Fairly level hiking opportunities
As the sprawling metro area of Phoenix grows it becomes more and more important to be sure that areas are set aside for parks and recreational areas. The new building is astounding in the southeast area near Queen Creek. There now is a San Tan Mountain Regional Park This park is actually in Pinal County but is under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County Parks simply because Pinal County has not had the population to provide a tax base for park improvements. For many years this park area has had many horse trails, jeep roads and unimproved trail routes. The park lies just northeast of the large Gila Indian reservation. Much of the western area of the San Tan mountains is in the reservation and permission is required to hike in that area. However the actual park area has been set aside for future development. Due to the 2 county involvement and the lack of funds (not surprising), delays in the planning and park work have slowed its development. The history of the area is really the Gila Indians area before this was designated as a city park.
Dan and I have been interested in this park with its mountains to the southeast of the valley so we ventured there to scope out the area and see what progress has been made and what to expect. In the past 2 years they have built a park office with an entrance lot and have an entry fee. I am sure this will help the park improvements over time.
(Note: the trails and park have been completed as of '09) The final trail plan map shows about 15 miles of trails that cris cross the park. Only about 3 miles is clearly marked with posts but the trails have not been named and go by only "A" and "B". Several trail routes are marked with small blue flags and they basically follow jeep roads. We went directly south from the trailhead office and followed blue flags. This led us slightly up to a saddle where the entire San Tan range opened up with peaks and several cliffs... quite impressive but all in the Gila Reservation. Since we were at the park south end we turned around and basically bushwhacked our way back to the park entrance area, finding some trail markers once in awhile, where we did the "A" and "B" marked loop of about 3 miles that went west and then north, finally east along the base of Goldmine Mountain back to the trailhead. Once you get away from the trailhead view there is lots of wilderness, many trees and lots of desert foliage. Our total hike was about 8 miles according to my GPS. I was told that next month additional trail marking and route establishment would be done. They also are planning a camping area and picnic area near the trailhead. The pay station has park maps.
On the north side of the park there are several trail/roads that go up into the Goldmine mountains and we plan to go do that at a later time. I would say that this park provides lots of fairly level hiking opportunities for the casual hiker. You can hike quite a few miles without much climbing... rather like a "walk in the park" as opposed to the rugged climbs and steep trails in the Superstitions.
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.