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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.

Ash Creek Canyon, AZ

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Guide 10 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4.6 of 5 by 5
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 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 7.3 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,483 feet
Elevation Gain -2,300 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,300 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6-11 hrs
Kokopelli Seeds 18.8
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack No
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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28  2017-11-11 outdoor_lover
17  2017-03-11
Ash Creek Trail #307
40  2015-05-09
Ash Creek-Shingle Mill Loop
54  2012-08-18
Ash Creek Trail #307
21  2012-08-17
Pinaleno Car Camp
43  2011-09-11 Vaporman
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → 9 AM
Seasons   Early Summer to Early Autumn
Sun  6:05am - 6:22pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
by nonot

Likely In-Season!
A technical canyoneering trip on Mt Graham.

This trip requires technical gear, including: helmet, harness, rappelling device, locking biner, wetsuit (shorty for summer, more otherwise), and 2x200 ft ropes (substituting 1 200 ft rope for a 200 ft pull cord is possible (though not recommended) only if your party is 3 or fewer.) You should also have shoes with good grip.

This is not a canyon for beginners, there are rappels with somewhat awkward starts.

This canyon would likely be very dangerous in spring as the snow melt amplifies the creek. I would recommend most do this during summer (July-Sept) as it is the perfect escape from the AZ heat.

Described in Todd Martin's book Arizona: Technical Canyoneering.

From the Ash Creek Trailhead, descend Ash Creek Trail #307. At the boiler, continue north on Ash Creek Trail rather than heading west towards Webb Peak. As you descend at a moderate grade you will reach a fairly indistinct junction where only one way is marked with a "Trail" sign, indicating left. This is the marker for Ash Creek Trail Bypass #307. Instead, head right (against what the sign says) to stay on the Ash Creek Trail. It gets a little overgrown in a few places. There is metal gratings holding back erosion in places, though it is degrading. Watch your step as you will hop down boulders until you come to a large cascade known as the "Slickrock". Ash Creek here cascades down about 100 ft or so on very slippery rock. This is where you will leave the trail.

Downclimb the cascade (be very careful - it is extremely slippery - even stealth rubber is insufficient in places - crabwalk as needed.) It is very scenic and beautiful. From here, the going gets difficult as it is an all out bushwhack until you reach the top of the first rappel where the creek drops out of sight. Gear up here (wetsuits optional for this first rappel) and rig for a full 170 ft descent, down a slightly angled face. This rappel is very nice and has a nice staging area at the bottom to collect your wits. You will need wetsuits by the next rappel, so might as well put them on about now.

Downclimb a bit and do a little more rock hopping to get to the next rappel. The creek here narrows into a tight slot. The next 3 raps come in rapid succession - rope management and staging your party will pay off here with time saved. Generally no more than 2-3 people can fit at each rap station. The water will chill you off and you are out of the sun for awhile, it is fantastic for a hot AZ summer day! The slot angles slightly and it will be awkward trying to deal with the tilt on rappel without being able to extend yourself due to the constriction of the canyon.

R2: 50 ft from a boulder - try to go over the edge of the boulder (right LDC) to position yourself out of the main flow. Awkward start.

R3: You are dropped above what appears to be a hole bored through the canyon - likely the result of a large chock stone. It is about 90 ft from two rock chocks on right LDC.

R4: An awkward rappel around the corner of about 65 ft from a rock chock into a largish pool where the canyon opens up again.

After getting your party down, you will be faced with a short distance to walk to rap 5, as the canyon opens up even more and sunlight filters down through the trees. This is about a 90 ft rappel from a large slung boulder. The slope is more moderate, but still extremely slippery as you rappel down the gorgeous cascade.

After this rappel, you will be faced with a moderate downclimb of about 70 ft. Having done this (no rappel is rigged) it is certainly possible, though I did not enjoy it. (Not for technical difficulty, but just for the nastyness of it and dealing with the fallen trees) A large tree at the top would seem to make for a perfect anchor to rappel this cascade and be much more enjoyable. Anyways...

You will arrive at the top of the last rappel, which consists of a larger drop from the dry side of a cascade and a smaller drop that continues in the middle of the falls (the wettest part of the whole trip) combined to form about 130 ft in total. Watch that your ropes do not get snagged along the way. After this, pack up your gear and begin to rock hop downcanyon. I exited the creek itself to hike along the sides on game trails. Looking to your left (downcanyon) you will soon find a good game trail that leads into Ash Creek Trail.

Head up the Ash Creek trail - it is very steep at first and will run into a signpost (devoid of one trail sign) at the intersection with what's left of the upper part of Shingle Mill Trail #35.

Head left/south as the Ash Creek trail maintains a more reasonable grade until you reach another trail junction. As before, the only trail signed is the Ash Creek Trail Bypass #307A. You can take this (right) or continue left back onto Ash Creek, which is more scenic and leads you by the Slickrock cascade area you began your canyoneering. Both will rejoin again at the junction you passed on the way in. Return up the trail back to the trailhead.

Water Sources
Ash Creek runs year-round.

Numerous pay sites on the top of Mt Graham.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2011-09-05 nonot
    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
    Ash Creek Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Checking Out the Creek after the Fire... First Time in this Area and it was good to catch up with Chad again... My Vehicle did pretty well going up. The Crossing that gave everyone trouble before is a Piece of Cake now. But the Hill afterwards gave my POS Aging AT's a run for their Money... But then, even the best 4x4 wasn't going to go any farther as the Upper Creek Crossing is about 15 Feet below the Road and straight down... They would pretty much need to build a Span to cross that now... Amazing Country even with the Burn... Sad to see the Aftermath with a Dead Bear though... Cluff Ranch is a nice little Gem as long as you don't yell at the Locals for Littering.... A******s!
    Ash Creek Canyon
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    The goal of this backpack was to escape anything related to 90 degree temperatures, to visit some waterfalls and find some snow. It was successful on all fronts. A tremendous over night trip into the premier sky island, Mount Graham.

    We started our backpack at the lower Ash Creek trailhead. This trail is a climb from the start and it can feel like a real slog at times, especially, when carrying an extra tent and old sleeping bag for the pups. In particular, the 1,000 feet gained between mile four and fivish, is brutal. There were a few newly fallen obstacles along the way and some higher than average creek crossing as well to add to the ardor. After enjoying the falls from the trailside lookout, Jackie stayed with the pups so I could get a "closer" look. After dropping down one viewpoint, I started to realize that although it was very steep and a little dicey looking, one could scramble all the way to the base of the falls, an area that has been on my wish list for awhile. I yelled back to Jackie and let her know I was going down further, she acknowledged and I began the wild descent, which actually went pretty well.

    However, about a 100, or so feet from the bottom I kicked up a pretty good rock slide, one that ended with a couple hundred plus pound boulders smashing to the bottom of the raging creek and echoing something thunderous and chilling. I immediately thought Jackie might get worried and yelled back, "I'm ok," even though I knew there was probably no way she could hear me. After that, the base of the falls came pretty easily and I marveled at the cool little area, After exploring and snapping a few pics of the cool little cascades below the falls, I began my crawl up. After reaching the top, I found out pretty quickly from a shook up Jackie that she had been assuming the worst since hearing the rock slide, In fact, she had even sent out a couple of distressed texts to people assuming the worst, after not seeing, or hearing from me in about 45 minutes. The poor girl was about 15 minutes away from collecting her gear, the pups and heading back to the TH to get proper help. I felt horrible for not communicating my intentions to reach the bottom and for not finding away to signal back that I was alright, after the rock slide; a tad humbling seeing how greatly thoughts of your demise might impact someone close to you. In the end though, all was well and nobody was hurt, so we continued on after collecting ourselves a little.

    We took the nearly devoid of snow Ash Creek bypass trail over the snowed in route over slick rock. We ended up calling it a day near the old mill site. We found a great site along the robust snow fed creek and set up camp quickly to potentially pursue some exploring up trail. However, that thought devolved into a nap and the usual camp chores. We enjoyed a chilly, but not overly cold night and while the temperatures definitely reached freezing, I do not think they dipped too far below that. The moon never really allowed darkness to take hold, but we still slept well, thanks in part to a tough little day and climb.

    We decided to head for Webb Peak Sunday morning, but got turned around by some real deep snow just after clearing 9,500 feet. We had got lucky for most of the hike up and were able to cruise with micro-spikes on some hard crusted 3-4 feet deep snow for large sections, however, as the temperature warmed the post holing began. However, it was still only a minor inconvenience until we got to just under a half a mile from the summit where the snow got really deep and soft, deep enough to lose a dog in deep! We'd had such a good time playing in the snow up until then, that it really did not bother us to turn around. We did the quick hike back to camp, broke camp and started the relentless descent. The trip down seemed to fly by in comparison to the hike up. I visited an old favorite set of falls on the way down and then finally made it to another one I had been meaning to get to. We finished to complaining about the heat and in shorts and t-shirts, slightly different than the wintry conditions we began our day with, Arizona at its finest.
    Ash Creek Canyon
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    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.
    Ash Creek Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Was up on Mt Graham for the first time hitting the two published technical canyons up there and hit this amAZing Ash Creek Canyon on the 2nd day. :y: Started down the Ash Creek trail near the cabins after being dropped off by our friend. Not exactly the official start but it still works. ;) Forrest hiked down the lush upper canyon for a few miles til we reached the slickrock. True to name, it is EXTREMELY slippery! :o We crabbed walked down most of it but near the end one of us slipped out of control a good 40-50ft to the bottom and thankfully walked away with only bruises. :scared: I've done some slippery canyons, but this one takes the cake as one of the most slippery ones I've done... We did a thick bushwhack to get to the sweet Ash Creek Falls and thankfully it wasn't flowing too crazy but enough to make for an adventurous day. : rambo : We did the nicely flowing 170ft waterfall rappel and proceeded down canyon to bypass some more slick cascades. Before we knew it, we were atop a super sweet crack in the granite rock layer thru which the creek flowed. It ended up being a 3-stage rappel sequence of heights between 50-90ft right thru the flowing creek and down the crack. :y: The photos do a lot better job of describing it than I can! Afterwards the canyon opened up and it was back to many slippery cascades some of which we bypassed and a couple at 100 & 130ft that we rappelled down. Dropped out gear where the trail rejoins the canyon and proceeded down canyon to the lower TH. Our buddy was down there to pick us up but he didn't want to beat up the SUV too much so we road walked the road over a mile or so to join up with him. :sweat:

    We also got by with just shorty 3mm wetsuits but some of the thinner members of the group got a lil chilly thru the narrows section, but wind breakers helped warm them back up. So bring enough neoprene depending on the time of year & weather. I'm giving the canyon a extra R due to the super slippery rock and that tight crack sequence that would be rather difficult to complete if the creek was flowing more than 3-4cfs. :M2C:
    Ash Creek Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Wonderful canyon, enjoyed the waterfalls. :y: Absolutely peaceful with the water rushing past in the slot, having little to do but focus on the task at hand, definitely not recommended as a solo trip though.

    Found some leftovers in the canyons - seems like a previous group had some trouble. I picked up some of their rope and some more gear on the hike out - just added more to the load to pack up and out :sweat: - if it's yours, send me a private message with a description. Otherwise it's going in the trash.

    I have absolutely no clue what the purpose of the 12-13 mm honker was doing at an easy downclimb, I left that one for future parties to noodle on.

    Was a little slow on the climb out due to having all the gear to tote myself. No matter, for it absolutely poured on the way out. I was soaked and cooled off, but with the climbing I didn't really get cold at all.

    The Ash Creek bypass isn't on the site yet, I tried to map both accurately (which added a bit of time and distance), will follow up soon.

    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 / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From Safford AZ, head south on highway 191 until you get to Swift Trail (366). Turn right (west) and head up (~5000-6000 ft?) until you top out on the mountain. The road will change to graded gravel/dirt when you get on top. Stay on the main road and continue to the visitor center and 200 ft beyond the Ash Creek Trailhead. Park at the trailhead, but stay out of the fee area unless you intend to camp there as well.
    page created by nonot on Sep 05 2011 11:28 pm
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