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Shingle Mill Trail #35, AZ

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Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 8.7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,391 feet
Elevation Gain 4,308 feet
Accumulated Gain 4,367 feet
Avg Time One Way 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 23.25
Interest Historic & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
22  2015-05-09
Ash Creek Trail #307
40  2015-05-09
Ash Creek-Shingle Mill Loop
15  2012-02-28 SkyIslander18
1  2010-09-16 PrestonSands
Author chumley
author avatar Guides 75
Routes 667
Photos 13,162
Trips 1,416 map ( 10,534 miles )
Age 46 Male Gender
Location Tempe, AZ
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Apr, Feb → Early
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:04am - 6:23pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
History up and down
by chumley

Overview: This historic old road begins at the base of the northern slopes of Mt. Graham near Pima and connects to Ash Creek Trail #307 just below the falls. The first six miles are dreadfully bland, shadeless, hot, and boring on a rocky old jeep road. The final two and a half miles are steep but offer some really nice mountain terrain, shade, creek drainages, and relics of the historic old lumber tramway. Though the description below outlines the hike from the bottom to the top, most will probably prefer to hike this from the top as an out and back, avoiding the bottom 6 miles altogether.

Details: The hike begins where FR 35 forks away from FR 681, though you are on State Trust Land rather than Coronado National Forest land at this point. An old sign post stands at the junction but the trail sign no longer exists. There are no signs indicating that the road is closed to motor vehicles at any point on this hike so if you want to try and cut some of the mileage off, it appears to be legal to do so. However, I should warn that the road is increasingly unpleasant and I can't imagine any enjoyment traveling this road more than a mile even in an OHV. With that said, the first 0.4 mile crosses smooth sandy terrain and any vehicle should be able to do this section. Once the road crosses the first wash, it deteriorates quickly.

The road leads past the old Tramline Tank before a switchback climbs up on top of a ridge at the 1-mile mark. From here the route climbs gently but steadily until reaching a gate at the National Forest boundary at about 2.5 miles. At 3.25 miles a large cairn marks the location of the old tramway transfer station (see History below). The next two miles get old fast as the terrain changes little, the road surface roughens, and there is no shade. At the 5.4 mile mark, the trail crosses through the Shingle Mill drainage and water should be found in a narrow slickrock section just above the trail crossing. The next 0.6 mile is the last of the traveled road, now reduced to a narrow OHV track.

At the 6-mile mark, the road drops into the drainage once again (likely dry here) and crosses back to the west side where an unmarked trail heads west to the nearby Hulda Gap -- the location of the original namesake shingle mill. Heading upstream, the trail crosses the creek again at Horse Camp at 6.25 miles and begins to climb up the suddenly steeper slopes of the Pinaleños. At the 7 mile mark, the trail passes by the remnants of one of the tramway towers. The next half mile is relatively flat before crossing Shingle Mill Canyon once again and then making the steep final grind up the last mile and thousand feet to the junction with the Ash Creek Trail. This last mile is quite overgrown and requires quite a bit of work to fight through the growth, which now includes small trees. Despite the overgrowth, the trail is still easy to follow due to the well-constructed roadbed cut into the hillside.

Water Sources: The bottom six miles of this hike are totally dry. Parts of the upper stretches of Shingle Mill Canyon will have perennial water, but the locations of surface water and amounts will vary greatly by season.

Camping: The lower 6 miles are rocky and have no opportunities for camping. The upper 2.5 miles are steep and have rare opportunities for camping, though there are a few areas above the creek crossings where it is obvious that others have camped before. There is a site on the ridge just below the Ash Creek Trail junction.

History: Perhaps the most compelling reason to hike this trail is the rich history of this area. This entire trail consists of a road that was built over the course of 7 years in the late 1910s. The original road was 12 miles in length and used to supply the lumber mill in the upper Ash Creek drainage near old Columbine. The challenge of the lumber mill was getting the 8 to 10 thousand board-feet of lumber produced daily off the mountain and transported to Globe where it was sold on the market. In the 1910s, a flume was constructed to float lumber down the Ash Creek drainage. The flume was so poorly constructed that to this day lumber can be found in the drainage where it had been ejected from the flume and hurled across the forest at high speed!

Another feat of engineering was a 7.5 mile long tramway that was completed in 1923. It featured 90 or more wooden towers and ran under it's own power (by gravity). Remnants of this tramway exist today along this route. It was constructed with equipment from abandoned mines which used similar tramways to carry ore, but over much shorter distances than this. Like the flume before it, the tramway was constructed with some dubious engineering and was subject to numerous breakdowns and was so inefficient that it operated for only one year before being dismantled in 1924. Several people were killed by the mill, tram, and flume during this period as accidents were frequent.

Much of the history mentioned above is sourced from online sources. For firsthand stories and detailed information about the tramway and history of the flume and lumber mill, search the "Mt Graham Aerial Lumber Tramway" to read the extensive research of Don Lancaster who has published a wealth of information on the subject. At the time of this posting his research could be found at, but web links expire over time so a web search may be more useful.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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

2015-05-12 chumley

    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
    Shingle Mill Trail #35
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    Ash Creek-Shingle Mill Loop
    Lee wanted to do a loop involving Ash Creek, and having only previously been to the Pinalenos once, and never to Ash Creek, I was happy to join him on this trip. I didn't know much of anything about this area and have only since begun to research it some more. There's a lot of history and it is worth doing some reading to put context to it all when you are there.

    After a Friday night car camp along the creek, we set out in the morning from Cluff Ranch. This meant that the first four miles and 1300 feet gained was on the road, but that was necessary to make a loop with Shingle Mill. The first mile of actual trail parallels the creek well above the drainage before finally dropping down into what can only be described as a lush mountain stream. From here, the route climbs steadily under the canopy of bright green trees (and through thick fields of poison ivy), making numerous creek crossings along the way.

    After a mile along the creek, the trail takes a crazy steep route up some well-built switchbacks to ascend above a set of falls that you can only see bits and pieces of as you climb around. There's a horse's skull at the bottom that is no doubt the result of a fall while ascending this precarious section of trail.

    Another mile later, at the top of the steep switchback climb, you arrive at Oak Flat, where a single campsite is available, but moderate terrain would make it relatively easy to set up anywhere. Again, watch for poison ivy, as it was still prevalent here. We opted to continue, going an additional mile and a half to just below where the trail switchbacks away from the creek again. Here we found a great creekside campsite that needed only about 15 minutes of improvements to fit our two tents. There was an existing fire ring and a plank set on rocks for a nice fireside bench. One can only wonder if this plank was one of the many pieces of lumber that were "lost" while descending the poorly-engineered flume a hundred years ago?

    After setting up camp, we chatted with the only other people we saw all weekend, a family hiking one-way from top to bottom. From there we headed upstream along the creek, hoping to get to the bottom of Ash Creek Falls, which GPS showed to be just 0.4 miles away. This is an incredibly scenic area and scrambling along this steeply ascending creek was a blast. We reached the base of some scenic falls and then backtracked a bit and went to a nearby drainage where we had seen some more falls through the trees. Sure enough, another 75-footer! :y:

    After heading back to the falls on Ash Creek, Lee decided to try and catch some Apache Trout in the pools downstream while I was sure I could climb to the top of these falls, hoping to find bigger and better falls above it. This might be the dumbest thing I've done in a while. ](*,)

    Getting up there is crazy steep. The rocks along the falls are the slipperiest things you have ever set foot on. Wet or dry. The bypass options involve steep chutes of loose dirt and rock, trees with roots that don't support your weight, and generally nothing to hold on to. So yeah ... it was so much fun! :y: :scared:

    I launched a boulder downhill that would surely have killed Lee if he was nearby at the time. :o Next to the falls, yelling is pointless as neither of us could hear anything but the rush of water flowing over the rocks. On my return attempt, I dislodged a small boulder and went tumbling about 20-feet down at the mercy of gravity. I'm still not sure how the boulder didn't follow me down as I was sure I was going to have a minimum of some broken bones and a world of trouble. :stretch: It would probably be until at least sunset before Lee realized that I wasn't just exploring anymore and set out to find me. :pray:

    From there on out I was extra-triple-cautious about getting back down. In the meantime, I had gotten to the top of the second set of falls, where I believe it was just a short scramble up to the base of a narrow slot fall described by nonot and photographed by vaporman here on haz.

    Ultimately I was able to get back down with just a solid shin bruise and a little blood loss. Back at camp I enjoyed well-earned beer and briefly soaked my leg in the sub-45-degree creek. 10-seconds was pretty much the max before needles and numbness set in. Extra kudos to Joel who had mentioned the poison ivy and prompted me to pick up a bottle of Tecnu before leaving on Friday. I scrubbed my legs and hands, and made sure my daytime clothes didn't contact my camp clothes. So far, I'm PI free, so I'm hoping my precautions worked! :pray:

    Big fire, dinner, and a great night sleep set up a great Sunday hike out.

    The first mile gains 1300 feet and is the man's way to start your backpacking day. :wlift: (I only cried twice. Maybe three times? ;) ) But the reward looking down on the top of Ash Creek falls from above is totally worth it. From here we headed back down to the junction where we stayed to the west on Shingle Mill trail. This is a well-constructed old road that is now largely overgrown and features some solid brush-fighting sections. Neither Lee nor I could understand why such a well-constructed road was not maintained as a hiking trail by the FS. We chalked it up to funding.

    The only places the trail was difficult to follow was where it passed through a drainage. Over time the road that once was has long since eroded and there's not really a path anymore. So just pick your best line and find the way across. Several of the drainages had pools with a light flow of water. I think we saw a few leaves of poison ivy at one stretch, but this is totally unlike the Ash Creek drainage! There were many very scenic sections with beautiful shade trees over an open grassy forest floor.

    On a prominent point above Shingle Mill Canyon about a mile before Horse Camp, we encountered the remains of one of the tramway towers that once stood here. It was amazing to imagine a tramway built 95 years ago carrying lumber down the mountain across this point.

    Shortly thereafter, we reached the junction for Hulda Gap Corral, but opted to skip the short side trip. From this point on, the hike basically sucked :bdh: . The next two miles or so consisted of a narrow quad track -- but one I can't imagine anybody ever wanting to ride. It was a rocky roadbed of misery and one that I'm confident I could walk faster than anybody could ride. The last four miles the road is wider and could be done in a high-clearance 4wd vehicle, but is the true definition of a Jeep trail. Once again, most of the route could be traveled faster on foot. It would be a bone-jarring rock-crawling mess in a vehicle.

    There's also no rewarding value to these lower six miles of Shingle Mill trail. It is some of the driest, blandest, harshest, rockiest desert you have ever seen, devoid of even the smallest shade-providing shrub or tree. And now we figured out why the upper part was not maintained. I still think that the 2.5 miles from Ash Creek Trail to Hulda Gap should be cleaned up. It could be a real gem if not for the overgrowth. But coming in from the bottom simply isn't worth the six mile road hike to get there. If those six miles were on a reasonable dirt road and you could drive significantly closer, that would also be another story. But it's not.

    So anyway, we reached the end of the road and took a one mile off-trail hike through the desert back to Cluff Ranch and the truck parked at Pond 3. After some relaxing and fishing along the pond it was time to round up and head home.

    One nice surprise for this hike is how surprisingly close it is. Less than 2.5 hours to get to. Not at all like driving to the top of Mt Graham!

    Thanks for the suggestion Lee!

    Water note: I never carried more than a liter. I drank straight from Ash Creek and didn't even consider filtering the pure snowmelt. No illnesses endured (yet?). I finished my liter by Horse Camp on the way down and filled another there, but never drank any of it. The cooler back at the truck was more appealing :)

    Random colors at higher elevations. Ocotillo explosion at around 4,000ft.
    Shingle Mill Trail #35
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    I was able to twist Chumley's arm and drag him to Ash Creek for the weekend with promises of fresh trout for dinner and waterfalls. I was able to deliver on one of those promises.

    Earlier in the week I asked Chumley if he could throw together a loop utilizing Ash Creek and Shingle Mill Trail. He found a way to connect the two trails so we made that our itenerary. We car camped near the trailhead Friday night in a prime location along Ash Creek complete with a couple of nice cascades and a considerable amount of rushing water.

    We were in no real rush Saturday morning so we enjoyed the nice campsite and ate a quick campfire breakfast before moving to our starting point at the pond. Ash Creek trail is a bit of a climb, but even with my lolly gagging and late start we were able to make camp in decent time. We saw our only hikers of the weekend while setting up camp, nice infantry squad size family from Thatcher who gave Blanco and Cup their 15 minutes of fame before moving on. Chumley and I then headed up stream in search of trout and the base of Ash Creek Falls. The trout were a no go and so was reaching the base of the falls. However, the two 50 to 75 foot falls we came across on our way up stream more than made up for the lack of fish and ability to get to the base of the falls. The creek gains 800 feet of elevation in a little over four tenths of a mile on the way to the falls, I stopped at the best pool to fish while unhindered by the dogs, Chumley went a little further up stream by climbing around the first 50 foot fall, which led him to another set of falls and the end of the line for him about a quarter mile from main falls I believe.

    Our campsite was superb. A very nice setting next to a little section of slick rock and some small cascades, with established areas for tents and a nice fire ring that we improved. We chatted it up, ate some dinner, enjoyed a mountain house and were grateful for the nearly perfect camping conditions. I checked out pretty early, but Chumley stayed up late enough to burn an additional cord of wood.

    The hike out consisted of a detour to the falls overlook and an exit off the mountain via Shingle Mill Trail and an off trail azimuth back to the pond. Shingle Mill was the best of times and the worst of times. The upper stretches had some redeeming qualities despite a few over-grown sections, the left over machinery from the tram was interesting and the water flowing in most of the major drainages was pleasant. However, then the trail degrades into a rocky quad trail and very typical Arizona jeep trail. The scenery along this section is particularly bland and the footing annoying. The trail might really only be worth visiting from the top in my opinion and ending before the trail becomes road or after reaching the tram ruins.

    Chumley's cross country connector route worked beautifully and we were partying it up with Safford's finest at Pond Three in no time. I tried my luck fishing, Chumley got one cast off and the dogs slept after cooling off in the lake.

    In the end a very cool little over-nighter, low on miles, but big on aeg, good times and awesome scenery. I just don't think you can go too wrong with this area; I have not even put in a dent with what I want to see and do out there.
    Shingle Mill Trail #35
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Of all the rich Mount Graham history, it's always been the stories & photos of the numerous old sawmills that have fascinated me the most. I have had this trail on my wish list for far too long and with this current nice weather and good cloud cover that has moved in the last couple of days, today was finally the day to hike this 117 year old wagon road up into Shingle Mill canyon and to look for the mill & aerial tramway ruins that brought the lumber down the mountain to Pima.

    One of the things I love about the Pinaleno climbing trails is how they take you up through many life zones in a short amount of distance. This hike felt like 3 separate trails -

    The first couple of miles took me across the desert floor through creosote, yucca & mesquite gradually climbing up to and across a big mesa full of prickly pear. This was the time of the year to hike this section as it would be a death march in summer with the complete lack of water & shade!

    The next couple of miles passed through a very nice manzanita, oak grassland, pinyon-juniper woodland & boulder field area along side the steepening Shingle Mill canyon to the east. I was surprised to see that this canyon had a strong creek flow running down it with a big section of waterfalls deep below! I also encountered the first set of concrete tram tower remains here and many old rusted relics.

    The last few miles was the steepest climb as it penetrated up into the mountains and soon the first pines appeared. After a short rest at a real nice creek crossing, I soon arrived at the Ash Creek trail/Hulda Gap corrals T and had to make a decision. I had planned on hiking the entire trail up to Ash Creek but by now the whole top of the mountains were in a cloud white-out, it was getting real cold and I was just under the snow line. I decided to play it safe and chose the short trail west to the Hulda Gap corrals which turned out to be a good choice. The corral area itself was a little disappointing, but the overlook views down into Blair Canyon just beyond the corrals ended up being a great place to end this hike! After a 1/2 hour nap to recharge, I returned back down to the desert floor arriving back at the TH just before sunset.

    This was a good one and one I will do again! Another thing I've had on my to-do list for some time is to stop and photograph the Mormon temple along Hwy 70 at night which I did. I am not Mormon, but have always admired the architecture of their temples. I then ended my day with a stop at Little Caesars for a pie to replace (and then some) all the calories I lost on my hike!

    Permit $$

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    From US 70 in the town of Pima, turn south on Main Street and travel 1.5 miles to where the road makes a 90-degree right turn to the east. Travel 1.5 miles on this road and turn left onto FR 681. Follow FR 681 (dirt) for about 5 miles to the FR 35 junction to start the hike. Along the way pass through a nice ranch gate marked "Shingle Mill".
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