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Cottonwood Camp Loop, AZ

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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,905 feet
Elevation Gain 1,481 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,804 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.02
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
22  2010-10-22 Andy679
13  2009-03-29 Hansenaz
14  2004-03-31 joebartels
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 242
Routes 836
Photos 12,083
Trips 4,884 map ( 24,930 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Mar, Nov, Jan → 7 AM
Seasons   Early Winter to Early Spring
Sun  5:35am - 7:29pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2020 Bush Fire193.5k
🔥 1996 Lone Fire65.1k
🔥 1995 River Fire9.8k
🔥 View All over Official Route 🔥

Warning the 2020 Bush Fire damaged most of the Four Peak Wilderness after almost recovering from the 1996 Lone Pine Fire.
Lush and dust
by joebartels

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The area from the Rolls to Cottonwood Camp loads up with dozens of RVs on spring weekends. Most are out with their atvs or cycles during the day and soaking up the evenings RV style. Horseback riding is fairly popular around Cottonwood Camp. Hiking on the other hand doesn't seem to be the sport of choice. Nevertheless in my past three outings I've had friendly encounters including offers for rides to food & water.

This hike heads up Boulder Creek then jumps on the Soldier Camp ridge and back down to Cottonwood Camp. Check out the map and follow clockwise from Cottonwood Camp. Start off on the left/north side of the corals. Simply jump the fence and into the grassy meadow. Hopefully cairns will lead you on route, if not study the map.

This isn't really the "Lower Soldier Camp Trail". I zig zagged the area trying to find a trailhead without success. In addition I zig zagged the area on route a bit. From what I can figure out there are three routes going up and away from Cottonwood Camp. The route I choose being the middle. The right/south route is an old jeep road, which is the designated trail. However I recommend following the map as it's much more scenic.

The hike up is alongside the vicinity of Boulder Creek. It was much better than expected with stretches resembling a desert oasis. The last thing I was expecting was shade but there was in a few sections. Which was most appreciated on a record scorching March day. Jeans are almost in order for the prickly grasses. February is probably the ideal month to hike while the grasses are green and soft. Autumn would likely be an itchy trek. Wildlife felt close, though hard to see through the thick foliage. Butterflies glided about in several varieties. Quail tiptoed about prior to bolting off.

When you come to an intersection take a right. It may be difficult to notice the intersection. Generally you have been hiking in one direction. If you take a hard left then you need to backtrack. The right is less distinctive and somewhat overgrown. It takes you immediately over a small ridge. Where you can see where you need to go. Dip through a wash and jump on the old jeep trail heading up. Since the area is now a wilderness, motorized access has been cut off. It's now called the "Lower Soldier Camp Trail". It must have been one hell of a ride because it's very steep in sections.

Hike up the ridge. The 900-foot elevation gain might leave you cursing with one false sense of being over before it's over. Just keep pushing and eventually it narrows up before reaching FS 401. As of this writing there was no trail signage but a fiberglass flex stake marked the junction. Take a left and follow FS 401 up a half-mile to the Soldier Camp Trailhead. I didn't notice any signage for a trailhead here either. It's a wonderful slopped meadow with great views all around. If hiking on a forest road turns your stomach then don't bother but the views are top notch I tell you. Follow FS 401 back down to your vehicle.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2004-03-31 joebartels
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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
FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To Cottonwood Camp Trailhead
From Scottsdale follow Shea Blvd East to its terminus at SR87. Turn Left onto SR87. Follow SR87(this is the Beeline) to the Four Peaks Turnoff which is FR143. FR143 is well marked. Follow FR143 to FR 401. Hang a right onto FR401 and follow past Cottonwood Camp. Park anywhere, behind the corral is more concealed.

Several of the hikes posted from this trailhead go south. You can continue 0.5 miles south to where FR401 ascends out of Cottonwood Creek up the side of a mountain. It's absolute 4WD beyond. You will know as it turns from sand to cobblestone sized rocks. Getting here is only doable in high clearance, dry conditions and it's slightly risky depending on current conditions.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 46.4 mi - about 1 hour 20 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 144 mi - about 2 hours 47 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 173 mi - about 3 hours 21 mins
90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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