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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.

South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness, AZ

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Guide 8 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Prescott > Black Canyon
3.3 of 5 by 4
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,435 feet
Elevation Gain 359 feet
Accumulated Gain 390 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 3.65
Interest Ruins
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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17  2019-04-20
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
42  2017-04-29
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
12  2016-08-06
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
11  2016-04-16
Bradshaws Fort Loop
5  2015-05-27 AZWanderingBear
45  2015-05-17
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
15  2014-06-28
Lane Mountain - Willow Spring Loop
20  2012-03-17
Kentuck-217 Coal-203 Jim-235 Willow-236
Author AZWanderingBear
author avatar Guides 27
Routes 62
Photos 2,620
Trips 700 map ( 4,689 miles )
Age 63 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Sep
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:13am - 6:33pm
Official Route
4 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Fortifying Views
by AZWanderingBear

Likely In-Season!
Short climb to Unimpressive ruins with Extraordinary Views!

The drive from Crown King to the trailhead is on a seldom maintained dirt road and may be closed during winter months. 4-wheel drive is not required, but moderate clearance is.

Like the nearby East Fort, South Fort is a Hohokam site dating back to approximately 1300 AD. It is one of many hilltop sites that form a network with each site being visible to at least one other. The sites stretch from the northern Phoenix Valley, across the Bradshaws to Prescott and down to Wickenburg. Archaeologists are not certain of the purpose of this extensive network.

You may park at Coal Camp and walk up the old Jeep trail to the east or attempt to drive the rocky and rough trail as far as you dare. Either way, you are going uphill for .6 miles before turning sharply right to proceed southwest on a foot path to the rocky outcrop that hosts South Fort. Along the way you will pass a very nice camp spot on your left set back in a stand of large pines. The setting is almost park-like. Manzanita, oak and the occasional alligator juniper make up the remainder of the forest here. Scattered wild flowers are present in season. Keep your eyes open for deer and other wildlife. Many species call this area home.

The final leg of the hike up to the Fort crosses a fence marking the Castle Creek Wilderness Boundary. Ahead you'll see a large rock outcropping and the single rock wall that remains of the ruin. The views south as simply spectacular. Slightly west is a huge granite boulder precariously perched on the edge of the ridge.

Time permitting, the Willow Springs trail goes southeast and the rugged Jim Creek trail goes south out of Coal Camp. Or you could just head back to Crown King for a beer and burger.

Water Sources
Water is available on the drive in at the Ranger Station, Hazlett Hollow Campground and Turney Group Campground (maybe turned off in winter months).

Nearby Hazlett Hollow Campground is open Spring through Fall. Multitudes of dispersed camping sites are available.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2015-06-02 AZWanderingBear
    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
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    Third time back in as many years to Horsethief Basin. The views are spectacular, I get to use my Jeep for what it is intended, lunch at the Mill afterwards, and fudge from the Crown King General Store; it is the quadfecta hike trip!

    Gathered up my hiking harem at the McDonalds at I-17 and Carefree highway for the 2 hour drive up to Horsethief basin. I originally planned this as a beat the heat of Spring hike, but a cold front set our trailhead temp between 37 and 40 degrees. Luckily, we were prepped for the cool start.

    The road up to Crown King is bladed and graded and high speed in the Jeep. The initial part of the road from Crown King to Horsethief Basin has recently been graded and is nice and smooth. It doesn't last long until you're bouncing your way through rocks and ruts on your way to the Recreation Area and toward the Fire Tower Lookout. If you leave Phoenix early enough, you will have little to no traffic to contend with on your way up the hill.

    There's room for 2 cars on FS52 at the trailhead for East Fort Trail #31. We decided to do something different this year. We started our day with a hike up FS52 to the Horsethief Lookout Tower. The attendant passed us in his Suzuki Samurai on the way up, but was in no hurry to climb up the expanded metal steps and open the tower for visitors. That's OK, we were anxious to get on the trail and get out of the chilly early morning winds.

    I was looking forward to Coal Camp Spring Trail #203 as it would cut some roadwork out of this already jeep road heavy loop. To quote The Eagle from his 2012 trip log, "Coal Camp #203 to Jim Creek #235 - Nice little Connector to both Willow Springs and Jim Creek TH's from the Lookout. Route not bad, GPS Track helpful" and Hansenaz from 2016, "After the overlook I needed some IT help. (Invisible Trail) But not too dense and easy enough to keep heading the right way. This whole area has burned and though it's much more green than black these days I think the net effect is that some old roads have disappeared. Eventually I hit a Jeep Rd / ATV track and took that to South Fort." From the lookout tower, there's a sign and the trail starts nice enough with some deadfall and wild flowers (weeds), but the footpath is easy enough to follow. The romance with #203 didn't last long though and we found ourselves searching for the path of least resistance through the dense fields of cat claw. Undeterred, we pushed through the pain for a little over a mile before coming out on the road to Jim Creek Trail and ultimately, South Fort Ruins.

    It was a nice reprieve to be out of the cat claw and picking up the pace down the road. We were rewarded with beautiful purple snapdragons lining the roadway. For as windy as it has been over the past week, we were afforded great views south over Lake Pleasant, Cardinals Stadium, and South Mountain.

    Coming back down from South Fort and heading north on FS696 toward Willow Springs trail saved us the brutal ascent up the fire cut doing the loop in the opposite direction as we had done in the past. There were a couple of slips and falls as we dropped off the hill but no injuries were sustained.

    reaching the bottom of the hill we turned right on East Fort Trail #31. Nature has started reclaiming this trail at spots and despite having been on the trail twice before, there was a couple of sections that left scratching our heads for a moment. The snow capped San Francisco peaks were visible to the north and blooming hedgehog cactus were littered throughout the ruins. After enjoying some caffeinated jelly beans and relaxing on the warm rocks, we made our way back up to the jeep.

    On the way back out, we stopped and took in the sites around Horsethief lake and then down into Crown King for a delicious lunch at the Mill and a round of fudge at the Crown King General Store.

    What a wonderful day only 75 miles from Phoenix.

    Snapdragons abound!
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    After 1 year and 3 months I returned to do this loop again with 3 hiking buddies. Even though Crown King got 5 inches of rain this week (according to the woman at the General Store), they got no rain yesterday and the road up to Horsethief Basin was in good shape (not much mud). Went to both East Fort and South Fort. Both are same condition as my last visit with East Fort being the more interesting site and South Fort affording excellent views south towards Lake Pleasant. We saw 5 horny toads on the trail and a deer on the road to Horsethief Basin.
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Bradshaws Fort Loop
    A while ago Bruce the Eagle gifted me with a custom made GPS loop he thought I'd like - thought I should give it a whirl.

    The road to the trail head is pretty rough, definitely high clearance required. The Kentuck trail up to Horsethief Overlook was nice. Looked to me like the attendant was away...maybe a Saturday in town.

    After the overlook I needed some IT help. (Invisible Trail) But not too dense and easy enough to keep heading the right way. This whole area has burned and though it's much more green than black these days I think the net effect is that some old roads have disappeared. Eventually I hit a Jeep Rd / ATV track and took that to South Fort. The rocky outcrop has a commanding view and is a natural defensive site but just a single stacked wall.

    From there I followed another track to East Fort. This one is much more impressive with some extensive high walls - better than I expected. This fort overlooks Perry Mesa - maybe it's considered part of the line-of-site communication network thought to be operative 700 yrs ago. I saw just a couple small pottery pieces there.

    Continuing on from East Fort there were more IT problems and a lot of deadfall in the places the old road could be seen. But again I soon hit another Jeep Rd and looped back to the start.

    This hike was quite a change of pace for me. The granite strewn country is nice (though being more ATV than hiking trail-dominated detracts) and the whole walk occurs, more or less, on top of the mountain. I'd sort of been planning a beer and burger in Crown King on the way out, but the timing was wrong and the center looked crowded (this is a relative term), so I just headed back.
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    After completing Kentuck Trail, we drove to Coal Camp to head up to South Fort. Years ago when I bought my Jeep this was my first big solo foray into the wilds of the Bradshaw Mountains. Have always enjoyed the views and the now humorous memories of hoping I survived that first trip.

    The temps were perfect and we took our time hiking up, just soaking in the joy of being away from the hustle and bustle below us to the south. Kind of hazy, so the views weren't the best. Enjoyed clambering around the rocks nonetheless.

    Had a bit of lunch back at the Jeep and headed off to East Fort.
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    I was looking to bag East Fort in the Castle Creek Wilderness for quite some time now. My buddy Dodson was in town from Pennsylvania and a trip to Crown King and Horsethief Basin seemed to fit the bill.

    The drive up to Crown King was good. The section of road from Crown King to FR52 was really bad. FR52 out to Horsethief Basin was muddy in spots (it rained and snowed on Friday) but was generally in better condition then the short stretch from Crown King. You totally need a high clearance vehicle past Crown King right now.

    We parked on FR52 and hiked down the old access road to East Fort Trail #31 as was suggested in the previous trip logs. That was a good thing since the road going in quickly turned impassable, as least for me and my Jeep! Following Trail #31 was easy enough, it is well worn and well cairned in the rocky sections. We saw at least a half dozen horned lizards between the Jeep and FR696. Returning the way we came we followed a fire break straight up the side of a hill that eventually turned into FR696. Once on top, FR696 turns into a nice jeep road and descends gradually to the South Fort Trail. South Fort trail is super short and easy to follow. We then followed FR696 back to FR52 and the Jeep. Great loop! Awesome views! Perfect weather! Headed up to the fire tower and chatted with the Ranger. Then into Crown King General Store to pick up some of the best fudge in the state and off to the Saloon for some burgers and beers. It doesn't get any better than this!
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Lane Mountain - Willow Spring Loop
    Back to attempt this loop after being thwarted last week with Mechanical problems.
    There was another Vehicle at the TH at 7:30 with all doors open. I noticed there was a guy on the ground, on a pad, asleep. When we got out we noticed the Truck was running :-k . There were two chairs set up with a cooler and empties... All strange, but we had a hike to do.

    Nice temps in the 70's as we hiked FR 100 towards to the top of Watson peak. First time up here and the views were Killer at our high point of 7203' for the day.

    Back down to make the turn on Lane Mountain #233 which sets up some great views to the south and west. We found the old sign for the Sullivan Spring and decided to give it a looky see... took awhile, but success, complete w/ filterable water.

    I have been talking with Jason Williams, the Trails & Wilderness Manager for the Prescott Natl. Forest, and giving him trail updates and asking questions. I had mentioned that the last time we hiked Lane Mountain in 2013, there was a 2" Black water pipe that ran for 4.3 miles from around Sullivan Spring to Copper Camp spring. He checked and found out that the pipe had been fully removed as of 2 weeks ago. He said a Drilling Rig had been flown in via a Sikorsky Helicopter for a copper mining operation and the rig required water. All is back to normal now.

    We made the turn off Lane Mountain, on an old mining road at Lane Spring. The spring is located 30' east of the non-working tank at the base of a cliff and contained some nice looking water.

    My thermometer read constantly in the low 90's in these lower sections of the hike, with little shade to escape the sun. I used my Chromedome umbrella more on this hike than any other.

    We took a short break at the Milk Ranch ruins where there was no water in Boulder Creek. Back on a mining road on Joe's Ridge past dry Joes Tank and we took lunch at Willow Spring where I'd planned to filter some water.

    Willow Spring marks the lower TH for the Willow Spring Trail #236. Willow Spring was not the clear cool 2' pool that was here before, but a scratched out muddy, bee infested, 1' round, 2" deep cesspool. I was running low so I filtered with my MSR Microworks. It came out slightly tinged in color, but smelled like a cows restroom. Without any further treatment options w/ me, I can't drink this...

    The Willow Springs trail is best done in long pants. The lower portions has some Cats Claw. The upper portions are in the pines.

    We took the short side trip over to the South Fort ruins to enjoy the views.

    By the time we got back to the TH we were relieved to see that the Cherokee was gone, there was no crime scene tape up, and my fuel had not been syphoned.

    Video From Watson Peak and South Fort Ruins :next:

    I went to start the Pfinder and there was nothing...Damn, Crown King will be the death of me yet! Luckily an easy fix, as the battery cable had vibrated off the terminal. Phew...
    South Fort - Castle Creek Wilderness
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    Kentuck-217 Coal-203 Jim-235 Willow-236
    My Quest to see if any other trails still existed in the Horsehief Rec Area.

    Based on Trail descriptions received from the Crown King General Store a few years back, I'd drawn up the supposed tracks using the HAZ-Route Manager for these and others up there. I first do a simple trace using the TOPO! Map and the track indicated on TOPO!. Then switch to the Satellite view to move/add to the track to where it is now-a-days. The problem with most of the tracks in the Bradshaw's, is that they have not seen much traffic since the fire back in 2008.

    Our route was:
    - Kentuck #217 to the Horsethief Lookout -
    Nice little hike to the Lookout. Route is thin, GPS Track helpful
    Views from the Lookout are top notch

    - Coal Camp #203 to Jim Creek #235 - Nice little Connector to both Willow Springs and Jim Creek TH's from the Lookout. Route not bad, GPS Track helpful

    - Jim Creek #235 to Milk Ranch ruins -
    Hard to find the start of this trail. Track gets worse the farther South you go.
    If you are lucky enough to be "On Trail", be careful not to trip on overgrown Cairns.
    GPS Track "Extremely" helpful

    - Willow Springs #236 to FR 696 (W/Side trip to South Fort Ruins)
    From Milk Ranch a "Very Rough" 4 x 4 track until you get to Willow Spring. Willow Spring area is real Cool. The climb out of the Spring area gets thin in spots. (GPS Track very Helpful) Views of Lake Pleasant are sweet. The .5 mile RT side trip to the South Fort Ruins area are the highlight of this trail and hike for me. Not that the ruins are that spectacular, but the views are some of the best up there.

    - FR696 to FR52 (Senator Highway)
    Road walk back to the Start

    As always, Dinner back at the Crown King Saloon / Brothel was "Interesting", but there is plenty of history hanging on the walls.

    No wildlife seen on this hike, including Cows or Elephants, but that's not too unusual on hikes w/ Joe.

    A big thanks to Joe for driving.

    I'm glad John got to "Experience" Crown King". Thanks for joining us!

    Permit $$

    Prescott Forest
    Prescott National Forest Pass

    Only trailheads with six "amenities" have fees. Amenities are picnic tables, trash, toilet, parking, interpretive signing and security.

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    From Phoenix take I-17 north to the Bumble Bee Exit 248. Follow the Crown King dirt road 27.5 miles to Crown King. Continue through Crown King along the Senator Highway for .5 miles and turn left on Horse Thief Road. Follow Horse Thief Road 10 miles to the gate for the Horse thief Fire Tower. Stay left at the road up to the fire tower and continue .85 miles to Coal Camp and the end of Horse Thief Road.
    page created by The_Eagle on Jun 02 2015 3:45 pm
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