Nationally familiar, Gila farmland, and wetlands
For this segment of the Maricopa Trail, over half of it is simply existing trails within South Mountain Park that have been designated as the MT and have the requisite markers. Specifically, the majority of this trail inside South Mountain Park is the National Trail. The only exception is the east end of the park, where the dirt road that parallels the Pima Wash Trail is marked at the MT.
The dedicated portion of the MT outside parks in this segment is the west half of the trail, which begins on the west end at the parking lot for the Tres Rios Wetlands and head southeast towards South Mountain, paralleling the newly built portion of the 202 freeway. This description will start from that west terminus and move towards the east, as this is the most likely starting point if you want to hike the dedicated portion outside an existing park.
From the parking lot on the west side of 91st Avenue just south of Southern Avenue, continue walking south another quarter mile. There are two routes that head to the east depending on what time of year you go. From Dec. 31 to May 31, the route farther south is the one to take (due to locally nesting bald eagles). This route essentially is an old dirt road that parallels the main route. The road meanders across the bed of the Salt River and is very rocky. There is also quite a bit of trash that has been discarded in this area. This route will trend northeast until it junctions with the main route at the east end of the Tres Rios Wetlands Hayfield Site. From May 31 to Dec. 31, turn left off of 91st Ave. onto a dirt road (also labeled Southern Ave.) on the north bank of the river bed and head in the same direction.
From here the trail turns to the southeast and heads under the powerlines towards South Mountain Park. There are two MT markers, one for each direction. Looking at each marker and the arrow directions give an idea of where to turn, which is at first keeping on the dirt road.
As the trail turns here, on the left a section of the wetland is visible. After you pass the wetland, the stream that feeds it continues on under the powerlines. You will be walking upstream against the flow. The stream only appears to be not much more than a foot or so deep, but it’s also a good 3 to 4 feet wide and very steady. This becomes the tricky part. As you first encounter the stream, it is on your left side. There will eventually be a small road that bridges the stream, which is the only dry crossing. However, you will then find yourself on the opposite side of the stream from where the MT is. If you don’t cross the stream at the road, you will eventually encounter the 2nd stream from the west that meets this stream at a confluence. That stream is just as wide but also has heavier vegetation surrounding it. As of April 2020, the best option seems to be to cross and continue on the east side of the stream until you get to Baseline Road, at which point you can easily cross the bridge there to get back on the MT. The east side of the stream and valley it creates has a concrete bike path and is easier to walk on than the gravel and mud below. The only other option is to try to use a sluice gate as a shaky bridge in this area. It is not recommended, but it’s possible.
South of Baseline is a large and new looking subdivision, which goes for about ¾ of a mile. After that, directly adjacent to the trail on the east side are several farming fields. On the west side are also several fields, but they don’t seem to be actively used as much for agriculture. The trail follows a dirt road and continues to follow a canal that the stream comes from. At one point there is a second empty canal and parallel roads.
South of Elliot Road, the 202 freeway gets closer to the trail and comes into view more from the east. After crossing 51st Avenue, the trail goes towards the Gila River Casino, which is on the west side. The trail follows on the east side of Dusty Lane until is crosses underneath the 202 after about a half-mile.
After crossing under the 202, the trail becomes a single track and enters South Mountain Park on the west end of the park. It quickly junctions with a new trail that makes a circumference around the smallest and westmost mountain in the park, which then crosses San Juan Road and junctions with the National Trail.
At this junction, head north on the spur for a half-mile to San Juan Trailhead, which is still designated as both the MT and the National Trail. Head south (east) on the National Trail to the east end of the park and onto the next segment, into Guadalupe and the East Valley.
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.
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.