Drop Dead Gorgeous
Trail is reported overgrown. Be sure to use a map or the posted GPS Route
The directions to Fish Creek Trail provided by Alpine Ranger District seem direct enough until you actually try to apply them to the maze of roads in the area. About 2.75 miles south of Buffalo Crossing, at Bear Creek which is plainly labeled, FR 24 forks. FR 83 is the right fork; it is not labeled. About 3 miles up FR 83, FR 83A turns off to the right. Both these roads are graveled and negotiable by standard vehicles. 1.4 miles along FR 83A a rutted dirt trail branches to the left. A large sign here indicates the way past a corral and on to the trailhead. This last half mile requires high clearance.
A kiosk at the trailhead provides a log book and various pamphlets about wolves, bears, etc. The trail begins just to the left of the kiosk and leads immediately down and westward. This is actually Fish Creek Access Trail #320 and appears at first to be a continuation of the road into the trailhead. Its in good shape and extends just a half mile to the canyon bottom, the creek and the actual Fish Creek Trail #60. The latter apparently leads upstream toward Hannagan Meadow as well as downstream toward Black River.
The way downstream is clear and well-groomed with frequent creek crossings - in excess of 20, perhaps as many as 30 in 5.5 miles. At this writing, during a particularly wet monsoon, the creek is running full and will frustrate attempts to boulder hop across. Footwear suitable for wading is essential, and sandals are entirely suitable. A hunter who walked this way in another season in another year reported he was able to step across the creek at will without wetting his feet.
Elevation at creek level decreases from 7500 to 6800 feet. Aspens proliferate near the trails upper end, and pines and firs, many of them quite large, are plentiful along the entire route. Dense thickets give way to extensive, open parks that gradually revert again to thickets. The overall feeling is one of growth and vitality. This greatly resembles Bear Wallow; however, there's little indication that anyone camps here.
About 3.5 miles downstream, the trail enters a blowdown area. Forest Service literature indicates the possibility of a tornado. Something certainly cleared an area of a hundred or more acres on both sides of the creek. Young trees are growing here again, but the hulks of several hundred broken and uprooted mature individuals litter the ground.
A mile above the confluence with Black River a fish barrierprevents introduced species from Black River encroaching on Fish Creek's pure Apache trout population. Upstream from here water levels may drop in dry years, but numerous deep pools provide shelter where fish can survive several drought seasons. There is no indication that fishing is prohibited or restricted; nor is there any sign the people actually fish here.
5.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail passes through a fence, intersects another trace approaching from the east, passes an ad hoc campground apparently used by folks adept at fashioning stone furniture, and concludes on the bank of Black River. Wildcat bridge is a mile downstream, which suggests another means of accessing Fish Creek Trail. The walk in from Wildcat involves wading the river 5 to 7 times and upsetting an osprey family that built its nest in a snag right by the trail. Involving 2 vehicles, the shuttle from Wildcat bridge to the trailhead is about 25 miles (3.5 as the crow flies) and takes an hour.
Apache - Sitgreaves FS Reports Fish Creek Access Trail drops into the narrow forested canyon from a high bench that overlooks both the Black River and Fish Creek drainages. Once on the floor of the canyon it wanders downstream along Fish Creek past pools, riffles, and stepping-stone stream crossings to the point where this tributary and the Black River join. Along the way it passes an area where what is reported to have been a tornado left its mark on the forest. Dozens of downed trees make the point that nature can bring change to the forest in a number of ways.
Travelers along this trail should know that they have the Arizona Chapter of the Sierra Club to thank for the considerable sections of it that are in good to excellent shape. Although the Fish Creek Access Trail has been used by the Forest Service for over 50 years for moving fire fighters and other personnel through the backcountry, it fell into disrepair after 1970 when maintenance was discontinued for lack of funds and interest. At that point the task of keeping the trail open was left to ranchers who continued to use it to move cattle between Fish Bench and the Fish Creek drainage. The trail stayed open but became quite rough in a number of places. During the summers of 1990 and 1991 three volunteer work groups, consisting of two Sierra Club and one American Hiking Society trips, were successful in restoring and reconstructing the entire 5.5 miles from Fish Creek Access Trail to the Black River.
Trout anglers will be interested to know that Fish Creek harbors a pure population of Arizona's state fish, the Apache trout. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has installed a barrier across the creek to keep introduced rainbow trout from swimming upstream from the Black River and hybridizing with the population of threatened natives. The native trout in Fish Creek are not large. They average about 8". Larger rainbows are available in the Black River. But even if your biggest catch here is the scenery or an afternoon of streamside relaxing you'll find this pleasant path an excellent place to enjoy a day trip or an overnight hike.
0.0 From trailhead posterboard follow trail across a flat rocky area to where it drops down a rocky point into the canyon.
0.6 Junction with Fish Creek and Fish Creek Trail.
3.6 Tornado damage.
4.4 Old cattle camp.
5.5 Confluence of Fish Creek and Black River.
USGS Maps: Hoodoo
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.
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.