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Devil's Canyon Hike, AZ

AZ > Globe > Superior E
no permit
628 66 7
Guide 66 Triplogs  7 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Globe > Superior E
4.4 of 5 by 18
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 5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 4.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,868 feet
Elevation Gain -841 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,093 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 8 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.27
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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22  2020-03-14 Pickles
27  2020-03-14 adilling
8  2020-01-11
34  2019-03-30 adilling
21  2016-11-05 RedRoxx44
25  2016-09-03 GrottoGirl
11  2016-03-20 MountainMatt
12  2016-02-19 kelraen
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 241
Routes 830
Photos 11,690
Trips 4,548 map ( 22,903 miles )
Age 50 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Co-Author Fritzski
co-author avatarGuides 43
Routes 0
Photos 597
Trips 59 map (132 Miles)
Age 67 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, May, Sep, Oct → Early
Seasons   Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  5:21am - 7:37pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Desert Emeralds
by joebartels & Fritzski

Here's an out-n-back trek to the "Five Pools". Which is a downward swerve of layered swimming holes. Be forewarned as this is rather strenuous, not elevation or distance wise: just constant scrambling in addition to bushwhacking, rappelling & climbing. No actual trail exist, just actual beauty worth the effort. Tack on the 4x4 approach for one complete adventure. Best hike this trip April through June and September into October when rain definitely isn't forecasted. The monsoon season is risky and really just too hot. Winter would be fine to the pools. You might squeak out March & November with a wetsuit.

Desert Emeralds
I tagged along with Fritzski and his buddy Bruce on this grand trip. A quarter mile east from the windmill in Hackberry Canyon head east/down the canyon.

0.4 miles The first obstacle encountered is a 40 foot dryfall, which is fairly easy to zigzag down it's ledges. From here on the going is slow and somewhat exhausting compared to trail hiking. Several minor obstacles are encountered along the way to the five pools. This requires crisscrossing the creek back and forth in addition to occasionally high banking the canyon walls. In essence canyoneering is rougly 2-3 times more difficult then general trail hiking. From the 40 foot dryfall to the Devils Canyon confluence is prime real-estate, for rock-jocks anyhow. The north canyon wall is lined with rock formations. Dozens of climbs up to a YDS(Yosemite Decimal System) rating of 5.10c line the wall. The favored "Glitter Box" area is just north up Devils Canyon.

0.7 miles Upon reaching Devils Canyon thick tree coverage takes over. Take a right/south and head down the canyon. Be forewarned, I've personally witnessed wall to wall poison ivy in which I simply couldn't imagine getting through. Of most concern is the section between Hackberry Creek & Oak Creek canyons. However, on this trip it was nearly non-existent compared to years past. In addition there's a short use-trail that rises slightly on the west side to bypass most of it. The section between these two tributary canyons also boast the densest bushwhacking. Going in we bypassed it somehow on the west side wall but to our surprise plowed right through it on the return.

0.9 miles Continue on passing Oak Creek Canyon. From here to the pools it's a "which side of the creek is best" battle. A small waterfall is passed along the way along with some beautiful pools. When the canyon suddenly bends east and then west it's time to get excited as the "Five Pools" are near. My map isn't exact on the pools as I didn't bring my GPS, maybe next time.

2.0 miles The 1st pool is a beauty. This pool has the largest span of low ledges of all the pools, which is on the left.( that's going in, as all my left/rights will be meant as ) The drop-off is 12 feet. The jump or rappel is the same height from a ledge on the immediate left. Rappel wise it's actually less as there's a small ledge. This was my first time rappelling/climbing anything. I can tell you first hand rappelling is twice as scary as climbing. Basically, it's just that first step backwards over the edge, after that it's almost fun. Although climbing isn't as scary, I don't have any upper body strength and it was brutal. For the record I made it up this 120 foot section on my own. Okay, okay it's maybe 10 feet and by far the easiest as it has a slight slope. I believe there's plenty of handholds to climb if you're experienced at all. Better yet read Fritzski's mini-tutor below for the technical info.

The water temp on this day was perfect. The game plan on all these pools is to swim across. You could come to the first pool and turn around as I'm sure many do. If you're more into swimming and sunbathing the first pool is plenty. Much further is probably too much unless you're experienced. Keep in mind the trip home up Hackberry Creek Canyon is in full-sun-exposure even with a crack-of-dawn start.

The 2nd pool is maybe ten to fifteen yards from the first pool and it's tiny. It's really more of a creek filter then anything you'd want to swim. Since it's a necessary swim it's tough to leave out, therefore "Five Pools" is accurate. It does boast a curved slide into the water, which may be fun if the creek is running. Then again I prefer dry as it'd be a pain going up the smooth slippery slope.

The 3rd pool is a 15 foot drop from the second. The jump or rappel is 3 feet higher from a ledge on the immediate left. I didn't jump any of the pools going down. I believe Fritzski jumped three and Bruce jumped everything in sight. I made it back up this route too. However, it was more of Fritzski & Bruce pulling a dead body up the escarpment than me actually ascending on my own.

The 4th pool is the largest and highest drop off all wrapped into one package. Everything about this pool is photogenic. The waterfall drop is 50 feet and the rappel is about 65 feet from a ledge up to the left. Bruce jumped this one from a scramble a third of the way around the left. He said it had a little smack/sting going in but was definitely deep enough. He also mentioned the water down below is cold and makes you swim up fast!

The 5th pool is down a short slope from the third. I bypassed the 4th & 5th pools. The fourth pool was so amazing I more or less ignored the fifth pool on details. Instead I scrambled the left sloping wall down to the lip of the bottom pool. The left bank does add a new variety. A fern lined slope was a pleasant surprise and previously-undocumented to my knowledge. It's amazing it can grow in this brutal canyon, especially on these rock walls. The wall is terraced just enough to catch soil from above. Or possibly decades of leaves and wood decaying as the spongy soil felt like rotted wood. That combined with tree shade and the kicker being a good seep trickling down.

Below the 5th pool is a huge sloping slab which resembles poured concrete. It slopes down to a perfect sharp edge across the canyon. To get below here scramble a short scree slope on the right. I noticed rocks stacked on the left but the right is the sure way to go. On the left wall a seep drips from high above. Devils Canyon continues on down 4.2 miles to a not so happy ending at the mining town Ray. It's lush jungle for as far as I could see.

You may not even want to come down this far and reserve some energy. As I didn't realize that second little tub was a "pool" I was searching for the fifth. Dingbat "Sherlock Teva Holmes" came home and spent countless hours studying photos, water levels and theorizing "the Missing Pool". It was pretty bad. First I imagined a dynamite alteration between the first and second pools. This was of course somebody's kind deed to lower the water lever 3 feet and expose the slimy ledge for easier rappelling or something. Then came the erosion theory. Only to be followed by one last desperate theory. Puzzled I went back to admiring my photos of un-blurred jumps when it all made sense. Oh that pool!

Hackberry Creek Canyon and surrounding canyon walls are rock-jock magnets. Most notable is near the Oak Flat Campground where bouldering contest take place. It's not unusual to see large groups of people in March.

Fritzski Technical Notes:
To descend down through all the "five pools" of Devil's Canyon is considered "technical canyoneering", thus requiring the appropriate equipment, knowledge, and experience. As Joe mentions above, the pools consist of a classic series of plunge pools (1) of which one is a small tub and another a punchbowl (2).

1st Pool: From the top of the first broad dryfall (Sept.) you overlook a 15' drop into the first pool. There was a knotted hand line bolted on the left side for the fairly easy descent. Despite its shabby condition, the descent is a bit less than vertical and with good hand and foot holds. Of course, just heaving oneself over the edge and into the pool is also an inviting option after the long hike in.

2nd Pool: Swimming across the first pool, you come to the top of a ramp or chute leading about 12' down to a small tub only about 10' across. This tub would be the sensible limit for those with no technical experience.

3rd Pool: Again, you find yourself at the top of a dryfall, this time overlooking pool #3 where you will again find a hand line bolted to the left side. Here though, the drop is much more sheer, smooth, and slightly farther than previously encountered. We deemed the condition of the rope unsafe and tied our own hand line from an extra coil brought along for just such an occurrence. Before commencing this drop, be confident in your ability to climb back up this sheer pitch using hand-over-hand, with the use of a belay or ascenders as an option if needed. Once again, jumping is an attractive option.

4th Pool: From here things take a turn for the technical. You are now overlooking the sheer sides of an immense punchbowl at least 60' straight down to the water. Although my daredevil partner choose to jump "for the fun of it", I wouldn't recommend it. I instead opted for the rappel of which the lower half is free hanging. The anchor bolts look new and solid, but bring your own webbing and ring. Having only a 100' static line (3), I had to rig for a single line rappel with retrieval cord (4). You will need rope at the bottom for one last rappel into pool #5.

5th Pool: Swimming out of the bottom edge of the pool you now overlook the final pool #5 and the forested floor of the canyon as it once again flares out from the sheer rock walls. There is a small tree on the left side that serves well as an anchor for the final rappel, which is down a smooth slope and onto a lower ledge where you can make about a 30' jump or continue the rappel into the water assuming you have long enough rope.

The exit at the bottom that Joe discussed above will get you back up to the top of pool #4 where you can retrieve your webbing and any other gear you choose to leave there. From there it is simply a matter of climbing back out via the hand lines (in conjunction with pre-positioned top roped belays if needed).

NOTES: (terms taken from "Canyoneering-Beginning to Advanced" by C. Van Tilburg)
(1) Plunge pool - collection of water at the bottom of a waterfall
(2) Punchbowl - large plunge pool
(3) Static line - lightweight, low stretch rope designed for rappelling
(4) Retrieval Cord - better go buy the book :)

Fritzski's Factoid: Joe mentions the Yosemite Decimal System for rating technical free climbing from 5.0 all the way up to 5.14 (which is like climbing a piece of sheetrock). But where does the "5" come from and what does it mean? The Yosemite system lies within a much broader system of terrain classification ratings developed by the Sierra Club. These classes are as follows:
  1. Walking on level ground
  2. Hiking on or off trail with some elevation change
  3. Scrambling; may require hands for balance or support
  4. Easy vertical or near vertical climbing not requiring protection
  5. Technical free climbing (equipment used only to protect against a fall)
  6. Technical Aid climbing (equipment actually used for support while climbing)

So now when someone says the top of the Flatiron or Brown's Peak requires some class 4 climbing, you'll know exactly what to expect!

Flying Bruce - 5.4MB Mpeg

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2002-09-16 joebartels & Fritzski
    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
    Strictly 4x4

    To canyon trip
    Go east out of Superior on US 60 to Magma Mine Road on the south side near mile marker 231. This is also the turnoff for Oak Flat Campground. Follow this paved road for 1.5 miles to a rusty steel pipe gate on the left. This is No.9 road but it isn't marked. Close the gate behind you and continue on past the pond. Passing the pond you will go through a parallel of fences and a coral. From here on it's 4x4 terrain, high clearance is possible but I wouldn't recommend it. Continue on this extremely washed and rocky jeep trail. At about 1.65 miles from the gate you enter a sandy canyon bottom. Past the sandy wash the road is 4X4 terrain only. You are looking for a windmill near a coral. From the windmill there is a road that goes south which is up. Forget that one and turn east/down Hackberry canyon until the road ends. Another road forks to the left and up but forget that one. The hike starts at the road end.
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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