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Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake, AZ

no permit
203 19 1
Guide 19 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Mesa NE
2.9 of 5 by 9
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 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 7.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,295 feet
Elevation Gain -743 feet
Accumulated Gain 910 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4-6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 11.75
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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7  2016-12-17 arizona_water
21  2016-12-03
2  2016-08-19 RickVincent
5  2014-09-21 gummo
10  2014-03-02 RickVincent
3  2013-11-24 RickVincent
4  2013-11-17 RickVincent
7  2012-12-04 AZLumberjack
Page 1,  2
Author AZLOT69
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 247
Photos 7,293
Trips 1,818 map ( 15,596 miles )
Age 68 Male Gender
Location Gold Canyon, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr → 7 AM
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:10am - 6:30pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Cruzin A Canyon
by AZLOT69

Willow Creek is one of four major North-South drainages that pass thru the Goldfield Mountains on the way to the Salt River and Saguaro Lake. It originates in the area of Little Four Peaks, then crosses to the west under Highway 88 near Apache Gap and parallels Highway 88 on its west northwest side.

This hike is not for beginners. It is an off trail bushwhack for its entire length. It will test your route finding skills and sense of direction. Map and GPS reading skills are a plus. Flash flooding is also a concern. These dry washes and canyons can fill with water quickly and the water can be strong and violent. Evidence abounds that water at depths over ten feet deep have passed this way. Water will significantly add to the difficulty of this hike as the entire hike is in the waterway.

The hike can be accomplished in either direction but is described here from South to North. The trailhead is a paved pullout along Highway 88 at milepost 205.9 and is signed as scenic view. There are no facilities and the pullout will only hold about five vehicles. The trailhead provides the best single overview of the area you are about to enter with Four Peaks towering in the distance. Walk south along the shoulder of the road for about one hundred yards and look for the best place to enter the creek bed off to your right. Once in the creek bed turn right. The creek bed is slick rock and initially requires some light scrambling. Very quickly you will come to three drop offs of 30 feet, 40 feet, and another 40 feet, each with a swimming pond at its base. These are class three obstacles which would require rope skills if desired. The obstacles can be bypassed by going high right over the saddle then returning to the creek. Shortly thereafter you will come to another 30 foot spillover which is also class three. You can bypass this obstacle as well by going high left and then dropping back into the creek bed. Another major tributary enters from the right. This is a typical Goldfield hike with brilliantly lichen covered rocks all around. The creek becomes slick rock for a while then comes out of the canyon for a short time. Any road noise you may have heard is gone now as there is a canyon between you and the road. As remote as it feels, highway 88 is never far away off to your right. The creek bed eventually spreads out in a flat area and becomes chocked with vegetation. Bypass this on the left, staying out of the creek bed until it becomes more defined again just ahead then return to the creek. Generally there is a good animal trail to follow. The canyon walls increase again as you find your vision of the horizon limited. The canyon is twisting back and forth more often and you will come to a major set of drop offs. This is at about 2.37 miles. These are class three with swimmers at the bottom. These can be bypassed by retreating back up the canyon and taking the slick rock area up left. REMEMBER THIS WAS ACTUALLY ON YOUR RIGHT. Go up to the saddle, enjoy the view, then work your way back down to the creek bed. The creek bed stays well defined now as it meanders downstream. You ultimately arrive in an area of the canyon that seems to be boxing you in. Much darker rock towers on either side of the canyon. Huge boulders block progress which you can bypass up out of the creek bed on your left. Perseverance will get you to a nice if not narrow view of the Salt River. You can return the way you came or if you have made arrangements, retreat back upstream about an eighth of a mile and take the first up sloping canyon now on your left. This will take you out to the alternative North trailhead described below.

The North trailhead, N33 33.186 W111 27.054 is a parking area off of the driveway to the Mormon Flat Dam. This driveway is marked with a prominent mailbox at milepost 208.7 on Highway 88. Follow this driveway north one half mile to parking area on your left. Follow the canyon west from the south side of this parking area to Willow Creek. This hike can be accomplished in a variety of creative ways. Shuttle, self shuttle with a bicycle, key exchange, or out and back.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2010-10-09 AZLOT69
    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
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    I had a few hours set aside to hike on Saturday afternoon and I wanted to see if Friday's rains had created some surface flow in Willow Canyon. I think the name "Willow Creek" is just semantics. It's most always a dry canyon. So of course, there was not much surface water after the rain, but there were some small pools.

    I had hoped to start hiking from the gate to Mormon Flat Dam, but there was a group of people shooting at the ridgeline. This made me really uncomfortable, so I turned around and parked at the intersection of the SRP Dam road and highway 88. I expected to have to bushwhack my way into Willow, but after following a jeep trail I noticed a clear-cut track headed north towards the bottom of the canyon. There were cairns marking this path, once you walk a few hundred meters past the jeep road. This was a pleasant surprise, and made the descent to the wash very quick and easy. This route continues to follow the canyon bottom, skirting the sides of the dry creek bed and crossing it several times. The entire time I heard gunshots from up canyon. This no longer bothered me, but I definitely was paying attention to my surroundings. My goal now was to find a route down to the river. The last 200 meters of Willow descend steeply to the river and there are a few sketchy down climbs. On the HAZ description for this hike, I didn't see any photos taken from the banks of the river. Now I know why. The last few down climbs are very steep, and I decided it wasn't worth the effort. There are great views of the river here, though!

    On the return, I spent some considerable time trying to find an alternative route back around the cliff face of the river and hoped to meet up with the SRP road that way. This option quickly cliffs-out, and so then I tried to go up and over. This also proved to be too difficult (maybe if I hadn't sprained my ankle last week on a trail run :( ). I ended up walking back up Willow Canyon and exiting up the side canyon that leads directly to the SRP gate on the access road. Thankfully, the target practice party had ended and there was no one in sight. For some reason, I got this idea that I just had to see Mormon Flat Dam, so I walked through the open gate. But just as I passed by the NO TRESPASSING sign, an SRP truck drove around the corner and stopped me. Hmmm. Maybe some time in the future...

    Willow Canyon is great. And the cairned route is really easy to follow.
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    Wanted to check out the Goldfields Willow Creek so I threw a loop together that took us down the creek, across to the Horns of Dilemma, then back to the trailhead via Peak 2881. Not a bad loop if you enjoy canyon and off trail hiking. I wasn't sure what to expect from Willow Creek but we both really enjoyed it. The hiking was pretty easy and the routes around the 3 drop offs and the Narrows were straight forward, just remember right/right/left/right :) The hike across to the Horns was well marked where we had lunch. Now the tougher part of the hike started. We had hiked this 2 years ago which helped with the route finding. The cholla's were out in full force and both of us picked up several jumpers along the way. Luckily we both had long pants. The views on top of peak 2881 were fantastic. From the peak it was just a short way back to the Apache Gap TH. Great hike, great weather, solitude :y:

    My posted route is pretty good with the exception of the exit off peak 2881. We elected to drop off the south side which was pretty steep and loose. Best to back track down to the north and then take the route around the east side of the peak.
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    Again, not much of a hike...just scoping out the area. This time I drove further downstream and entered near the old corral which leads out towards a big waterfall. The waterfall was flowing, but not much beyond a trickle. I walked around up top then hiked down to the creek level and viewed the falls from below.
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    Wasn't sure where I wanted to go today. Jumped on the 88 and started driving. Decided to scout out this canyoneering hike I had heard about in the past. I hiked in pass the first 3 big drop-offs. I worked around most of them on the way down canyon, but found them quite easy to climb out of on the way back. Still, these climbs required some exposed moves, so caution and care should be exercised. I found myself traversing around the edges of pools to get to the pour-offs where I made my ascents. I imagine this wouldn't be quite as easy if water were flowing through here.

    Today I kept it short, only going in about 0.6 miles. Yet another hike that I can add to my hikes close to home list (30 minutes or less from house to trailhead).
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    I just got an OHV permit for the Bulldog Canyon area so I wanted to check it out a bit more. As I researched the area, I came across the Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake description written a couple of years ago by AZLOT69. As I read the well written hike, I was thinking that there may be a bit of exaggeration, but it sounded exciting so I drove out along the Apache Trail to check it out.

    I parked my truck at an old weathered corral (33deg 32.3913 by 111deg 27.1814) and followed a now closed 4WD trail down to a small wash (note: this is about at the half-way point of AZLOT69's hike description) Some debris on the brush in the wash indicated that there had been a good flow probably during the summer's monsoon season. This wash soon ended in a 30 foot, undercut, vertical washout that offered no direct way down. So I retraced my tracks and found a steep grade leading down to the main creek, now dry, where I could continue my hiking.

    The canyon was so narrow in places that if I extended my arms, I could touch both walls. Lots of boulders to scramble on/over/around and pools of water to avoid, and before long, I encountered another blockage. This impass was in the form of a deep pool surrounded by steep, slick rock walls and again no direct way through.

    OK.....AZLOT69 was accurate in his description, the hike does require a lot of up-and-around if you choose not to go the technical equipment route. I didn't have either the equipment or the time, so I returned to my truck. But this area looks like a lot of fun and I hope to return when I have the time to check it out further.
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    I saw only one diamondback rattlesnake on this hike, but last week on a previous hike close to this area, I saw 10 diamondbacks. I've noticed that a lot of the diamondbacks, and some of the desert black-tailed rattlesnakes, are thinner this year. Perhaps, the drought and higher winter temps are stressing them out. I haven't seen enough diamondbacks (I've seen roughly 25 this year) to suggest that there stress within the diamonback population. The one in the photoset looks thin to me and was not striking at all.
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    A very interesting hike would be an apt description for this day's trek. I have often been intrigued by the Goldfield Mountains but thought they were just running areas for ATV's and Jeeps, and as it turns out, I was right. But I parked my truck at the Weavers Needle Vista parking area along the Apache Trail just a short distance from First Water Road to explore the area.

    I got into my hiking gear, cleared the GPS and struck out, going North across Hwy 88 and into the dry wash. The immediate area was a series of horse trails, jeep/ATV tracks and some hikers boot prints. The wash was wide and ideal for walking with a mix of sand/gravel and stretches of solid rock. The Jeeps & ATV's seem to have little regard for the scenic area and are trying to climb every ledge and steep grade in sight (and it would only get worse further in) :gun: .

    I decided to stay off the trails and stay in the wash, which proved to be the exciting part of the hike. Soon I was in a very narrow canyon area which had a white solid rock base, cut deep in places by the erosion effects of the water. Holes in this rock were filled with standing water from the last rains but were useful as steps to descend to the lower levels. A length of Galvanized pipe ran for a long distance along the West side of the wash that at one time carried water to Tanks further down the wash.

    It wasn't long before the wash widened with a continuous sand/gravel base and a lot of dense green foliage dominated the sides. Further up, the mountains provided outstanding scenery with a lot of Saguaro and stands of Cholla dotting the sides. Slot canyons had been formed by the streams entering the wash and I investigated some of them and found them to be very interesting. One of these canyons had a drill rod stuck in the rock above a 15 foot falls.

    As I continued on, the jeep/ATV trail joined and left the wash at several places, so there was a lot of traffic that ran the wash rather than the trails. I was beginning to see more plastic water bottles, plastic ATV parts, even a rider's glove littered the wash. At one place I came across some doggie poo in a zip-lock baggie (When dog poo will dry up in a couple of Arizona days, why would someone put it into a zip-lock bag to preserve it for a thousand years?) :yuck: .

    I continued down the wash enjoying the quiet (the Jeeps & ATV's weren't running today) and the scenery. There were a lot of birds around and they seemed to pay little attention to my presence. At places the sides of the canyon closed in with cliffs towering high above making for some beautiful stretches of the hike. :)

    When my GPS told me I reached the 5 mile mark, I had now overlapped the Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake posted hike. Along the West side of the wash, another canyon was showing itself and looked pretty tempting, but I was running low on time and put this in my memory banks for a future hike (coordinates 33-deg 32.448, 111-deg 28.948). So I reluctantly made an about face and headed back up the wash. :-({|=

    When I got to the white rock area again, I had to climb up the rocks and in doing so, my new camera somehow slipped out if its bag and fell on the rocks, landing in the sand below. :o I can't repeat what I said then, :--: but after retrieving my camera, the lens cover had come off and the optional ND (neutral density) filter was cracked across its face ](*,) . Now I know why I bought a $25 screw in lens filter, that fracture could have been my $400 camera :doh: . Fortunately the camera still works and I was able to take some photos of fall foliage that still existed along the wash.

    So I had an interesting day and an almost expensive lesson, but there's still hope for the regions within the Goldfield Mountains, if you can find the remote trails where the ATV's can't travel. :y:
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    For me it felt great to be back with some desert hiking again after another long Phoenix area summer. This was my first time hiking in our Goldfield Mountains and this completely off-trail, route finding creek/canyon hike was a good choice. Thanks AZLOT69 for your recent default GPS Route to follow which makes this one way 4+ mile creek/canyon hike a much more pleasant journey.

    As my posted GPS Route and geocoded pic set shows, we elected to hike it as loop hike starting at the recommended "south" TH Parking off Hwy88 and continuing north to Willow Creek route end at the Saguaro Lake (Salt River Viewpoint), then a short one-eight mile backtracking to connect with an unnamed canyon drainage hiking east up this drainage to finally connect with the alternate "north" TH Parking at the Mormon Dam driveway/road. Then down this Morman Dam access road for .50mls to connect back with Hwy88 and then another 2.7mls up Hwy88 back to our "south" TH Parking Start.

    Now having hiked this 2.7 mile section via Hwy88 back to our TH Start, I would not recommend it due to just too many blind road corners for oncoming traffic with a serious lack of walkway median to safely hike on. As described in the hike description, the best options for hiking this route are: "Shuttle, self shuttle with a bicycle, key exchange, or out and back".
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    I was going to hike First Water this day, but SAR was searching for some missing hikers, so I tried Willow Creek. I never made it to lake. If it weren't for the rattlers, I would not have enjoyed this hike. It's too sandy and not too exciting. I might think differently if I didn't get lost and found the lake
    Willow Creek to Saguaro Lake
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    Felt like taking another trip to the Goldfield/Canyon Lake area. Parked at the Apache Gap turnout and dropped into Willow Creek and followed it thru a few sets of narrows all the way to the Salt River/Saguaro Lake. On the way back, I decided to save some time, so I hiked from the river up the first drainage from the east towards the dam service road. Hiked the dirt road to the highway and along the highway to the final bends just before Apache Gap. I avoided this narrow section of the highway by dropping into the valley/drainage and up the final section of Willow Creek back to Apache Gap. All in all, a moderately interesting canyon. If you just wanted to view this section of the river, you just take that service road to a turnout and hike out to a viewpoint (with much evidence of previous visits).

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    Take Highway 88, the Apache Trail, north of Apache Junction to the scenic pullout on the west side of the road at milepost 205.9. Park here or use the alternative trailhead described in the hike.
    page created by AZLOT69 on Oct 08 2010 7:58 am
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