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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness, AZ

no permit
247 18 0
Guide 18 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson E
5 of 5 by 6
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 9.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,201 feet
Elevation Gain -1,217 feet
Accumulated Gain 217 feet
Avg Time One Way 9-12 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.22
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
27  2018-09-02 BiFrost
6  2018-06-30 MountainMatt
3  2017-06-04 MountainMatt
7  2016-06-25 MountainMatt
29  2016-06-25 chumley
5  2016-06-25 JoelHazelton
4  2016-06-25 Jonnybackpack
5  2015-07-04 chumley
Page 1,  2,  3
Author toddak
author avatar Guides 7
Routes 5
Photos 1,053
Trips 391 map ( 6,151 miles )
Age 54 Male Gender
Location Puhoynix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → Early
Seasons   Summer to Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:31pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
pink granite paradise
by toddak

Likely In-Season!
A rugged, non-technical descent of the gorgeous sculpted granite, clear water and deep pools of Haigler Creek in the Hellsgate Wilderness, ending at the confluence with Tonto Creek.

Numerous narrows sections that would be dangerous in high water flow and/or monsoon flash flood conditions.

Haigler Creek runs right through the Alderwood recreation site, from there just head downstream. Don't bother trying to keep your feet dry, you will very soon be hiking, wading and swimming in the creek, and will be for the rest of the day. This creek is non-stop rock scrambling and boulder hopping, but only occasional vegetation that has to be fought through. You'll also be swimming constantly (drybag mandatory), including several swims of 50 yards or more.

Around the 3 mile point is your only significant obstacle, a 20-foot, two-tier waterfall / chute that could be downclimbed if the water flow is low or else bypassed on the right with some moderate scrambling. Around the 5 mile point the canyon opens up and there are wide benches on either side for easy walking, a nice break from the rock scrambling. The canyon closes up again shortly for more miles of scrambling and swimming before you finally reach the confluence with Tonto Creek.

If you're lucky enough to be on a multi-day trip down the Tonto, spend the night here and continue downstream the next morning. Otherwise, your exit is the Hellsgate #37 trail, 7+ tough miles up and out to the Hellsgate trail head, where you will have spotted a car or arranged for a pickup.

Water Sources
Haigler Creek (always filter / purify creek water due to heavy upstream human use and cattle ranching in the area). Water may be cloudy with silt after periods of heavy rain and runoff.

Good campsites aren't plentiful but they do exist. Good camping at the Haigler/Tonto confluence.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2010-06-22 toddak
    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
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Downright perfect day with great company in perhaps one of my favorite canyons/creeks in the state!
    Surprisingly not too hot during mid day sun as we made our sketchy explorative descent down into the abyss.

    Upon hitting the creek bottom we were greeted with instant paradise and of course the glorious reddish pink granite I love so much.
    Soaked up sun, cliff jumped and swam around for countless hours enjoying the bounties of the wilderness until the early evening.

    Got nibbled on by crawdads and fish, encountered a chilll lone coatimundi and found the worlds tiniest Coues antler.

    Hellsgate = Heaven.

    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Needed to escape the valley heat and hit up the first official swimming/creek trip of year!
    Rugged and slow going I ventured a bit further than my last time in this formidable area.
    Felt good to bust out the floaty and drybag to once again take the camera to these hard to reach places.
    Water, weather and company was absolutely perfect!
    Sunday Funday well done!
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This has been in the works for over a year, but the timing for Haigler has to line up just right with temps, forecast, and runoff. After a chilly washout last year, we were finally able to align the stars this year.

    We attempted a new approach via Salt Canyon, which looked reasonable on the map, but ended up being more treacherous than desired. Getting around the very-well-signed private property at the ranch was a beast of manzanita forest along with a very steep and loose slope. On the other side, the climb up the old road to Big Ridge 177 was steep, hot, and exposed. Getting back down to Salt was equally steep, hot, and exposed, and the thought of returning this way had us all dreading the trip back.

    As we stopped for a snack near Salt Canyon, we spotted something large moving in the distance. Was it a bear? More likely a cow. Then one of us commented that there were people there. This of course, was impossible! Who the hell else would possibly be down here in such a remote and difficult place to get to? Joel or Jon said "it's probably toddak" and we all laughed at the joke. I got up and walked in the direction we had seen the movement, and before I could see anything I hear "Is that Chumley!?" I dropped an effbomb or two :oops: and proceeded to introduce myself to a guy who said he was the other Todd. :roll: We chatted for minute and headed back to the rest of the group and chuckled at the coincidence of it all. It was nice to finally meet the guy who has been to some of the coolest places this site has descriptions for!

    After parting ways, we headed down Salt. The first half wasn't too bad, but the lower half narrows and gets overgrown. After fighting through brush and poison ivy (and finding a bypass around the rattlesnake that was basking on a shelf that was the ideal route on a short downclimb), we reached the creek just in time to cool off for a few minutes.

    We explored both up and downstream from this entry section and eventually found a suitable location to set up camp. Once all our gear was stashed, the real creek fun could begin. I had planned to split from the others and make it all the way to Hells Gate, but we got caught up in one of those famous Arizona 0% chances of rain :roll: with an impressive thunderstorm that dropped a solid downpour and kept us on edge watching lightning and listening to booming thunder echo through the canyon while swimming and wading through narrow slots. :scared: By the time the weather cleared, I didn't have the time I needed to get downstream and return before dark, so I'll just have to make another trip down here (I'm absolutely dreading this miserable development ;) )

    Once the rain cleared we settled in for a fun evening at camp full of shenanigans and tomfoolery that can't possibly be described on such a distinguished website as HAZ. :A1:

    Sunday involved more creek exploration, napping, swimming, jumping and a general good time all around. No rain today, and the sunny heat of the hike out took it's toll on all of us, especially on the off-trail climb around the ranch. Dinner at Alfonso's rounded out the trip. It's more expensive than Del Taco, but worth the extra dime.

    Edit: I forgot to add the part where I was attacked underwater by a Haigler Piranha. :o Somehow I managed to get this on video:

    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    What more to say than it was a pleasure to spend the weekend in this basically untouched pristine wilderness. My expectations were blown away from what I originally had in mind of this place. Great company and incredible terrain made this one of my most memorable backpacking trips to date.

    Joel and Chumley were the masterminds of this trip so I was just following along thier precisely planned route. We parked the truck once the road met private property boundary and made our brief and easy manzanita filled descent down to the nicely flowing Gordon Creek. We crossed the creek and walked along nice cattle trails that linked up to a road that led to the top of what I believe is The Big Ridge or at least a portion of its trail, I'm still not sure where that trail was exactly along the hike. Either way once atop that ridge we were greeted with magnificent sweeping views of the unique area. The jagged canyon walls came into view as we made our descent down the road down into Salt Canyon.

    Before entering through our side canyon we took a quick water and snack break when suddenly we all heard what sounded like a large animal making its way through the brush when out of nowhere glimpse of a human came into play. Chumley and Joel took off to see who or what it was and what do you know it was a fellow Hazzer in the middle of absolute nowhere! After meeting the very kind Toddak we all laughed at the highly unlikely possibility it was to come across another person in a place like that. True Hazzers are a rare breed among the millions of other Arizonans. 8)

    The Salt Canyon drainage worked out perfectly as the only the only trouble we ran into were a few easy downclimbs in which one was blocked by a beautiful sleeping rattlesnake, so we just carefully made our way around it to the left while I believe Jon chucked his 60 lbs backpack over the edge instead. :sweat:
    After a dry and hot drainage descent the cool waters of Haigler were such a treat as we all dipped in for a swim in just one of the many idyllic swimming pools we were going to encounter that weekend.
    Before breaking camp we headed upstream to check out a few marked falls area and on our way we encountered scenic 80-100 yard swim through the narrow pink granite walls. That is when my mind registered just how immaculate the canyon was that we were in the presence of.

    After our fair share of swimming around we headed downstream with our packs to our planned camp spot somwhere around Leo Canyon which was based upon satellite view and it's close proximity to the lucky charms. I used a canvas floaty to lay my heavy pack on whenever we encountered deep water or a swim and it worked perfectly not only for keeping my pack dry but to keep my balance while walking in the creek and of course as a flotation device. We ended up making camp sooner than expected due to coming across a gem of campsite for a canyon that rugged.

    After emptying our packs and relaxing for a moment we all headed downstream to see what else was inside the canyon. Joel had commented earlier in the day about how the clouds in the distance looked like rain clouds and sure enough he was right! Somwhere around 2 hours later dark clouds loomed over our surrounding area while cracks of thunder enmitted as it slowly began to sprinkle and then turned into a pretty decent downpour for a few minutes. Chumley and I took refuge in what I dubbed the emarld cove which was this very unique large overhang with shallow water beneath it. It was probably not the best spot to be in a monsoon storm but considering there wasn't anything else around at the moment and luckily the only lightning strikes we saw were a considerable distance away we were just fine. I know Chums goal was to make it to Hellsgate which I was up for as well before the mini rainstorm happened so then I just went back upstream to set up for some tripod time at some of the more picturesque spots along the creek.

    After making it back to camp I began to stuff myself with food and beer since I probably packed way too much in my bag to begin with :lol: I was second back at camp, Jon third and Joel the mastermind himself was of course back well after dark which I'm still eager to see his photos since he is who I look up to in the photography world. The night was filled with many laughs, plenty of beers, a unique version of night painting and a surprise visit from a giant centipede. Perfect weather that night and we all slept well after quite the exciting day exploring this seldom traveled area.

    We saw a bounty of bear scat and tracks throughout the canyon and on our way out we spotted some fresh new tracks not far from camp, maybe bears like craft beer too... Before heading out the drainage we took one last swim in the cool waters of Haigler before making what we built up to be a daunting trek out but then in reality ended up being relatively easy hike out. For me it was probably because half my pack weight was from the mass amounts of pre-cooked bacon and beer that was consumed the night prior. :guilty:

    We made it to the truck just in time as the last part of our hike kind of sucked from the rapid elevation gain and the heat beginning to pick up but nonetheless it was not bad at all it but it sure was a pleasant sight to see the Chum-mobile and grab a gallon of water to chug. Great weekend, with great people spent in a gem of a wilderness, enough said.
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Drove up to Haigler for a day of swimming with a couple of friends and the dogs. It rained just before we got there and the the temp dropped to 61 degrees. The water was clear at the crossing but lightly sedimented at the falls. Despite the cool air, cloudy skies and occasional drizzle, and less than perfect water, we spent several hours swimming and enjoying the creek. I even managed to dive off the top this time :y:

    Great day to be outside in one of my favorite secluded swimming spots!
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I met up with Chumley, Jonnybackpack & The Legend for a fun overnighter to Haigler Creek. I didn't do any research on this one. I was just along for the ride. After starting our morning off at AZW with some Double IPA we were off to the trailhead. The hike in was fairly straightforward. We followed a use trail along the border of some private property and then dropped down to the creek where we set up camp in an open area that could easily accommodate HAZfest.

    After getting camp set up we started the "hike" up Haigler Creek. The going was very slow as we had to swim immediately. When we weren't swimming we were fighting our way through heavy growth. All the ground gained was hard fought. On top of that many of the swims had hidden boulders and downed trees under the water and out of sight. After considerable effort we arrived at the waterfall. I was shocked to see it was already 5pm. We enjoyed the waterfall and took our time taking pics. I was dreading the return because I didn't want to get back in the water. I was surprisingly chilled from the constant swims we had to endure. Chumley had a good idea on climbing out of the drainage and going cross country back to camp. I had my fill of the area and decided to head back early while the others stayed for more pics.

    The climb out of the drainage was steep and took considerable effort as you have to scramble up 500-700 ft. Once on top things level off and I made my way back to the "trail" we hiked in on. Once back on trail I cruised back to camp and took a nap while I waited for the others to return. Once they returned we settled in for the night under four strands of party lights and lots of libations.

    We woke on the start of Sunday and took our time in camp. Around mid-morning we packed up and started the hike out. We stopped near some Juniper Trees so Jon & Patrick could pick some berries for their next brew. I can't wait to have another Juniper Ale. So yum!

    This was a fun and challenging hike. The going is very slow but rewarding. This is a great destination for the summer heat.
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Quick overnight trip to introduce the beards to Hells Gate Wilderness. This time we started farther downstream and worked up, covering a section I haven't been to before. Slower than I remember. Took 90 min to go a mile. At least a dozen swimmers. And when it wasn't a swimmer it was overgrown and thick. Lots of underwater obstacles. Would have been easier going downstream, but on our return to camp we opted to hike up and out of the canyon rather than fight the creek again. Probably saved a few minutes but not much. This place is tough. Which is part of its intrigue.
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Finally got to do Haigler! Though I'm left feeling slightly less than satisfied since we only logged about 4 creek miles. I've been wanting to hike this creek for a long time now.

    There are multiple sections of beautiful granite narrows and waterfalls, but hell to pay to access those areas. We averaged 1/2mph with full overnight packs and no trekking poles. No trekking poles was a huge mistake. With daypacks and 2 trekking poles, 1mph would be very feasible (in my opinion), but don't expect to travel any more quickly than that. I fell probably 5 times and was more frustrated with each spill. It would start with a slight slip, then turn into this awkward slow-motion fall as my heavy pack pulled me backwards. It would then end with a string of cuss words (which became longer after each fall). Floaties for our packs seemed brilliant at first, but as the short sections of bushwhacking became more frequent, both our floaties eventually popped. I opted to keep my pack on and backstroke through the narrows.

    Campsites were very few and far between. We had to do some backtracking to find a decent spot as I wanted to be close to a photo destination for the evening. With the lack of documentation for this creek, you don't know what to expect and when to expect it, so when we came across something photogenic and it was late afternoon, we figured it was time to start settling down.

    We saw some nice big piles of bear dung, several fish, a few crawdads and a dead cat(?) of some sort floating and decomposing in the water. Even though we camped a couple miles downstream and I double filtered the water (Chumley's filter plus my steripen), visions of that thing haunted me whenever I felt thirsty.

    Overall a great trip! I still ache from the 8 straight hours of rock hopping, swimming and bushwhacking.
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    With temperatures approaching 120 in the valley, I knew that even heading for the high country would be hotter than I prefer. The only solution would involve being in water all day. I had an opportunity to go to WCC, but I anticipated it being a little crowded there, so when Joel suggested Haigler, I was sold. I'd camped near the start on numerous occasions in the past, but never ventured downstream more than a quarter mile or so.

    I can honestly say hiking this creek may be the slowest, most tiring hike I've done in a long time. Maybe ever. Joel said only the Motherlode was more difficult, but I personally think that is easier. We hiked for a solid 8 hours on Saturday and the GPS logged only 4.4 miles. And that was generous. The map only showed us having progressed a little over 3.5 river miles. 1-mile over 2 hours is a good pace here.

    But those hours are crazy fun. Lots of amazing scenery in there! The vegetation was too thick to keep floaties from popping, and most of the creek hiking is not more than chest deep, so the required swimming portions are relatively short and the floaties were not necessary anyway. Of course you definitely need dry bag. Next time, I will absolutely bring trekking poles, which I did not have with me on this trip. I would almost say they should be requirement for anybody making this trip.

    There's basically nowhere to camp. Hangers would do much better here. Finding flat, non-rocky places for two people to sleep is a challenge. But the pink granite is beautiful. And there's a handful of cascades and deep swimming holes that made the weekend great.

    We headed back out on Sunday, exploring some more and appreciating this remote wilderness canyon. We never did see another person all weekend. At some point, I'd like to take the time to get all the way to Hell's Gate, but that wasn't in the cards this weekend because the hike out in these temps would have been miserable, if not dangerous or impossible.

    A little video recap here:
    Haigler Creek Hellsgate Wilderness
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Long day down Haigler and out Hellsgate #37. Water was cool, neoprene socks and a shorty wetsuit were nice in the morning, but not necessary by noon. Lots of fish, some looked to be up to 12-inches in the deepest pools. My guess is that the best time to do this or Tonto Creek is June/July before the monsoon starts and silts up the water.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From Payson drive east on Highway 260 for approximately 24 miles. Turn right at the sign for Colcord road (aka FR 291) and follow this road (which turns to dirt after about 2 miles) for 4 miles to FR200. Turn right on FR200 and drive for 9 miles (passing through Haigler Canyon recreation site) to FR202A. Turn right on FR202A and go 0.5 miles to the Alderwood recreation site.
    page created by toddak on Jun 22 2010 7:37 pm
    3 pack - loud whistle
    go prepared
    help comment issue

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