memorial of the Arizona residents who lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There is also a Desert Tortoise Habitat that provides an up close look at how these animals live and what they eat. The visitor center shop has a few items for sales as well.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2010-03-16 ferazamboni
  • 2014 map 2014 overview map
    area related

One-Way Notice
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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Malpais Trail - San Tan MRP
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First observation 100 yards from Rock Peak TH (fee area - $7) was the deep sandy washed that would be a majority of the Rock Peak > San Tan > Malpais lasso loop - hiking is gonna be a little extra work today.
Made decent time through the wash noticing Rock Peak seemed totally doable and intriguing. Just past ST/RPW near a bench is a cool crested saguaro worth a quick break to admire. Next stop was the 2nd junction w/Malpais trail so I could loop back to closer RPW on ST. Seemed like 80% of Malpais was straight wash, especially on the second half closet to Malpais Hills which loom over the trail the entire hike along with great views of Rock Peak and Goldmine Mountain to the N.
Overall, Trail was super easy to follow with minimal AEG. I will say though... if you don’t like sandy washes, I wouldn’t recommend this hike.

Ocotillos, buckhorn cholla and Hedgehog cacti were blooming, but wildflowers were quickly dying off.
Malpais Trail - San Tan MRP
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SanTan Moon Star Malpais Loop
I've never hiked in the park before and opted for the Rock Peak TH to avoid any crowds on this perfect day. Success! 3 cars! :y:

The Rock Peak and Malpais trails seem to be afterthoughts and generally follow sandy washes that are not pleasant. The other trails are the exact opposite. Perfect for trail running, mountain biking, or putting! I think they rake them daily!

Tons of saguaro down here and great views all around. Malpais is a scenic trail. This park would be 10x better if they built some trails that ascend some of the peaks. As it is they seem to try to avoid elevation gain whenever possible.

For some reason I put effort into getting back to watch some sportsing thing on TV. Reconsidering that decision now. ](*,)
Malpais Trail - San Tan MRP
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Did the biggest loop the park offers:

San Tan south to Malpais near Rock Peak
Malpais loop back to San Tan
San Tan north to Dynamite
Dynamite north to Goldmine
Goldmine north to trailhead, then south to Littleleaf with a break at the graves
Littleleaf to the end

Malpais Hills looks like a cool ridgeline to explore
Malpais Trail - San Tan MRP
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San Tan RP Outside Loop
I was oncall this week so had to stay within cell coverage so this regional park loop was the choice. Not a bad little loop hike, typical for a regional park hike I would say. Here is my short description of each trail we hiked.

Goldmine Trail: The most elevation change of all the trails. Double track for the majority of the trail. Nice views.

San Tan Trail: This trail seems to get a lot of traffic. A combination of single and double track. Very well groomed. The southeast section of the trail was my favorite.

Malpasis Trail: If you want any amount of solitude your hike has to include this trail. Good condition but you can tell it gets the least amount of foot/wheel/hoof traffic. At least half of the trail is through washes so expect loose conditions. Views are limited since you are hiking mostly in a wash. My favorite in the park.

Dynamite Trail: Very nice trail and seems to get a lot of traffic. Some nice gradual elevation change which provided some nice views.

This park is close to the house so I will definitely be back to finish the couple cross trails.

Permit $$
Maricopa Regional Parks - Fees more info

$7 per vehicle,$85 annual or trade your first born for the life pass

$2 walk, bike or horse ride into park

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
For visitor center: From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Turn west on Phillips Road to the San Tan Mountain Regional Park entrance. For Goldmine Trailhead: From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Empire Blvd. Travel west on Empire Blvd to Wagon Wheel Road. Take Wagon Wheel Road South to Skyline, and then west on Skyline to trailhead. For Rock Peak Wash trailhead: From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Continue south on Thompson until it becomes Brenner Pass Rd. and eventually reaches the trailhead.
page created by ferazamboni on Mar 15 2010 11:43 pm
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