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The Best Hikes in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge USFWS

128 Triplog Reviews in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge USFWS
Most recent of 70 deeper Triplog Reviews
5.43 mi • 2,816 ft aeg
Signal Ten Ewe
Finally made it out to Kofa. A 94 GMC 2500 made it out to the trailhead with street tires. It was a little sandy in spots. Took things real slow for the first mile to soak up all the new views. We decided to hit Ten Ewe first and then popped over to Signal after that with a bonus excursion to check out some solar panels.

Kofa reminds me of the Superstitions but it doesn't have the Superstitions vibe where you feel like everything is trying to kill you.

We saw five Bighorn Sheep. Fantastic day.
9.49 mi • 2,650 ft aeg
Short on options and time, I settled in at a camp just up the road from last year's site, to hike this the next day. Nice views of Castle Dome at sunset from my spot. I then parked just out of the canyon/ wash at a spot I hiked to last year, adding in the same road stats of 5 mile and 600' AEG. Somehow, I found the road to be in excellent shape, way better than anything else out here, and improved from last year. No large boulders, and I could have and should have driven up except for the added excercise, which I liked and wanted.

Much nicer this year, but time strapped. Warm, pleasant, and not windy. Skipped 10 Ewe, but that wasn't so great. Had a good time. This wasn't on my radar, but I was able to warm up for it, and was really happy I hiked it, as it sure is neat to observe from lots of places, including miles and miles away on I-8 just west of Gila Bend.
20 mi • 0 ft aeg
My plan was to drive to hike Thumb Peak this day and Castle Dome after on Thursday. I figured I could make the trailhead as I watched parts of a youtube video of the drive which seemed to show the road to be decent enough for my Outback. It took me 75 minutes to drive that 10 miles, and I was getting sick of the road. When got to the 10 miles in "technical" section, I got out to examine the road. Maybe I could get down safely, maybe not, but up and out was what I was really concerned with, also, a short section in the lower part of the gully was concerning, too. I could have road walked if it was a great hike, but it was already late enough in the day that walking for 2(?)+ hours to complete the last 5 miles of road would have prevented me from completing the hike and then setting up camp. It wasn't worth it.

I will say that I am still interested in this hike, even if I took it off my wish list. So, if you read this and are planning a trip with a sufficient vehicle to access it, and you want me to join you, I would be interested. I'm sure there with be a lot of takers.

So, with Thumb out of the question for me, I decided to head for my main event, a repeat of Castle Dome. Castle Dome was actually what got me to want to drive out here, as I love that hike, the summit, and the views. It always feels much higher than it is, and the last few hundred feet are a lot of fun. Well, I didn't get any further than the Museum, as the road which was always gated at both ends, is now pad-locked and closed to the public. It wasn't in December, per another hiker I met, but it is now, and there are signs showing this at the KOFA entry kiosk. Too bad.

There is an alternative, but that takes a lot of time, and is reported to be very rough. Lacking options and short on time, I opted to head to Signal Peak, and enjoyed a repeat of that hike.
5.35 mi • 2,974 ft aeg
Signal TeN EWe
I had an in town commitment that required me to choose a short hike. This pair is always a winner.

My plan was to explore a potential NEW ascent route of Ten Ewe from the "ramp" that climbs the southwest face. I'd read online somewhere that somebody had gone that way before and I'd never really considered it. The satellite photo makes it look like you could drive your Jeep up it if you had good enough tires. But photos can be deceiving.

Approaching it, I was pretty leery as the slope looked very narrow and steeply angled to the very exposed abyss below. Once there though, I was able to find a reasonably safe route with minimal light climbing and not much brush. This approach is much more scenic than the chute on the north side and I'd recommend this route be part of a lasso loop to the peak for anybody hitting this one in the future.

I also established that traveling between Ten Ewe and Summit Peak would be possible, which might make for a fun day sometime.

The weather was a treat. It rained all day, and I enjoyed seeing this range under a cloud of gray and rain. Three times the rain came down heavy enough that I ducked into a cave for a few minutes to wait it out. It didn't seem cold, but it was only 55 at my truck when I finished, so it might have been in the upper 40s up top. There was a nice breeze to go along with the stinging drizzle.

Of course, it makes no sense to be that close to a county high point and not actually hit it, so I made sure to bag Signal Peak too. 😉

A fantastic day all around!
9 mi • 1,119 ft aeg
Tunnel Mine Canyon & Skull Rock
As usual when heading west, my wife & I took US-60 rather than traffic-choked I-10. It took our SUV 30 minutes to drive the dirt road from US-95 to the trailhead at the foot of Kofa Queen Canyon. Don’t try it in a car.

To get to the mouth of Tunnel Mine Canyon, aim between the lonely mountain and the main slope of the Kofa Mountains. The hike north from the trailhead crossed a dozen washes. They were not deep, but they had steep, slippery sides. In between the washes, I navigated a cholla forest. Negotiating the cholla was not difficult, but avoiding the numerous cholla balls on the ground was. I managed not to kick any up on to my calf. 👍

Tunnel Mine Canyon is easy travel. There’s fewer cholla, and more ocotillo and normal Sonoran Desert shrubbery. Still, I managed to bash my ankle really good on a rock. It still stings in the shower days later.

The Kofa Mountains are never ending amazing rock formations, natural arches and holes-in-rock. I stopped often just to take in the view. (And look for big horn.) 😲

A couple of miles up Tunnel Mine Canyon, the topo indicates a prospect. I could not see any signs of it on sat view, nor did I find much when I was on the actual ground. All I found was a brown beer bottle of indeterminate brand, a rusted out 5-gallon can, a glass jar and a couple small sheets of corrugated metal. I think the prospect may have been Tunnel Mine, as I otherwise could not find Tunnel Mine on the topo. Considering it was in a wash, it must have been a placer mine.

As I was filming the prospect area, I heard brush bashing. I turned to see another hiker a few yards away. A serious hiker, with a big pack and nice gear, not a rag bag like me, or a mineral hunting retiree from Quartzsite. He said he camped the night before on Signal Peak. Or was it Summit Peak? Either way, a good haul from where we bumped into each other. That was quite the surprise. I don’t meet too many people in the middle of nowhere.

Even miles up Tunnel Mine Canyon, its slope is gradual, the wash is wide, and travel remains easy. At 4.4 total miles, I turned up an unnamed side wash with a cairned entrance.

The unnamed wash was narrow, with more brush, but still not difficult or stabby. I’ve been in worse. Much worse: [ photoset ]

Halfway up the unnamed wash is a mine shaft. It is marked on the topo and visible on sat view. Washes often have downslope mine garbage, “artifacts” if you will, but I found nothing. I was hoping the topo was mislabelled and the adit lead to a horizontal tunnel, but it was indeed a vertical shaft. There was no sign of a head frame, or any support at all, which was surprising given how loose and crumbly the ground was. I low-crawled as close to the edge as I could without falling in, but could not see far down. A selfie stick would have been useful, and not to take “I love me!” video.

From the saddle above the mine shaft, there was an awesome view down to Kofa Queen Canyon. The wash is brushy and rocky, so I mostly side sloped on big horn trails. I got stabbed once by one of those caltrop-shaped cholla spikes. Weird, because I felt it, but did not see it. I eventually found the caltrop up my pants leg.

Cereus Tank is near the bottom of the wash. Cereus is formed by a cement check dam, with pipes out of the base. At first I thought the tank was totally dry, but there was a small alcove with a foot or two of water. On sat view, I had seen something on the bluff above the Cereus Tank. I thought maybe the object was a rain apron, but in fact it is a camouflage net. It sure seemed like a hunting blind, as it has perfect line of site on Cereus Tank. (Which I believe is illegal.) Then I thought maybe it might be a big horn study hide. Either way, I am reporting it:

Almost down to Kofa Queen Canyon, I noticed a silver bucket on a post, just up slope a bit. No idea what it was. Near the post was a massive, free-standing, boulder, probably 80 ft. wide and 120 ft. tall, with a crawl space underneath. I thought it might be the back side of Skull Rock, so in I crawled. On the other side were some friendly Canadian folks who had rode ATVs in from Quartzsite. They pointed me in the correct direction.

Skull Rock was the next boulder over, and indeed it looks like a skull, with two eyes and a mouth. The mouth is actually large enough to camp in, with a fire. Half buried in the sand like that, it looked like a place Long John Silver would hide his pirate treasure.

It was 3:00 p.m. and Kofa Queen Canyon was already deep in shade as I walked the final 2.3 miles down the road to the trailhead.

Too late to also stop by Palm Canyon, my wife & I drove south a few miles to the Stone Cabin snack stand, which has … had … the best date shakes in Arizona. The snack stand is gone! 😳

There was nothing left of the snack stand other than the Stone Cabin and a few decrepit outhouses, as if the Grinch had looted Whoville, not even leaving a can of Who hash. (An agent at the Border Patrol checkpoint said the snack stand was not set up at all last fall like it used to be, so it must be permanently closed.) 😥

After a late dinner in Wickenburg, we finally got home at 9:00 p.m. and immediately went to sleep. In my case, stink & all.

Hike Video: https://vimeo.com/478047031
Drive Video: https://vimeo.com/478047158

Wildflowers
I saw one blooming plant, in Tunnel Mine Canyon.
9.95 mi • 2,465 ft aeg
Kofa Exploring
It's the Kofa time of year, and there were a few new places I wanted to check out while introducing 9L to some gems that he hadn't been to before.

Managed to hit High Tanks 7, 8, and 9. All had water, but were lower than last year. Which was a little strange because last week's rain left no shortage of pools and pockets of water anywhere there was bedrock. Tunnel Spring was full as normal, and the rope in similar condition to the past few visits. Tunnel Spring Canyon is really picturesque.

Towhee Canyon is a gem. It also had less water than last year, but still ample pools at Cripple and the narrows.

Next, decided to find out if there was water at Budweiser Spring. Indeed there was. There's no distinct spring, and barely any flow at all, but enough for their to be moisture in the canyon that fills the bedrock pools. This "flow" is likely overwhelmed by evaporation during warmer months and a higher angle of sunshine.

There was also a great view of the pathetically named "natural arch" and an old rock wall that I think is more likely to be related to mining than to habitation.

We explored a very cool narrow slot off Burro Canyon in hopes of finding water. We didn't, but I was surprised to be able to make it through. There were a few obstacles along the way, but I was able to get past all of them. This was a real surprise.

De La Osa well has an unusual wooden screened structure, exactly like one below Tunnel Spring. I have no idea what it was used for. De La Osa Falls were not running.

9 mi • 3,250 ft aeg
I drove out Friday and camped to give myself more time for this hike, and that was a smart choice given how long the drive takes. I probably could have made it all the way to the TH, but meeting a vehicle going down wash I opted to back up and park in a side spot to let them pass. I then decided that since I might be able to hike as fast as I could drive, and there were some large boulder in the next stretch, I would just park and walk. I was 1.5 miles from the TH according to Todd's mileage in the directions, and my car odometer. After the next section it was really smooth, but I liked the walk. Lots of poppies, too.

Maybe I was tired, or who knows what, but I was surprised that walking down wash I somehow chose the wrong two-track, which seemed impossible, but I ended up going a mile down wash from my car (per my odometer driving out) before I realized I was way past my parking area. I turned back, and found my car easier going up canyon. This error, when added to Ten Ewe's additional stats gives me 5 miles more and 600 additional feet. Except that brush in the wash hid my car, I couldn't believe I did that.

The hike is pretty enjoyable with a well worn trail right now, all the way to the summit of Signal. Clearly, the county high point status must draw them out. No one seems to do Ten Ewe, as that was rougher and there was no obvious trail. I made a nice large cairn in the gully below the tight squeeze. Views were not as good as last time on Castle Dome, low level haze from the breeze may have been to blame. It was cooler or cold, too. Only in the mid-70s in the canyon, so colder on top. Unlike on CD, there was a stiff breeze, too.

This hike feels far different than Castle Dome. I felt like I was in the western Superstitions, but with fewer people. The canyon live oaks in the upper canyon add a feel that is not western desert, in mind. Also, I saw a lot of people camping out here, some ATVers in the canyon, and 2 people coming down from the summit. The massif is really impressive coming in from the north, and it photographs well. However, I think Todd's group hikes account for the greater number of logs for this hike, compared to Castle Dome.

So far, given my December trip, my last trip, and this one, I confirmed that I like the KofA best when hotter, as in the low 90s. Fewer people, and more pleasant for me.

Wildflowers
Poppies and lupines, and lots of colors with no crowds!
15 mi • 5,000 ft aeg
KOFA sampler
Started with an early morning ascent of excellent Castle Dome Peak on a very well-cairned and established route that's better than a lot of official trails I've been on, with some fun scrambling and 3rd class near the top. Then Palm Canyon, short and interesting. Then Signal Peak, another good climb to a big summit, also follows a well-established route.

Visited Castle Dome Mining Museum the previous day, its well worth the $10 and a couple of hours.
10.85 mi • 1,930 ft aeg
Tunnel Spring Cyn / Towhee Loop
I've been eyeing the northern Kofa for a while now, wanting to get out of starting from Kofa Queen Canyon. The High Tank Nine area looked good and I was able to pencil in a loop using Tunnel Mine Canyon, a little bit of Burro Canyon road walking and the rugged, narrow, Towhee Canyon (we made that name up -- as with many features out here, there are no names on the map).

The wide canyon bottoms are easy to traverse. We were happy to find good trail in the drainage south of High Tank Six, between Tunnel Mine Spring and the road east of De La Osa Well, from Burro Canyon to High Tank Seven, and a reasonable route on the bypass from Towhee Tank to the opening of the canyon. The rest was relatively open with plenty of dodging prickly things.

Despite the storms over the weekend elsewhere, it did not rain in the Kofa. There was plenty of water in the bedrock canyons however. Normal rainfall in December is 0.5-1" and December 2016 received 1-2" by radar estimates, so it may be wetter this year than others. The last rain was two weeks prior, on January 1 with approximately half an inch. Spring wildflowers here may be good this year.
8.24 mi • 2,118 ft aeg
The Kofas are a long drive from the valley (but not as long as most people seem to think), and a day trip is best served by a few more miles than one of the many excellent peaks. Of course, an overnight makes it even better!

Kofa Butte isn't too long of a hike mileage wise, so I put together a route for some more exploring in the area. We ended up taking more mileage than expected to get up and down the butte, and decided to eliminate TWO separate options resulting in a fairly short day. But I'd like to explore more out in this part of the range. Some of these canyons are really special.

We started at the wilderness boundary at the end of Yaqui Wash and headed east around the north side of butte, having read that the only possible approach is from the east side somewhere. This was a bit of a butt-kicker. I usually prefer to go straight up or down a slope rather than fight against the fall-line. We found a good break and traversed some more before having to scramble a bit to get up on the plateau. From there we took the leisurely route, circumnavigating almost the entire plateau. The views are great and those walls are vertical and very high up!

When we finally pushed for the summit, we realized there were two options, and the topo map is totally inaccurate. But we got to explore the top for a while. The southern end is the high point and there's a very impressive summit cairn there. Barbara Lilley and friends placed the register in 1982, and it has received far fewer than one entry per year. We were the first in two years.

On the way down we tried to find another route, but for fear of cliffing out, we cut down not far from where we had come up. As we hiked the flatlands below, it was apparent that there was a good break and route on the east/southeast just below the cliff (see my photos).

We got down to Moonshine Gulch and headed for Kofa Dam, which is a fascinating structure. I would have loved to see the "lake" filled up behind it! From there we headed downstream back toward the truck. The canyon narrowed and got rough, and we had to bypass a huge 50+ foot dryfall. I don't think water runs here very often, but that one would be amazing to see.
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