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Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa, AZ

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Guide 11 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Superstitions NW
3.8 of 5 by 6
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 5.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,230 feet
Elevation Gain 2,009 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,310 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4-7 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.05
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Peak
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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14  2017-01-14
Bronco Butte and Horse Mesa
19  2017-01-14
Bronco Butte and Horse Mesa
18  2015-01-31 sbkelley
4  2014-03-20 joebartels
5  2014-01-11 clairebear
30  2006-09-29 djui5
20  2003-10-27 joebartels
11  2003-10-18 joebartels
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,825
Trips 4,257 map ( 21,432 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Jan → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:10am - 6:28pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Ride em Cowboy
by joebartels

Bronco Butte sits on the southeast corner of Horse Mesa. It's a great destination hike offering 360 degrees of outstanding views. The route, terrain and exposure can be brutal. It's likely you won't want to return, once is probably enough.

The route is cairned and worn in sections. Topographical map reading skills are necessary. I strongly suggest studying the map before attempting this hike. Your route may vary. Download and use the "Official Route" for best results. It was revised in 2014 and differs a bit from the 2003 map linked above.

Think of the hike as two parts. First is the brutal 1.1 mile ascent up the mesa. Next you must go 1.5 miles across to Bronco Butte. Now how tough could 2.6 miles be? Well, lets see...

From SR88: Read the directions below. I took off from here and forced up the escarpment. I did find the route on the return and it's plotted on the map. The bad news is it's pretty tough to find. In addition, it's very light and little cairned in the lower sections. Okay here's my feeble attempt to describe: Instead of forging up immediately, hike the road east for about five to ten minutes. Just start heading up, you'll come to a deck that flaunts an old road. I suspect a service road for the power lines. If you're lucky enough to find the metal power wire support-structure with a "supporting cable to the ground angled out north" the trail starts just north (maybe a tad west). However it's so faint and hard to follow you might as well forget it. You're better off just locking your GPS in on where the trail crosses the "+" on the map. It's pretty distinctive from there to the major ascent. As mentioned I only found the entire length of this path on my return, I battled the elements more than necessary going up.

The major ascent up the wash is pretty much horrid at best. I can't speak for right of the wash, maybe there's something easier on that side. Approaching I figured the left was easier so that was my ascent. I darted up to quick and had to come back down a bit. If you don't choose wisely you might face catclaw on a 50-degree grade of soft soil with prickly pair, cholla & saguaro only to break your fall.

Once you've conquered the ascent a fence with a gateless walkthrough greets you. I chuckled, as you'd think there'd be some evidence of a trail. However, it looked like nobody had walked through in 10 years. Once on top you'll be thinking the worst is over. It is, but it isn't a casual walk over to the butte by any means. So far you've gained about 1100 feet in elevation, there's 900 more to go.

Be on the lookout for a cairn shortly up to the right. This is your easy ticket for the next half-mile stretch. The cairns will turn into a path, go around a bend and then take you to your next adventure. Once again, study the map. When the cairns seem to peter out in a grassy left turning slope, just forge up. It's hell. You can barely see where you're stepping due to the tall grass. If you come unprepared like myself the grass seeds'll prick you in your socks and boots. I'd recommend jeans taped at the bottom or a spring hike when the grass is green. This was so annoying. The torture got to a point where I became numb. Be safe and take it easy. Beware, rocks under the grasses could twist an ankle with a bad step.

Continue nearly a mile through this grass/rock mix. First you'll notice the MCSO radio repeaters and solar panels. Bronco Butte is easy to spot to the right, it looks tough to conquer. As you near the butte it becomes less of a concern, you can tackle it from multiple angles. I went on the outer fin. Going up I turned to my right only to notice the 2000-foot sheer drop. I guess my mind was elsewhere because it really startled me.

Atop Bronco Butte the views include: Superstition Peaks 5024 & 5057, Camelback Mountain, Red Mountain, the Four Peaks, Apache Lake, the Sierra Ancha Mountains, Castle Dome, an overview of the heart of Fish Creek, Black Cross Butte & a rare opportunity to see the Painted Cliffs! There's a pile of wobbly rocks on the highest point making it higher yet. You might want to think twice before walking over to the edge for a view. The slab of rock is slanted downward and a bit nerve wracking.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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

2003-10-27 joebartels
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    guide related
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 Triplog Reviews
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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Bronco Butte and Horse Mesa
This one has been in the Draft stage for quite awhile. The entire hike is exposed (ie no cover), so I wanted to do it while it was cooler. What the heck, throw in some clouds too, why not some wind, rain, thunder and lightning for fun also!

We were shocked that there was someone parked at little used TH for Bronco Butte when we arrived and wondered if we'd run into this person on the day.

This is a steady climb all the way to Bronco Butte, with the steepest during the initial 1.5 mile ascent. It's a short scramble to the top of 4349 and well worth the effort. We only stayed for a moment and got down and out of the wind.

At the towers there is an expansion project going on. There were 180+ freshly delivered solar panels and hardware, ready to be installed.

From here to the far NW peak 4025 on Horse Mesa, is only 3+ miles and under 1000' of AEG, but is slow going. You have to watch every step up here, dodging rocks, hedgehog, prickly pear and agave. It is so worth it to be able to soak in the views from the rim of the mesa. Video :next: [ youtube video ]
Apache Lake, The southern most Mazatzal's including, Four Peaks, and the Painted Cliffs. Joe even pointed out Skeleton Cave.... A couple of times...
(we're still looking for it)

We kicked up a couple of Bucks on the way across and also ran into a bow hunter looking for said Bucks.

At 4025 we took an abbreviated lunch so we could get moving and warm up again. We were greeted to an appearance of the sun on the way back across the Mesa and also rainbows galore. Our shortcut route worked out perfectly, luckily hitting one of the few routes into and out of the drainage.

We finished the last hour in the rain.

Memorable hike for sure...
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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Bronco Butte and Horse Mesa
Bruce threw this together. I've pondered it for 14 years as it is within my favorite area, the Salt River Corridor.

Bruce did remarkable on the 2k ascent to Bronco, only ten minutes more than jj. Gloomy as expected. Mid fifties nor rain was the leading irritant. The wind. In the words of the great Qbert... @!#?@!

Heading past the MCSO radio repeaters we did a quick count of 180+ new solar panels recently dropped by helicopter. Keep your hands off the merchandise, the acronym is Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

We crossed paths with a bow hunter that started 2 hours before us. Bruce got his full attention mentioning a white tail he spooked so good near Bronco we could hear him snort. I would have been surprised to see anyone up here on a nice day yet alone today.

Traveling across the mesa was draggy as anticipated. Taking photos was a trade off for freezing hands. If it wasn't rocks hidden in grass you could count on camouflaged hedgehog or prickly pair. Then I had this thought we'd see Skeleton Cave. Equipped with a goal I had a little more umpf. We got to the end of the mesa and I scoped out and found it across the river. Twice! The second time I was 100% sure! Further research revealed Skeleton Cave was 2.2 miles away, out of view around a

The hike back had more roller coaster than anticipated. Then Bruce wasn't keen on his planned bypass to cut off 1.5+ miles on the return as it looked steep. On the brightside the sun made an appearance. Holy smokes the rain stopped. You know what, the wind stopped!!! We took a stab at his bypass and lucked out big time finding a ramp in the area of concern.

Chatted with the hunter again just before descending. This guy wasn't going home until he covered a full day.

With a mile to go the crap weather returned. Glad we did the hike and glad it was over. It might be loopable. We saw a fair option but it would have cost hours if it didn't pan out. This hike is most notable for views of the Painted Cliffs, we barely got to see 'em. A puffy cloud day would be outstanding.

a half dozen occurrences of insignificant yellows
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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This has been on my to-do list for a long time and I finally had the cache to knock it out this weekend. I started out around 8am. Temps were pleasant but on the cool side. Once I was on top in the wind, though, I was up to three layers and still cold. All in all, a nice little hike.
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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With a Canadian guest in town looking forward to some winter sunshine and a desert adventure, we went out on the cloud-covered day before the Super Bowl. Parked at the turnoff to the Reavis Trailhead off of the Apache Trail and started putting the puzzle together. Richard and Eric wanted to find some cliffs to climb, as per usual, but there was not a single rock that was stable on this massif. So, we found the prominent drainage on the southeast side of the mountain and made our way into it and up. Brush actually wasn't bad over on this side of the mountain, and other than the loose rocks, the going was steep but not difficult from a technical standpoint other than the occasional short scramble. Near the top, there was actually running water (!) in the drainage. At the top, the clouds rolled in, and it was hard to tell where the true summit was. The point with overhanging cliff near the weather station isn't it. I recommend a Tyrolean traverse for this one. The gentler point to the east was higher, though, and we found a sparsely-signed summit register. The views were as good as advertised, when we could see them. Was a good day for a summit IPA. Got back down to the CR-V just as the rain started again. Flowing water and clouds everywhere: not a typical day in the Superstitions.
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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Good to get back to Bronco after 11 years. Not as steep heading up as I recall. Fabulous Salt River Corridor views make this one a winner. We took a stab at the un-numbered peak just NW by the MCSO relay. Decided it's doable in a pinch but not worth the risk. The holds are crumbly and unstable. The rock sounds hollow when you tap on it.

From there looked down and thought it would be a shortcut to head straight down to the highway maintenance yard. There is one cool slick rock type formation. Overall too brushy, the regular route is quicker too.

Most of the cars on the Apache Trail had Cali plates.
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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I've been curious about this hike for a few years, but forgot about it until recently. Claire and I started making a plan, and before we knew it my roommate, Brian, was also joining in on the fun! We decided that the funnest route would be the one going straight up, so parked at a nice out-of-the-way camp spot on the Reavis road and got to hiking!

We started off basically following along the divisional district fence, choosing whatever route looked best up the ridge. The original plan was to head a little more westward toward the wash, but the route we took wasn't bad. Ok, maybe some scree sections in places, and tons and tons of cactus, but we didn't really get into thick brush until up near the top. We found an area just to the northeast of the butte to climb up -- just a short 10-15 foot section of rock. Still, a little heady due to the notorious nature of chossy Supes rock. Once at the top, we worked our way on over and were soon at the Bronco summit! We stopped for some goofy pictures and a leisurely lunch before heading back down again.

Looking back at the steep terrain, we opted to try the "cairned trail" back down, despite it being in the opposite direction of the car. Reason being, it looked like it may be a whole lot easier on the feet and knees than dealing with the route up. Unfortunately, it took a really long time to figure out where the route was, and we only found a short section with actual cairns. Despite having the GPS, it was difficult to follow the route constantly, due to avoiding hidden rocks and cacti in the grass. We ended up off route once more, but this time decided to just go with it. Not the best of ideas, as we ended up in a wash with tons of catclaw and other such enjoyable desert flora. We pushed thru for a couple hours, in and out of the wash, until we reached the road.. then another 2.5 miles back to the car.

This was a really fun trip. If I were to go back, I'd take the same route up, and maybe try to find another way down on the same side. There just seemed to be much less foliage on that side. And maybe explore a few more of the outcroppings near the peak.
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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A friend and I did this hike yesterday and were able to find and follow the trail for the first part of the ascent. I've added a GPS track for that section of the hike. At the start of the hike we followed the old two track road up and west a short ways and just past an old fire ring we saw a N/S line of about 10 rocks that pointed to the trail. Not a great trail by any means but it was a better than having to bushwhack and routefind our way up. Our round trip was about 5.6 miles and we took about 4.5 hours with a lengthy break at the top and hiking at a relatively slow pace due to the lack of trail across the upper half of the hike. Great views from the top, including 4 Peaks.
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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Perfect day with an overnight low of 66 and a high of 83!

Going up I topped out to soon and had to come back down. It's best to go nearly straight over to the ascent before heading up. You'd think I'd start checking out the map more but didn't... took a wrong turn on the mesa and headed about a half mile off course.

I seriously recommend pants tight around the ankles. Otherwise the grass seeds will drive you nuts. Trekking poles would be worth the extra weight on this hike.

Great views on the butte! The Painted Cliffs with the Four Peaks rising behind are stunning. Some clouds would have been nice for better photo opportunities. Coming down I swore I'd never return. However, with a better understanding of the layout and proper planning I might.

I should add: though dogs are allowed there is a lot of cacti including cholla

9:32 am Start
11:11 am Gate
12:31 pm top
1:00 pm returned
1:49 pm Gate
3:04 pm done
Bronco Butte - Horse Mesa
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Attempted and failed

So I'm looking at maps last night and notice Bronco Butte. Immediately I scratch my previous planned hike into Haunted Canyon and start trying to figure out the best route.

I figured there were two options. Either pick up a ridge near Fish Creek or take off on a sweet ridge tapering down to Apache Resort.

Woke up early and headed out. I wanted to just take off from Fish Creek and forge up, but figured it'd be wise to check out access on the other end first. Headed over to Apache Resort to check things out. It does look pretty easy but figured with all the people around I'd rather take off from Fish Creek. Coming back I checked out another option I noticed along the way. About 100 yards after the Reavis Ranch Trailhead turnoff on the opposite (north) side of the road is a cruel sandy road (Crabtree Wash). As mentioned I noticed it (or a spur off of it) went practically to where I wanted to go halfway up the mountain. I figured it was an old mine or something, but later noticed Crabtree Spring is there so that must be why the road is there I guess. At any rate Crabtree Wash takes you down to the little camping/beach pay area next to Apache Resort. I think the spur road up to the spring was 4x4 so I just decided to head back to Fish Creek and get on with the hike already!

Jumped out and started towards my pre-planned route. There was a couple camping at the area marked "Picnic Area" on topo so I jumped out of the creek to go wide as I'd rather die then snag on the small chat.

The cacti was thick but negotiable without incident. I went real slow watching every step as the temps seemed perfect for snakes to be out and about. Didn't see any snakes. Did see a big centipede, it was huge. I've seen millipedes before but this bad boy had big long legs and moved like a hover craft over the desert floor. Missed out on a photo as I got to picky trying to get a close-up. About ten feet later was startled by a tarantula. Of course the shock goes away quick and kept moving on looking for snakes.

I was glad there wasn't any hog-nats as I'd experienced days ago on the four peaks. Oddly though there were flies attacking my legs but that's nothing in my book compared to the face attacks.

The terrain got pretty steep and I began to doubt I'd truly make it to Bronco Butte. Nevertheless, figured I'd continue on as you can't learn without failing every now and then. Ended up getting pretty steep and came to a big fin ridge that I couldn't figure out with my printed map. So I just went up a tiny outcropping to check out the views and turn around. Going down was pretty friggin steep, had to scooch on the hinney a couple times :lol:

I was mesmerized this tiny outing went so quick. Only an hour each way. Of course it only turned out to be 0.7 miles each way, which was mostly up with a 850 ft gain. Probably comparable to a 0.7 mile stretch on Piestewa, minus the trail of course.

The best part of the day came unexpectedly. I stopped at the rest-stop/overlook above Fish Creek. Followed the sidewalk, which seems odd out in the middle of nowhere, to it's end. I thought there was going to be an overlook. There was but the ridge went on for some distance. I continued on expecting it to peter out quickly. As it turned out it went on for almost a half hour. I kept grabbing for my water hose on my Camelbak only to realize this was suppose to be a "quick" overlook :lol: The views where cool, but what was really cool was I was only a half mile from where I just hiked overlooking the whole area. I could easily see where I went wrong and took pictures for notes.

Got home, scoured my photos and tried planning a better route. Then decided I'd give old Google a whirl. Turns out Bronco Butte is anything but unconquered. There's even a radio tower, heli pad and windsock. The butte is also a geotrashing point of interest. Which I swear I'll keep my comments to myself as the trashers get so offended :roll: The recorded trips where interesting in one aspect. A guy mentioned a trail on his Superstition map. I quickly grabbed my Beartooth and wouldn't you friggin know it, there's a TRAIL. It's a cairned route but still, I can't believe I just scaled a friggin wall when there's a trail a quarter mile over. C'est la vie!

Guess I'll have to return but it sure did lose some of it's allure. Nevertheless, the views should be awesome.

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Map Drive
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

To hike
From Apache Junction take SR88 out past the Fish Creek Bridge. Continue to the next bridge, park in the first pullout after crossing.
128 GB Flash Drive... $14
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