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Hassayampa River via Needle Overlook, AZ

Guide 8 Triplogs  0 Topics
  4 of 5 
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,700 feet
Elevation Gain -1,200 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,500 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 13.5
Interest Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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10  2016-11-18
The Needle - HRC Wilderness
25  2014-12-27
The Needle via the Hassayampa
11  2014-12-27
The Needle via the Hassayampa
5  2009-11-22 JoelHazelton
Author JoelHazelton
author avatar Guides 16
Routes 10
Photos 967
Trips 406 map ( 1,969 miles )
Age 35 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Apr, Feb → 10 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  5:41am - 7:32pm
Official Route
2 Alternative

Follow the cow patties
by JoelHazelton

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The Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness is one of several very remote BLM wilderness areas in Western AZ. Very little info is available for this area on the internet, but what I could find on the BLM website included "several miles of free-flowing Hassayampa river" and "extended backpacking trips". With the allure of perennial water and miles of remote trails, I've been considering this wilderness for a long time now. Fortunately, Christine Maxa recently released her book "Wickenburg Adventures", which describes several hikes in this wilderness, so I had a great opportunity to finally check it out. If you're interested in seldom visited backcountry in Western Arizona, I highly recommend this book.

The trailhead for this hike is marked with a large cairn and a small wilderness boundary sign. There are immediately great views into the Hassayampa River Canyon and further on to the Southern Bradshaws. Hop on the trail and follow it up a small knoll and onto a ridge, which is actually the continuation of the ridge you were just driving on. The trail appears well-traveled (by cows, not people) and is very easy to follow. Soon it reaches an obvious junction with a large cairn. Bear right and continue deeper into the wilderness. As it descends the ridge to a saddle, the trail seems to split into a few different paths. Just follow the cairns to stay on the correct route. You will eventually reach the saddle with your first views of "The Needle" to your left. At the base of The Needle is the Hassayampa River, and the canyon you are peering down is your route. Continue past the saddle on the trail and it will make a sharp left and begin steep, loose switchbacks into the canyon. From here on out the trail is steep and slippery. You will likely be thinking about the return hike. Don't worry... It's not all bad coming back. The trail occasionally crosses the ravine but there are cairns to guide you wherever it gets confusing.

At mile 2.5 the trail levels out on top of a ridge. From here are great views of The Needle, Sam Powell Peak, and the Hassayampa River. As you take in these views, be careful not to step on the cow patties strewn about the ground. The cows also enjoy these views and it is very evident as you tip-toe around. This is "Needle Overlook" described my Christine Maxa, and would be a good turnaround point. If one could find a flat spot inaccessible by cows, it would be a good place to camp and wake up early, as sunrise would brilliantly light up the surrounding wilderness.

During the wet season, it may be worth it to forge on to the river. We decided to in November and were quite disappointed at the payoff, but it has also been a really dry year. Either way, if you came this far you might as well check it out. A couple of cairns guide you past the viewpoint and towards the trail. It's still a bit difficult to find the right path, though, since the ground has been trampled to bare rock by all the cows. Your best bet is to follow the cow patties. The trail follows the ridge to the river, and the closer you get the more dense the cow evidence becomes. After about a half mile the trail meets the floodplain and several cow paths will get you to the river. Choose the path of least resistance, which will likely require dipping beneath a couple mesquites. Once at the creekbed, I would suggest building a small cairn at your entrance point so you don't get lost on the way out. Kick it over when you return so not to confuse future hikers.

On this trip we were greeted with a small pool full of minnows, deep enough to dip one's feet in. Most of the river was a slight trickle or dry. The riverbed is quite large with several channels that would likely be very beautiful with running water. Looking upstream are nice views of the Needle. Downstream is cliffs and cottonwood trees. We opted to follow the river downstream. More evidence of cows is passed, and the wilderness boundary comes quickly. Canyon walls seem to close in and box up farther downstream. I don't know the status of the land ownership, so I can't recommend any exploration past the wilderness boundary.

When you've had your fill of the Hassayampa, return the way you came.

Personally, I'd love to backpack here during the spring. The river would be beautiful while flowing and the wildflower show would likely be spectacular during a good year. If you decide to overnight here, however, consider the cows first. This is the cows' area, and they've already marked every good campsite (and there are many of them along the river). If you camp near the river or along the lower half of the trail you will at least be smelling the cows all night, if not listening to them. Also consider the cows if you want to filter water from the river. This stuff is seriously contaminated. Filtering/purifying *may* make it safe, but just the thought of what's going on not far upstream would probably deter me from drinking it.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2009-11-23 JoelHazelton
    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
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    From Phoenix, head north on US60 towards Wickenburg. Approximately 0.5 mile south of the junction with Highway 93, turn north (right) on El Recreo Dr. This will soon merge with Constellation road. Continue on Constellation Road for about 10 miles until it drops down into a deep wash. Drive through this wash for less than a minute until a road climbs out of it on the left. Turn left here and drive this road for approximately 5.5 miles. The road will top out on a ridge with expansive views ahead, and unmarked Gold Bar Rd spurs off to the left(34.079624,-112.572618). Drive Gold Bar Road for approximately 1.1 miles to a pullout and the trailhead on the right(34.086631, -112.583269). At the trailhead is a fire ring, a large cairn and a wilderness boundary sign.

    Something with medium clearance and good tires could comfortably make it to the turnoff for Gold Bar Rd. Gold Bar Rd is quite rough with steep dropoffs, a couple hills, and large rocks, so something with higher clearance is necessary for the last 1.1 miles.

    This track may be helpful for the last part of the drive to find where the hike starts. Then download the official route for the hike too.

    2012-03-18 azmuslima writes: It was 13 miles on Constellation Road then a left turn on a jeep trail and 1.5 miles in until you see a wilderness boundry sign on the right and can park by a fire ring. Follow the trail from do come to a fence line that discourages hikers from going further.
    page created by JoelHazelton on Nov 23 2009 10:07 am
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