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Brown's Cave via Apache Lake, AZ

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Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Globe > Queen V NE
4 of 5 by 2
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 5.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,916 feet
Elevation Gain 500 feet
Avg Time One Way 3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 7.17
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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13  2016-03-27 o2bav8
24  2015-01-19 ddgrunning
5  2010-04-12 VVebb
6  2010-04-12 JoelHazelton
20  2008-12-07
Brown's Cave
Author VVebb
author avatar Guides 3
Routes 4
Photos 18
Trips 23 map ( 150 miles )
Age 35 Male Gender
Location Flagstaff, AZ
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Preferred   Nov, Mar, Feb, Jan → Early
Seasons   Early Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:10am - 6:29pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
You'll go up a creek without a paddle!
by VVebb

This kayak-and-hike trip is an alternate method for reaching Brown's Cave -- The better-known way to reach Brown's Cave is to come down from the Four Peaks area, but doing so involves significant time on 4x4 roads and also some bushwhacking, as described by Joe Bartels in his write-up of the Brown's Cave hike. If you have access to a kayak and a vehicle to haul it, the method described below can be done with a 2WD low-clearance vehicle, and the hiking aspect requires minimal bushwhacking. I did this trip in April 2010 with AZPride.

A Tonto Pass is required to launch from Crabtree Wash. They are for sale at the Apache Lake Marina, but I recommend buying one in town in case the marina is closed or out of passes when you arrive. See the USFWS website for details about the Tonto Pass.

Also, keep in mind that prevailing winds on this lake seem to blow downstream in the morning and upstream in the evening. If you keep those winds at your back, you'll have a more enjoyable time on the river.

We put in our kayaks at Apache Lake's Crabtree Wash Recreation Area, GPS N 33*34'24.3" W 111*15'24.4, which is a sandy beach located right next to the marina.

Once on the water, we paddled out of the small harbor at Crabtree Wash and turned left/west/downstream. We paddled about 4.0 miles, which took about 90 minutes, and then (with the guidance of a GPS and a topo map) turned right/north toward the mouth of Alder Creek. During our trip there was a pretty nifty rope swing ( gone as of 2015 ) in a huge cottonwood tree on the south side of the river about 1-2 miles from the marina, GPS N 33*34'57.0" W 111*17'26.3", so stop there if you want to get wet. It seemed pretty sturdy and worked great, but of course I cannot guarantee its safety.

When we reached the mouth of Alder Creek we found another large beach, GPS N 33*35'56.8" W 111*19'21.9", which somewhat resembled the one where we entered the lake at Crabtree Wash. It would make a good campsite, although it's a pretty popular stopping-point for boaters so you might get company. Just behind the beach, there is lots of vegetation in which a person can stash their kayak and other belongings to keep them "out of sight, out of mind" from strangers while hiking up to Brown's Cave.

After stashing our kayaks, we hiked up the creek (without a paddle). We generally hiked in the stream bed, which is initially wide but occasionally narrows to a small box canyon. We encountered some areas where we could (1) get wet while hiking through 3ft-deep pools or (2) find a bypass-route that goes up and around the pools. Although you can't really get lost in this canyon, there are a good number of cairns which generally indicate the easiest route. Oh yeah, and watch out for rattlesnakes.

After about 0.5 miles, GPS N 33*36'23.7" W 111*19'08.8", we encountered a 20ft-high waterfall, which was gushing pretty nicely and had a surprisingly-spacious alcove behind it. On a hot day, it's nice to hop through the waterfall and hang out behind it -- but make sure to remove maps and electronics from your pockets first. To get past the waterfall, you'll have to hike through a small densely-foliaged area and do some minor rock-climbing to reach the top of the waterfall and continue your trek. At this point, the cave is about 0.3 miles further. You'll know you are approaching the cave (which is really more of a large overhang) when the canyon starts to open up into wider hillsides. The cave is somewhat easy to miss if you're not paying attention, so stay along the right side of the creek and be observant. You'll know you're there when you see barbed wire strands going through the trees -- at that point, turn right and work your way over to the cave. This is a great area for lunch because it is probably always shady, and there are some nice rocks to sit on while you look around at the relics of an old mining operation of some sort. A crazy person could hike farther up the creek and continue along some trails in the Four Peaks area -- but as Joe Bartels describes, the trails are lightly used and it's a pretty difficult area to hike. We turned around after lunch and headed back.

Water Sources
I've heard that Alder Creek usually has quite a bit of water in the spring, and may still have a trickle in the summer. When we did it in April 2010, we were never further than 100ft from clean-looking water.

Apache Lake has a good number of sandy beaches that are great for camping, but they tend to be pretty popular due to the number of boaters on the lake -- so, you might have to share a large beach with other campers.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2010-04-12 VVebb

    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 Review
    Brown's Cave via Apache Lake
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This trip is highly recommended, and the perfect time to go is when it's starting to warm up and there's still plenty of water in the creek. There are several opportunities to splash around and stay wet. The paddle to and from the creek (4 miles each direction) is pretty reasonable, too. I'd imagine that timing it to where one of the paddles is either during dawn or dusk would make this trip extra memorable.

    Brian nailed the description, but I wanted to throw in a few points of my own.

    From the cove where you "park" your boat, there is a cairned route that leads all the way to the cave. We followed it on and off, but I preferred the creek almost the entire time. The route is very overgrown and, this time of year, the catsclaw is in full force along with the snakes. In fact, as we began our hike up the creek, I said to Brian, "dude, I don't see how we could NOT see a snake today." I had barely finished my sentence when he exclaimed "snake!!!!" It was a little guy- not a rattler- and darted into the bushes as soon as Brian saw it.

    The "narrows" section comes pretty quickly after you begin sloshing up the creek. Here, pools begin to form and finding a bypass is necessary if you want to avoid thigh-deep water in spots. Heading upstream the creek just keeps getting better and better. I was constantly impressed with the scenery around every bend. This creek is just a trickle during the warmer parts of the year, so the riparian vegetation isn't too thick, allowing for constant views of huge sloping canyon walls dotted with saguaros. Throw a slick granite waterfall in the foreground and you've got prime desert scenery.

    After about a half mile we came up on a man and his two children playing in the creek. I thought "hmm... that looks fun, but why this spot over the several great swimming holes we already passed?" That question was soon answered when we rounded that last turn to an awesome 20 foot waterfall spilling over a granite overhang, complete with a large alcove behind it. This would be a great place for a shower on a backpacking trip. We stood and talked to the man for a while, sharing kayaking and hiking adventures, then continued on our way.

    A couple more impressive pools and cascading waterfalls are passed and then soon the vegetation thickens... It seems obvious the creek is perennial in this area and travel becomes a bit more difficult. It reminded me slightly of Coon Creek in the Salt River Canyon Wilderness. Up the cascade, under the fallen tree, over the slick boulder... Anything to avoid the thick riparian vegetation on the banks. After about .8 mile, soon after a narrow canyon enters from the right, you can see the west (left) canyon wall of Alder Creek quickly fall back. Start looking on the right bank for some barbed wire strung between a couple trees. This is pretty much your exit point. If you're lucky you can go a few more yards and spot a faint path heading out of the creek. Either way, head up and look for a giant overhang on the east wall of Alder Creek. Bushwhack that direction and you'll probably pick up a footpath that will get you the rest of the way there. In the cave you can sit and have lunch and ponder the various rusted trinkets laying around and especially that odd painted looking rock face directly above you. What the heck is that?

    During our trip, after we hiked back to the kayaks I went for a refreshing swim in the cove. Then, on the paddle back to the truck I spotted a rope hanging from a large cottonwood in a cove on the south side of the lake. Being a sucker for rope swings, I had to try it out. Definitely one of the better rope swings I've tried.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Phoenix/Tempe, take US-60 ~25 miles east to AZ-88/Idaho Rd. Turn left/north onto Idaho Rd., and go 2.3 miles to AZ-88/N. Apache Trail. Turn right/east onto the Apache Trail and drive 31 miles. Then, turn left and follow the driveway to the marina.
    page created by VVebb on Apr 12 2010 12:48 pm
    1 TB Flash Drive... $40
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