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South Fork Trail #46, AZ

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Guide 42 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson W
3.4 of 5 by 13
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Distance One Way 5.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,306 feet
Elevation Gain 2,762 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,808 feet
Avg Time One Way 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 14.96
Interest Historic
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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21  2019-05-11
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
24  2019-03-30
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
13  2019-03-30
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
6  2018-08-18
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
8  2018-02-22
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
8  2018-02-04 KBKB
14  2017-07-08
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
6  2017-03-11
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author Wild Bill
author avatar Guides 2
Routes 0
Photos 56
Trips 9 map ( 58 miles )
Age 59 Male Gender
Location Deer Creek Az.
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, Nov → 7 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:10am - 6:29pm
Official Route
9 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
The real Gowan property hike
by Wild Bill

2016: This trail has not received much maintenance since the Willow Fire in 2004. It is difficult to follow and gone in areas, most will not enjoy.

History: This trail is a little known or hiked trail, the one thing that made it interesting to me was that the Gowan property is located on this trail and not on the Deer Creek trail. David Gowan was one of the first pioneers in this region, he had a claim on the Verde river just west of the town of Payson. He was also credited for discovering the Tonto Natural bridge, the story goes like this, he was hunting in the Pine creek area when a group of Indians chased him up the creek where he took cover under the bridge, he later gave the property to his relatives, the Goodfellows. A good book I've found for information is Rim Country History put out by the Gila County Historical Society

Hike: This hike starts at the Deer creek trail head, you actually start out on the Deer creek trail but within the first quarter mile you run into first the Gold ridge trail #47 and very shortly after that you come to the South Fork Trail #46 intersection, The trail is nice for the first few miles until it turns south and starts heading up the south fork of Deer Creek, where it's rock hopping for the next few miles, 3 1/4 miles you come into the Mazatzal wilderness for about a mile and a half then back out,about 1/2 mile from the wilderness boundary you come to the Gowan property. When you reach the Gowan property your about a half mile from the end of the trail at Pigeon Springs on the FR201. A major storm last January 2010 has changed all the trails in this area with fallen trees etc, like all other trails in this area I saw many signs of fresh bear droppings so take extra measures (making a lot of noise) I've personally ran into several bears in the Mazatzal Mountains but have always avoided contact.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

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

2010-07-20 Wild Bill

    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 of 19 deeper Triplog Reviews
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I started at 6am from trailhead. Forecast in Phoenix was for 100. Temperature was pleasant the whole trip and even cool feeling at top, other than the final few miles when the heat and lower elevation made it a bit warm.

    Gold ridge was as advertised, easy to follow and well maintained for the most part. Steep in many sections, with few switchbacks.
    South Fork has three different sections from my experience.
    Mile 0-2 from Hwy 87 trailhead: This is mostly open desert and fairly level. Some parts of trail are faint, but route finding and bush whacking is minimal.
    Mile 2-4 from Hwy 87 trailhead: The trail gets more difficult as elevation increases and there are a number of up and down sections that rise above the stream and back down to it. Route finding is fairly straight forward still and trails not really over grown.
    Mile 4-6 from Hwy 87 trailhead until the junction with forest road: This section sucks. Lots of up and down. There is no trail at all for about the first half mile from the forest road. It is very easy to miss where the “trail’ takes up one bank or another and then comes back down. Some sections are very steep and the trail is washed away, making for a few treacherous steps here and there. Surprisingly I didn’t have to do a lot of bush whacking, but route finding was very slow going. The trail varies between very faint and gone in this section. Still some decent shade though. I started with Gold Ridge and came back this way. Thankfully only the first 2 or so miles were this bad, or I would have gotten back much later than I had planned.

    Thankfully, not many catclaw or other thorny plants.

    Overall, i thought the views on Gold Ridge were awesome and the adventure through South Fork was pretty fun. Still a decent amount of vegetation and trees along South Fork. I’d recommend the hike, just make sure to plan extra time for South Fork.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I have driven past the Deer Creek TH a number of times and had always wondered what the trails there were like, so Tracie, my intrepid hiking partner, and I decided to find out for ourselves. We did this loop clockwise, i.e., we went out on the Gold Ridge Trail and came back on the South Fork Trail. After doing the hike, I would recommend doing it this way.

    The Gold Ridge Trail was well maintained and easy to follow. It was somewhat steep -- we climbed around 2,000 feet in the first 3 miles and around 1,000 feet in the next 3 miles. The trail was mostly dirt and the footing was pretty good. You could see a lot of dead, burned pine trees that were still standing from the Willow fire of 2004. There was a lot of vegetation -- mostly manzanita and holly bushes -- that had grown back since the fire. There was almost total sun exposure, and I would not want to do this hike in hot weather. The views were OK on this hike -- in places you could see Roosevelt Lake, and the Mogollon Rim could be seen off in the distance; however, as for scenery, I much prefer the Barnhardt Trail which isn't too far away.

    The South Fork Trail was totally different that the Gold Ridge Trail. In places it was difficult to follow the trail, so I was glad that I had a GPS track. There were a lot cairns and some pink ribbons tied to tree branches, which helped to follow the trail. However, to me this was much more like a social trail than an "official" trail. There were lots of fallen trees over the trail that you either had to climb over or navigate around. We had to make numerous creek crossings, and in some places we had to climb up above the creek and then get back down into the creek to avoid overgrowth in the creek. The creek was mostly dry, but there were several springs that were running with water. There were lots of dead, burned trees still standing from the 2004 fire.

    I think that this hike would have been a nice one back before the fire in 2004. Unless you really enjoy some scrambling in a creek bed, and aren't all that focused on scenic views, then I would recommend hiking on the Barnhardt Trail instead.

    My Garmin GPS recorded the hike as being 14.3 miles with close to a 3,600 foot AEG. When we were on FR 201 we walked right past the trail marker to the South Fork Trail and had to backtrack a bit; so the actual distance was probably a tad less than 14 miles.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Another Sunday afternoon hike with my wife...

    We hiked out Deer Creek and then the part way up the South Fork (of Deer Creek). We had hiked as part of a larger group back in December of 2012 and found both the route finding and path to be much more difficult than it is now. On Sunday's hike, we saw frequent large cairns and a well defined path in most sections. I ended up going out a total of 4.1 miles (counting the initial segment of the Deer Creek Trail) before turning back - I was worried about running out of daylight. It went well enough that I'm considering doing a loop in the area - maybe up the South Fork and down Gold Ridge.

    That said, there were some sections that were slightly precarious. At times the trail goes pretty high on some of the banks; the path is narrow with almost no shoulder and a misstep or simply the soil giving way could end up in a fall of up to 30 feet or so.

    We met another hiker while were on the South Fork - his name is Cory and he works for the Forest Service. He hadn't hiked the South Fork before and was using his day off to check on the trail conditions. Something I did not know - he told me that they aren't normally allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness areas.

    Anyway, it was another great day of hiking...
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Headed back into the Mazatzal for an interesting loop. Kyle and I fought our way up South Fork a couple of years ago and were forced to turn around due to time constraints. We wanted to return and this was the day. Chumley joined us for the hike.

    We started with Gold Ridge and it was a grind. The trail is in good condition as it makes a steep climb. With much effort we topped out and took a lunch break at Camp Grasshopper. This would be a great spot to car camp. From there we walked the road for a short ways and started down the South Fork trail at the trail sign.

    The hike down South Fork is a mixed bag. We did fairly well at following trail tread whenever it was present. It completely disappears at times and you have to fight your way down canyon. There was a good flow of water and the upper canyon is very scenic. There were two solid waterfalls but they are heavily overgrown and the mid afternoon sun cast too many shadows for good pics. The lower half of trail had some trail maintenance & is fairly easy to follow.

    I'm really glad we knocked out this loop. It's much better going down South Fork. Thanks Kyle for driving!
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Have never even been to this trailhead before! :o

    Gold Ridge is meh. The lower part is steep and seems to have forgotten about switchbacks. The upper part is actually pretty nice, but would have been a whole lot nicer pre-fire.

    I took a short side-trip up to the Gold BM. It took a minute to find as it had been protected by a few rocks piled above it. There was some wire from a survey structure or height of light that made me look for it in the right spot. Didn't see any obvious reference marks, but didn't search too hard either.

    South Fork offers nicer scenery but more challenging routefinding. I enjoy finding old trail tread, though there were times that it didn't seem logical. The leaves are just sprouting so it was still a little bit gray and bare. Plenty of water from the very top to the very bottom. Some pools plenty deep for full immerson, though not really large enough to actually swim. It got warmer on the way down and I considered taking a dip but ultimately decided to just hoof it back to the car.

    It was nice to meet 9L. :sweat: Thanks to Kyle for driving.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This one has been on the list for as long as I can remember. I'm glad we finally knocked it out. Now that things are starting to warm up, I figured it was a good time to do it and a relatively short drive. We went up Gold Ridge first-- I knew Lily would appreciate the water in South Fork when it got warmer in the afternoon-- she would have been really unhappy had we come down Gold Ridge. Gold Ridge is a little boring but the views are nice-- well, they aren't amazing. We headed down South Fork after a lunch break. This is a fun trail and there's tons of water right now and a couple pretty nice little waterfalls. I was pretty tired by the end-- I'm gonna blame my allergies and the slight yearly asthma they bring with them but it was really just this first taste of summer coming.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Finally made it back up South Fork and completed this loop as a day-hike. I was hoping to catch a little fall foliage in this canyon. Alex experienced Deer Creek recently and had her mind set on this loop. I gave her a complete description of this hike and the punishment that comes with the beauty beforehand. The first few miles up South Fork was in good shape and easy to follow. No water flowing. Just some nasty looking pools. At around 4 miles the flow is better but the terrain and trail conditions worsen. Lots of boulder hopping, route finding, log jumping and fighting cat claw and other brush. I kept us on the path of least resistance for quite a while until all remnants of a trail were gone. The cat claw turned to locust. The downfall became more numerous. Even had a couple climbs up dry waterfalls. The grueling pace was getting to me but I had to become slave driver / emotional support as Alex had become frustrated and realized she was in over her head a little on this one. I must've said "almost there" & "keep pushing" dozens of times in that last few miles of South Fork. I'm pretty sure she stopped believing me after a while. Having now hiked South Fork in both directions and completed this loop in both directions, I can now say I'm done with it for a while. Still a very beautiful area and the entire hike was fall like and scenic. Hungry and bleeding, we were thrilled to finally reach the road and start on down Gold Ridge. It was all downhill from there. Recent trail work on Gold Ridge made this stretch very enjoyable today. The rains held off and we soaked in the wide open views after several hours in that canyon. Made it back to the TH just as the last bit of daylight left the sky. Long day, tough hike but Alex sure was proud of her accomplishment in the end. Gorgeous day in the Mazzies, overall. Wouldn't hike it again anytime soon but it's a great loop with a rugged canyon and stunning ridgeline views for someone looking for something a little more adventurous.

    Substantial relative to the area. Mostly Sycamore and Cottonwood. Add Maple and Oak in the upper elevations.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Decided to hike this area because of the weather today. There was 100% chance of storms on the rim and only 60% chance with a high of 91° for Soth Fork. That's pretty much what I've been seeing on the Highline over the last month. The cloud cover this a.m. was nice, although the humidity was ridiculous in this rugged little canyon. I've never sweat so intensely in my life. Everything was wet from last night's rain but very little water in the creek. Vegetation wise, it's a jungle. Lots of wildflowers still present but everything else was of the scratchy/stabby variety. About a quarter mile beyond the 'granite tubs' I turned north into a drainage and found a nice size waterfall just barely trickling. I climbed up and followed the drainage for a short distance and found a decent pool and a series of cascades. Must be a neat spot when flowing good. For now it seems to be a wildlife highway, lots of deer sign and some bear scat. Didn't see any deer though. I did see a handful of garter snakes, tons of lizards and just about every insect present in this region. Storm clouds began to gather and I decided to get started back. Temps had reached low to mid 90's by the time I reached the TH.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Had a friend in town on Friday and Saturday. After spending Friday swimming and hanging out at Haigler Creek, my guest asked about getting a little sample of the Mazzies, preferably near a creek. This would be his first real hike. Temps were in the low 80s with abundant sunshine but promises of a good soak in a water hole kept him in good spirits. We stopped by 'the tubs' about 3.25 miles in and enjoyed the cold water and many species of butterflies for almost an hour before continuing on. At the 4 mile mark, the boulder hopping had gotten to him and he was ready to start the trek back. This entire area is lit up with Wildflowers and grasses and the creek was flowing good.
    South Fork Trail #46
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I decided to give this loop another shot with the advice from Grasshopper to do it as a one-night backpack. I was in need of a night under the stars. Started up Gold Ridge just after 1PM. It was a good little workout during the warmest part of that day with zero shade. All remnants of snow are gone and the trail is dry and in good shape. Passed a group of 4 as they were headed down. Stopped and chatted for 2 mins, that was my only break. The lower elevations of Gold Ridge are a wildflower show. Lots of colors and a great floral smell in the air. Arrived at Camp Grasshopper with plenty of afternoon left to gather firewood, set up camp & pick up trash/glass. Enjoyed a nice fire and a very comfy night of sleep as the wind died down just in time for bed. I was back on the trail at 845AM and running low on water so I was looking forward to being creekside. Took the most adventurous route possible down South Fork, staying next to the creek the entire time. I slipped and busted my pumpkin a few times. I came out of the brush and scared the hell out of a group of 4 lady day-hikers on their way up. They were hoping to complete the same loop and had a few questions. I told them to keep a lookout for my self-inflating camp pillow I lost in the brush. Still plenty of water in the creek and Wildflowers in the lower elevations of South Fork trail. Overall a very enjoyable trip with an awesome camp site. Personally, this is my kind of hike. From desert to pines to riparian zone with half of the hike on a ridgeline with scenic views and the other half in a rugged canyon with running water.

    Several different blooms in the lower elevations.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Head North from Phoenix on Hwy 87 to milepost 235 at the intersection of HWY 87 / HWY 188 turn left into the Deer Creek Trailhead parking area and let the fun begin
    page created by Wild Bill on Jul 20 2010 4:02 pm
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