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Big Dipper - Castle Creek Wilderness, AZ

Guide 56 Triplogs  3 Topics
  3.8 of 5 
363 56 3
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 3.7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,444 feet
Elevation Gain -1,187 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,200 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3 - 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 9.7
Interest Off-Trail Hiking, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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11  2021-03-25
Big Dipper - Horsethief Loop
3  2020-11-14 GrangerGuy
14  2020-05-23 Ashleyannmarie
25  2020-05-23 pixelfrog
13  2018-04-06 skatchkins
4  2017-04-27 MountainMatt
8  2016-03-19
Dipper - Horsethief - Recreation - Algonquin
8  2016-03-19
Dipper - Horsethief - Recreation - Algonquin
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 245
Routes 837
Photos 12,272
Trips 4,939 map ( 25,209 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, May, Sep, Oct → 10 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:15am - 6:30pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2012 Gladiator Fire37.9 mi*
🔥 2008 Lane 2 Fire27.4 mi*
🔥 View All over Official Route 🔥
*perimeter length in miles

Mean Fall
by joebartels

Likely In-Season!
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This hidden waterfall oasis is located on the eastern slopes of the Bradshaw Mountains. The Bradshaw mountain range keeps Prescott from becoming a suburb of Phoenix. The Big Dipper is worthy of a visit.

I would not recommend this hike if your dog has no off-trail experience or quickly gets into trouble spots. The trail leading in has cacti near and dear.

The trail heading down from the road is the Algonquin Trail #225. Little time is wasted heading straight down into the canyon below. The steepest sections are near the top. Soon after, the trail eases into long lazy switchbacks. It's about a mile and a quarter to Poland Creek. #225 continues to Horsethief Basin.

Sun exposure turned out to be more of a concern than the steep grade. The trail is slightly overgrown in the lower sections. It seemed dry in March after an extremely wet winter. I can only imagine how dry it is in the summer. Get off the trail when it reaches the creek. Head downstream to the left. It's four-tenths of a mile to the Big Dipper. Along the way, you'll pass several lovely cascades and pools.

From what I read, the Big Dipper was merely a few hundred yards down from Hells Hole. I'm not sure where Hells Hole is... I came to a stretch of wall to wall water that I estimated to be at least 30 yards long. The walls are incredibly steep on either side. At the tail end of March, the water was too cold for swimming. The Big Dipper came at a price. I'm not sure if the water was higher than usual.

Nevertheless, I climbed up the right wall and worked my way over. It appeared several others had taken this route. It's steep with prickly bushes and thick shrubbery.

Coming down on the other end, it's only a short hop and a skip to the Big Dipper. It is a truly remarkable sight to see. I was dreading the scramble back and found it hard to relax. If you plan on swimming below, take a good rope as I didn't notice a route to the bottom. Then again, I didn't look much either.

I started hiking at 11:15 am. It took two hours to reach the Big Dipper taking numerous photos along the way. It was an hour and a half back to the trailhead. I was exhausted most of the return trip. A fall on the rocks earlier may have contributed. It seems like this would be a better hike if the water were warmer. Swimming the pools would save time and energy. On the other hand, it's one hot climb back up to the trailhead. Shade does favor this area in the afternoon as it is on the eastern side of the mountain.

Either I was a big wuss or the creek has filled in with sediment from fires. Getting to the Big Dipper without the wall to wall water is reported more common now.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2001-04-22 joebartels
    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 $$

    Prescott Forest
    Prescott National Forest Pass

    Only trailheads with six "amenities" have fees. Amenities are picnic tables, trash, toilet, parking, interpretive signing and security.

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    READ CAREFULLY :: Take 1-17 north out of Phoenix. Pass Black Canyon City up to the Bumble Bee Exit just after mile marker 248(exit at the bumble bee exit and go left or west). Follow FR259 25.3 miles to the turnout on the left(anonymous adds FR259 is not marked, at all. Once you turn off I-17 you are on FR 259). The turnout is located between mile markers 24 & 25. Closer to 25(25 is visible from the turnout according to anonymous). There's room for a half dozen cars. There is no visible trail signage. Look over the edge, and you'll see the trail heading down. Trail signs are within the first quarter mile or so of the hike.
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