You'll go up a creek without a paddle!
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.
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.
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.