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Deer Creek Trail #45, AZ

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Guide 111 Triplogs  5 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson W
3.3 of 5 by 30
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 8.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,404 feet
Elevation Gain 2,318 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,586 feet
Avg Time One Way 4-5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.22
Interest Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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3  2019-06-20
Gold Ridge Trail #47
21  2019-05-11
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
10  2019-03-10 KBKB
10  2019-02-07
Deer to Bars - Mazatzals
6  2019-01-20 N8TRGRL
8  2018-02-22
South Fork - Gold Ridge Loop
8  2018-02-04
South Fork Trail #46
1  2017-10-13 friendofThunderg
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5 ... 9
Author HAZ_Hikebot
author avatar Guides 16,882
Routes 16,052
Photos 24
Trips 1 map ( 6 miles )
Age 22 Male Gender
Location TrailDEX, HAZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Apr, Oct, Nov → 8 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:10am - 6:29pm
Official Route
8 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Enter Mazatzal
by HAZ_Hikebot

This trail has received a lot of maintenance since the Willow Fire in 2004. It's still difficult to follow in areas. Avid hikers will like it, casual hiker will probably turn around.

Deer Creek Trail (#45) reminded me of both the Barnhardt trail (a few miles north) and Secret Mountain trail in Sedona. Barnhardt (BH) has well paced and fairly uniform elevation gain (at least for my tastes) and provides an excellent sampling of all the Arizona terra zones (high desert scrub up to pines). Deer Creek (DC) starts similarly but has a much more modest elevation gain (at least for the first 4 miles or so.all the time I had that day). DC does have, however, high desert, nice sections of riparian growth (cottonwood and sycamore trees, river grasses, ivy), a gurgling creek, grave site (!), and working windmill powered water pump. I thought it was worth doing at least once.

If I had to choose only one, I'd go with BH, but I decided to check out DC since I've already done BH a few times and DC is closer to the valley. The trailhead is literally a stone's throw from highway 87. The turnoff to the trailhead is well marked from SR 87, right at the highway 87/188 juncture (where the rest stop is.rougly highway marker 235.5). Coming from the valley, this is a big plus in travel time and wear/tear to your wheels compared to BH, which has a 5.5 mile rutted, washboardy dirt (sometimes muddy) road you must take to get to the trailhead. Probably saved an hour round trip. It's a minus if highway noise bothers you (I only noticed the first 1/2 mile or so).

I hiked on May 27, 2001 (Memorial weekend), and it wasn't a cool day by any means. Luckily there are sections of shade throughout (some pretty dense), and the trail more or less runs along the north side of a ridge/canyon, so going in you've got ridge/shrub/trees rising to your left, creek to your right. I'd guess that in March/April the sun is low enough in the sky that you're mostly in the shade once you're in the creek area. No other humans in sight on this trail.half dozen cottontails, a harmless water snake, and probably 1,000+ lizards. No deer!

Like BH, it's got that funky mix of desert cactus type veg, mixed with high desert scrub, and oddly colored rock.deep purple, red, green, blue, etc. Prickly pear cactus was in bloom, as were a few blooms of some orange wildflower looking stuff near the creek. You're introduced to the creek after about 3/4 of a mile. Around this area, reach into your pack and pull out any horses you brought (ha ha) to give them a drink from the windmill powered water pump that trickles water into a metal trough.

From there the trail alternates back and forth from being creekside, to only being within earshot/view; brief sections of up/down over natural land contours. At the approx 1.5 to 2 mile mark you'll find a single grave site.'David O. Cowan, 1843-1926'. At the approx 3 1/4 miles you 'officially' enter the Mazatzal Wilderness (a forestry sign tips you off). At this point you're heading back creekside, actually crossing it several times (I think the full hike involves about 20 creek crossings after this point). Water level was maybe ankle big deal. The terrain was really just getting interesting about this point, but had to turn back. Eventually it climbs into pine country. It's 8.8 miles one way to FR201 and numerous connecting trails.

It would be worth returning after a good rain when everything is wet and it's overcast.good photo opportunities. On my particular trip there was only some high diffuse clouds, so most pics ended up washed out.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2001-05-31 HAZ_Hikebot

    One-Way Notice
    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.

    Most recent of 33 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Happy to return and find the gravesite this time since the original trip log has incorrect mileage from TH to Gowan grave.
    The grave is actually closer to approximately 3 miles in, well marked and obvious, just before the convergence of the two creeks and the level campsite area.
    We went a bit beyond this area for lunch among gurgling cascades and a mossy faerie land. Exploring around our lunch area my honey discovered a geocache of sorts, stuffed with treats n goodies, including extensive history on Gowan and the area. We took nothing but added some treats and signed the 'register' inside, starting entry of 2012, most recent of 2016.
    This hike supplies a lil of everything we Zonans have come to love as far as flora and fauna; from prickly pear and mamalaria to a neon red cardinal and rainbow rocks to cypress and sycamore, this trek offers eye candy for nature enthusiasts. I suspect when water's present it's great for avian peepers too.
    Perfect weather, only passed 2 other hikers and only one piece of trash all made me thrilled this hasn't exploded on social media (yet?).
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    NOBO to Peeley TH on very well maintained trails. Minimal water - saw small pools and slight trickle flows: 1) north of the Cross F trail junction, 2) McFarland Canyon 3) lower end of Cornucopia.

    Exited down DC45. Intermittent / light water flow starts about a mile down from Peeley and persist nicely until near the canyon mouth. The first ~3 miles of trail have had some recent maintenance and are very pleasant, after that it's moderate thrash until you near the canyon mouth.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    I have driven past the Deer Creek TH a number of times and had always wondered what the trails there were like, so Tracie, my intrepid hiking partner, and I decided to find out for ourselves. We did this loop clockwise, i.e., we went out on the Gold Ridge Trail and came back on the South Fork Trail. After doing the hike, I would recommend doing it this way.

    The Gold Ridge Trail was well maintained and easy to follow. It was somewhat steep -- we climbed around 2,000 feet in the first 3 miles and around 1,000 feet in the next 3 miles. The trail was mostly dirt and the footing was pretty good. You could see a lot of dead, burned pine trees that were still standing from the Willow fire of 2004. There was a lot of vegetation -- mostly manzanita and holly bushes -- that had grown back since the fire. There was almost total sun exposure, and I would not want to do this hike in hot weather. The views were OK on this hike -- in places you could see Roosevelt Lake, and the Mogollon Rim could be seen off in the distance; however, as for scenery, I much prefer the Barnhardt Trail which isn't too far away.

    The South Fork Trail was totally different that the Gold Ridge Trail. In places it was difficult to follow the trail, so I was glad that I had a GPS track. There were a lot cairns and some pink ribbons tied to tree branches, which helped to follow the trail. However, to me this was much more like a social trail than an "official" trail. There were lots of fallen trees over the trail that you either had to climb over or navigate around. We had to make numerous creek crossings, and in some places we had to climb up above the creek and then get back down into the creek to avoid overgrowth in the creek. The creek was mostly dry, but there were several springs that were running with water. There were lots of dead, burned trees still standing from the 2004 fire.

    I think that this hike would have been a nice one back before the fire in 2004. Unless you really enjoy some scrambling in a creek bed, and aren't all that focused on scenic views, then I would recommend hiking on the Barnhardt Trail instead.

    My Garmin GPS recorded the hike as being 14.3 miles with close to a 3,600 foot AEG. When we were on FR 201 we walked right past the trail marker to the South Fork Trail and had to backtrack a bit; so the actual distance was probably a tad less than 14 miles.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    I had planned to hike West Bear Canyon this week, despite the fact I would be a week ahead of when fall colors usually peak there, the last day or two of September.

    But I hiked Crackerbox Canyon last week, and was not overly enthused about doing upper Mogollon Rim canyon hikes two weeks in a row.

    Complicating matters, I woke Friday morning at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night — you read that right — and would need to be at Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub with the Phoenix Celtic Supporters Club at 4:00 a.m. for kickoff in Scotland. Sleep would be at a premium, so I did not want to travel two or three hours to do a hike, dragging in at 8 p.m. after another two or three hours on the return trip.

    It’s been over five years since I last hiked Deer Creek Trail #45, when I was part of a crew that volunteered to restore the grave of Arizona pioneer legend Davey Gowan. And over the past year or so, it’s occasionally crossed my mind that I ought to go back, and see how things are holding up. The best part is, it’s only an hour north of Phoenix.

    There were very, very few flowers on this hike, the majority of which were that purple flower with the yellow middle I see everywhere else in Arizona. Cripes, I wish I could remember what it is called. A few trees’ leaves were just starting to turn lime green.; they might have some good color towards the end of October. The prickly pear cactus had some very healthy looking fruit. But what color there was was mostly provided by a number of bushes whose leaves were already into orange, and even some red. Closer to Davey Gowan’s grave, as the elevation approaches 3500 ft., there are even a few evergreen (juniper?) with clusters of small purple fruits.

    Five and a half years ago, Wild Bill’s crew put in a good shift cleaning up Davey’s grave. I brought a hand saw, so I did brush clearing. Other folks pounded posts, raked, gathered rocks, etc. We had it looking really nice.

    Time, and inconsiderate visitors, have seen Davey’s grave begin to deteriorate. One rail was broken, and several others had damage. Bits and pieces lay scattered on the ground. It looked to me like some folks had tried to climb over the railing, failing to take into account their fat rear ends. Grass had also grown up between the rocks, and bushes had started to intrude.

    Not having any tools this time, I cleaned up as best I could. I pulled away some branches. I gathered the bits of railing, piling them on the old bed frame that has been there forever. I propped up the broken rail on a rock. It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do.

    I had hauled a bottle of Glengoyne 21 Year Highland Single Malt with me, that I originally acquired on our 2014 trip to Scotland, so I fished that out of my pack to toast Davey’s memory. What better way to remember a Scot, than a whisky? :y:

    After putzing around the grave site for 45 minutes, I hauled donkey back to the trailhead. I made the 3.16 miles in about an hour and five minutes.

    On the way back into the Valley, we stopped at the Fountain Hills Mickey D’s for my absolute favorite post hike meal: A Filet-O-Fish and large fries (with lots of salt).

    While working on this blog, I realized Davey did not have an entry on So I added one. If you could give Davey Gowan’s memorial ( https://www.findagrave... ) a visit, and vote on “How famous was this person?” (bottom of the page), I would appreciate it.

    Note, for a famous person to get listed as actually famous, the more votes, the better!

    Hike Video: [ youtube video ]

    Some of the bushes had orange leaves, and a few of the trees had a lime-ish tint to the leaves. At only 3500 ft. Might be worth a look end of October.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    We were looking for a moderate hike with some water and Deer Creek in the Mazzies was a good choice. We made the drive up and started the hike in on a cool and cloudy morning. The peaks were covered in snow after we had some solid precipitation in the past 48 hours. We headed in and made good time as we followed the muddy trail. We had to rock hop across South Fork Deer Creek roughly a mile in. From there we paralleled Deer Creek which had a very strong flow. The going is very easy as we headed up canyon. We passed the David Gowan Grave and then the main campsite which looks awesome! You'd have to get your feet wet on this day but probably not later in the spring. We continued on another 20 minutes and then made the return. This was a really nice day in the eastern Mazatzal and I'd love to camp here at some point.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Headed out to Deer Creek TH, we had passed this many times, but never stopped. Read a lot about Deer Creek Trail, and thought we had better check out the area. So we headed out to Gowan's grave site for a turn around point. Nice hike, well defined trail might need a little clipping here or there, but nothing to get excited about. Colors were very pretty, no water available up to the Grave area, not sure above that. Think we need to do the whole trail and make a loop out of it.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Due to lousy weather I cancelled on a trip to Willow Creek today and opted for a little exploration on Deer Creek instead. From prior trips I knew there were a few small cascades and swimming holes I wanted to see up close. When I left Payson it was cool and lightly raining. By the time I reached the Deer Creek TH it was warm and sunny. Amazing what a 15min drive can do as far as weather goes. I knew at about the 6 mile mark there was some nice, lush creek area to explore so that's what I aimed for. A quick scramble down into the creek bed brought me to an amazing little riparian area with tall Sycamores, ivy and wild grapes. I found a few small swimming holes and watched as tons of birds of all colors chattered and flew around. I wandered up creek a little, which required long hops across boulders and less than ideal footing, but managed to keep my feet dry. Just as I made it back up the the trail I heard my first rumble of thunder from a storm passing just north of me. I certainly enjoyed the cooler breeze and neat looking clouds all around me for the trek back. The most noticeable change on this trail from last month was the amount of catclaw growth, some up to neck high. More annoying than anything but be prepared if planning on visiting this area anytime soon.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Deer Creek - Gold Ridge Loop
    I've had this loop stashed in my back pocket for just the right day and today I was in the mood for it. Weather was great, mid to high 60s and sunny with a steady breeze. I started up Deer Creek knowing it was going to get brushy but was surprised at how quickly it happened. The vegetation here sure does grow fast. Many of the huge cairns along the creek were already hidden. I lost the 'trail' a few times but quickly corrected myself each time. It truly is a beautiful area this time of year. Tons of wildflowers/flowering shrubs, green vegetation and plenty of running water. About 6 miles up the creek gets very scenic with a series of cascades into deeper pools. Topped out at Peeley TH where I scarfed down a snack and started footing it down the road while enjoying the views. At the 3348 / 201 junction I caught up with 2 gentlemen doing the exact same loop but weren't quite sure where to find Gold Ridge Trail so we finished out the loop together. All of us definitely enjoyed Gold Ridge. Air quality has improved and the views were awesome. Roosevelt looked particularly clear today. There are a couple of pockets of manzanita that have grown right on the trail but it's a highway compared to Deer Creek. Overall I got exactly what I expected out of this hike and had some good company for the last 7 miles.
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Deer Creek 45 - South Fork 46 Loop
    Last traveled South Fork 7 years ago with a HAZ group of six. We went up South Fork and down Gold Ridge. It was a mess going up and a highway coming down.

    Hit Deer Creek first so we could adjust as needed. It has received a lot of maintenance since the nightmare triplogs surfaced after the Willow Fire of 2004. I'd imagine any avid Arizona hiker would enjoy this trail. Alaskan & Colorado wanderlusts will yawn but this is pretty impressive 45 minutes from Fountain Hills. Our record Feb temps had the creek roaring like a river a good month earlier than typical.

    The top half of South Fork was a mess in 2009 and it's arguably worse now. Trail or no trail, Deer Creek has a more majestic feel and towering views. Several vehicles upon arrival and more leaving. Some were hunters. We only passed one group lounging nearing the creek in South Fork.

    17 seconds ... PU8M
    Deer Creek Trail #45
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    Deer Creek 45 - South Fork 46 Loop
    First time on both Deer Creek and South Fork after driving by the TH for years.

    I think out time was pretty good as Deer Creek had a great flow the entire length.

    I was a little concerned about the condition of this trail, remembering reading about the navigation nightmares. I have to report that I was pleasantly surprised. Now, this is no super highway by any means and there were minor navigational issues, but we stayed true to the trail and were able to follow it for the most part. At least 95-98% of it.

    Once you get out of the lowlands, this trail is a beaut. It's especially pretty at the 4000' contour on up. There are some old growth pine areas that are sweet. I would have liked to scout around the Gowan Camp area, but we were on a mission.

    We crested at the Peeley TH and took a little break. I'd forgotten that even though we were going down the road, it was actually a climb to get to the South Fork Trail turnoff. It's gonna take a chain saw to clear the deadfall off of the 201 before they can open it up to the Peeley TH. There was at least a dozen trees across the road in the short span we were on it.

    We got on the South Fork trail in shin deep snow. It lasted a lot longer than any of us expected.

    Now the South Fork trail was another animal. If you like Downfall, Catclaw, no trail, and lots-o-rock hoppin', this is the trail for you. There were some very pretty areas, but the bang for the buck was not there for me. Maybe I'd just bled out a bit too much.

    We were all happy to finally get to the boring part so we could motor back to the truck before dark.

    Video Foder :next: ... W8FU

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    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    The trailhead is literally a stone's throw from highway 87 (no dirt, any vehicle). The turnoff to the trailhead is well marked from SR 87. Turn left across the other lane at the highway 87/188 junction where the rest stop facility is (roughly Hwy marker 235.5).

    From the corner of SR87 & SR260 in Payson go south on SR87 for ??? miles to the signed turnoff for Deer Creek trailhead.
    From Phoenix take SR87 north out of Mesa to Payson. The turnoff to the trailhead is right near the 87/188 intersection, to the west.
    3 pack - loud whistle
    go prepared
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