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Tonto Creek Bear Flat to Hellsgate, AZ

Guide 9 Triplogs  1 Active Topic
  3.6 of 5 
no permit
1 Active
38 9 0
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 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Shuttle 14.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,952 feet
Elevation Gain -976 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,385 feet
Avg Time Hiking 12-15 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 22.15
Interest Off-Trail Hiking & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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6  2021-09-18 rcorfman
3  2021-06-20 rcorfman
12  2018-04-07
Hellsgate Exploration
6  2016-11-01 MountainMatt
1  2015-09-12 ssk44
2  2010-03-21 bakerag
8  2009-09-29 toddak
Author toddak
author avatar Guides 8
Routes 9
Photos 1,281
Trips 484 map ( 7,680 miles )
Age 57 Male Gender
Location Jackson, CA
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Radar Map
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Preferred May, Jun, Sep, Oct → 7 AM
Sun  5:30am - 7:31pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimeteracres
🔥 2006 Rim38.4 mi*

heavenly trek thru the gates of hell
by toddak

A rugged and wet non-technical canyon hike down miles of Tonto Creek pink granite in the heart of Rim country, returning via the Hell's Gate #37 trail. Definitely NOT a place to be during heavy Spring run-off or active monsoon conditions.

You'll need to drop a shuttle vehicle at the Hell's Gate #37 trailhead on FR405A, where you'll end your adventure. You then continue east 5.5 miles on FR405A and FR405, where the road ends at the Bear Flat trailhead. Tonto Creek is right there, just head downstream. With a little scrambling, you can stay dry for the first mile or so, but you may as well just get wet because soon you'll have no choice. For a total of 7 miles down to Hell's Gate you'll be wading and swimming, rock-hopping and occasionally bushwhacking through this fine stretch of canyon. I lost count of the number of pools to wade and swim. There are a couple of short sections of Class 4 downclimbing as you work your way around some falls, and one 3-foot drop off a ledge into a pool, but no rappels or big drops. The final long swim takes you through the soaring walls of Hell's Gate, where you say goodbye to Tonto Creek and begin the somewhat hellish 7-mile slog up the Hell's Gate #37 trail and back to your shuttle vehicle.

The water in Tonto Creek is often cloudy with silt, which makes wading slow and difficult. You'll definitely want a hiking stick, as you'll be wading and swimming more or less blind if the water isn't clear. The water temperature was cool, a 2mm shorty wetsuit was very comfortable. The silt can also wreak havoc on filters, so you may want to carry enough for the full trip. There was a small creek entering from the west about 2 miles down from the start, but the flow was spread too thin to collect as it trickled down a rock cliff.

This hike can be done in a very long day, although a few camping spots can be found along the way, including many good sites at the confluence with Haigler Creek if you want to do an overnight trip. If you are considering doing the standard Tonto Creek canyoneering trip (Hell's Gate 17 miles downstream to Houston Creek), this would be an excellent warm-up hike. Or if you are doing the standard trip, starting at Bear Flat would add 7 more miles of excellent canyon, at the same time avoiding the overland Trail #37 route into the canyon.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2009-09-29 toddak
    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.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From the 87/260 junction in Payson drive east on Highway 260 for a little over 11 miles to just past mile marker 263 and turn right on FR405A. After 0.4 miles drop a shuttle vehicle at the Hell's Gate #37 trailhead. Then continue east on FR405A to the junction with FR405 and go right/straight on FR405, driving a total of 5.9 miles on dirt from the Highway 260 turnoff. Park at the Bear Flat trailhead.
    page created by toddak on Sep 29 2009 8:34 pm
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills

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