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Sawmill Canyon - San Carlos, AZ

Guide 9 Triplogs  1 Topic
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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 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,274 feet
Elevation Gain -813 feet
Accumulated Gain 222 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.11
Interest Off-Trail Hiking & Seasonal Creek
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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6  2016-10-19
SRC- Upper Gorge
7  2016-06-04 babypoo4u
6  2014-11-18
Salt River Canyon
2  2012-06-16
Salt River Canyon - Upper Gorge
4  2006-07-20 Hoffmaster
12  2006-06-29 Vaporman
10  2006-05-01 Lizard
9  2005-08-24 margotr
Page 1,  2
author avatar Guides 3
Routes 4
Photos 8,687
Trips 931 map ( 6,409 miles )
Age 43 Male Gender
Location SLC, Utah
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred May, Jun, Jul, Sep → 9 AM
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  5:34am - 7:22pm
Official Route
0 Alternative

Take a step back in time
by Vaporman

Sawmill Canyon is best described as a non-technical canyoneering route. There is only a trail from the parking lot to the river, after that, you cross the river you follow the canyon upstream as far you like. Swimming is required if you want to fully enjoy this canyon, so plan accordingly. Also, make sure you pick up a San Carlos Indian Reservation recreational permit before you start hiking.

Pick up the faint trail from the parking area towards the old trail switchbacking down towards the Salt River. The trail cuts out just above the river, so find the best line down to the river. Before wading/swimming across the river, look upstream a bit and locate the canyon that drains in the river. As you swim across aim for the rocks that jut out just upstream from the canyon. Otherwise, you'll do like me and exit the river at the muddy bank and sink in 6 inches with every step.

As you ascend the canyon you'll be trying to avoid the vegetation most of the way. I managed by following a faint canyoneer trail or sticking to the watercourse whenever possible. When I first entered the canyon, I noticed that it wasn't flowing and the first few pools were stagnant and murky, but don't let that detour you from venturing further up. You'll soon hit a series of (dry) falls on the left and a taller one on the right. You avoid these by climbing the rocks in the middle. There's a large pool on the left side below the upper falls that I recommend swimming and diving into. When it's not flowing, you can also climb up the falls at the end of the pool. Soon after the falls, you'll hit a narrows section that you want to avoid by climbing the rocks on the left. The narrows are very slippery and smooth and the pools are mossy and murky. Not to mention that at the end of the narrows are some large choke stones that prevent you from climbing out.

After avoiding these two main obstacles, the rest of the canyon is fairly straightforward. I'd recommend going about 2 miles up the canyon before turning back. At this point, the canyon starts to open up and isn't quite as scenic. But up until this point, you'll see impressive cliffs lining the canyon, many caves embedded in the walls, large pools of water filled with underwater plants, and many dried-up pools leaving a white residue on the creek boulders. When I came thru there were 2 mandatory and 3 optional swimmers that I thoroughly enjoyed. At first, wading thru the water plants was kind of eerie, but you get used to it after a few times. The last pool was very deep and took you thru this long hallway that ended just before the canyon opened up. This is a great place to have lunch and soak the canyon in. Enjoy!

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2006-07-07 Vaporman
    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 $$
    • Some areas are closed to access from Labor Day to April 1st, read about it in the link provided below.
    • Permits, closures and regulations at White Mountain Apache Tribe < Cibecue, Black River, Salt River, etc.
    Sunrise Park Resort

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From the Phoenix area, head east on US60 to Globe. Just before the US60/77 junction, stop by the Express Stop on the left and pick up a San Carlos permit. Get back on US60 and turn left to continue on US60 north for about 40 miles to the Salt River Bridge. There are a few good lookout spots along the way as you descend and ascend the Salt River Canyon. There's also a rest area by the bridge that has restrooms and it's a good place to check the Salt River's water level. Drive another 3 miles after the bridge to one of those lookout spots on the right side of the road. Get out and look upriver to locate the trail switchbacking towards the river.
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
    Avoid Heat Illness - stay cool

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