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The Best Hikes in Castle Creek Wilderness

200 Triplog Reviews in the Castle Creek Wilderness
Most recent of 94 deeper Triplog Reviews
10 mi • 3,000 ft aeg
Algonquin - Horsethief out and back
First off - to the person or persons who have traveled this trail in the past few months- THANK YOU for cutting back the catclaw and manzanita ! What a difference. First Bradshaw hike I've done where I did not come out ripped to shreds!

We had 10 people. 3 dogs. Perfect day - 70s and breezy. I read the beta for this hike was not sure what to expect. We are all seasoned Grand Canyon hikers and have put on a lot of elevation gain per year. Trail conditions were good - some minor bushwhacking and route finding in the Horsethief creek - but overall pretty easy. We started off on Algonquin and made it all the way down into the creek bed very quickly, passing the mine and a couple of old buildings. Beautiful trail so far & the dogs loved the water! We then made our way to the intersection of Horsethief basin trail - we are about 2.5 miles in. This trail cuts in and takes off toward horsethief basin. There is a sign. This is where it gets real. Roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles. The beginning was gradual and that soon yielded to a steep rocky grade. Overall it was not bad - we plowed through that in short order and were on the snow-covered summit adjacent to the trail.

We made a quick fuel and pee stop, sat in awe of the view, threw a few snowballs with the dogs, and then reversed direction and headed back. Not surprisingly, the downhill was quick. We stopped at another waterfall for lunch, and then headed back through the creek, and. back toward Algonquin Tr. Once we connected with Algonquin Tr, the ascent started almost immediately. The ascent up was not bad, we were blessed by a nice breeze it kept us cool. Most of us wore long pants because we heard about the brush, but that was mostly gone. I was worried that I'd overheat but the breeze saved us. It was roughly 70 degrees with a 15 mph breeze.

If you are considering bringing your dog - our Aussie LOVED it - and had a blast but she is a highly experienced trail dog with lots of miles every week (i..e her paws can handle it). We had two other dogs with us that were not as experienced - another Aussie and a rescue rez dog Aussie mix. The too did great but the young Aussie was sore at the end of the hike. Use your best judgement - there is water - but the trail is rough and rocky in a lot of places. I would not take a dog on this hike if the temp went above 80. While the air may be 80, the ground is MUCH warmer in the sun and since a dog cools themselves through breathing and their paws they will overheat.

Overall this was an amazing hike and amazing day with dogs and friends. We stopped for some cold beer at the Cleator Bar & Yacht Club after and enjoyed a big crowd without the idiotic face diapers and people paranoid over dying from the flu. It was a great day to be in the Bradshaws !
12.95 mi • 2,553 ft aeg
Have always wanted to meet the coder that created this site. Saw Joe's wish list post and said I'm in. There has to be an easier way to meet Joe than lopping your way thru catclaw? :? My longest hike before this was 12 Miles to Reavis Falls and back. Needless to say I'm feeling it some today :lol: . Was worth every mile getting to know an amazing hiker and fellow coder :app:
12.53 mi • 3,377 ft aeg
Twin Peaks #240 - Castle Creek #239 Loop
Bruce and Joe let me join them on this hike. It's been years since I've been in the area. Many fond memories with the family camping. Cool area with awesome views. Throw in great weather and great company and how could you go wrong. The start has a stand of Manzanita trees that rival the ones on telephone trail in the Pinals before the fire. The trail is great in this area. After that not so much. It was more like a cairned route. Kudos to Joe and Bruce for keeping us on "trail" :app: . As my skepticism would set in we would come across a trail sign :o . The rolling hill, boulders, and grassland were pleasant to the eye. A shame the trail is in need of almost a full retread. The only drawback on the hike was the CATCLAW. I've seen thicker taller catclaw on Halfmoon trail in the Mazatzals but not for this many miles. After awhile you started getting hit in the same sore spot over and over. I apologize to Bruce and Joe as this had a severe affect on my disposition. I'm not usually one to throw out vocabulary words of that nature but gosh darn that catclaw. Well we survived and Bruce got us home safely with an awesome sunset on the way. :y:
12.53 mi • 3,377 ft aeg
Twin Peaks #240 - Castle Creek #239 Loop
Last did this loop in June of 2010. While the area and views are killer, so was the catclaw. Blood letting in earlier days was thought to cure ills. I wasn't sick, I vowed this to be a one and done.

Turns out, I am sick, mentally (I know , no secret there). Joe suggested this late in the week and there had been rumors that some work had been done to the trail. My answer, lets give it a try....

The sleepy Turtle Joined us with and we started up top, clockwise, at the Twin Peaks #240 intersection with Castle Creek #239. 1.6 miles and 450' of gain and we were at our high point for the day. Trail's still good.

We start the drop to the lower intersection with Castle Creek #239. Through the 4.5 mile mark, there was evidence of trail work sometime in the last 8 years. It was cleared 8' wide in spots. The views are sweet. [ youtube video ]

At the 4.5 mile marker, it looks like they gave up. This was the start of the catclaw in earnest. [ photo ] and the catclaw basically went on for the rest of the hike. At a break, I strapped on the gaiters. This saved my ankles and shins for the rest of the day, but my arms and especially thighs fertilized the catclaw with life giving blood.

Joe and I both remembered the Castle Creek #240 trail "Not that bad". Should have said "Not as Bad". There was more catclaw than I remembered and the trail was only distinguished by cairn hunting. If you haven't seen one in awhile, you are off trail. The truck was a welcome sight

I will need photographic evidence of trail clearing, before trying this one again.

12.47 mi • 3,374 ft aeg
Twin Peaks #240 - Castle Creek #239 Loop
Twin Peaks Trail #240
Upper 2 miles are fantastic. Thru mile 4 is decent trail with outstanding views. The bottom 4 miles is the current worst catclaw massacre search and find trail(cough) in Arizona I'm aware exists.

Castle Creek Trail #239
In 2010 & 2013 this trail was cleared just enough to make it enjoyable. Now it is a route finding hunt with lots of unpleasant catclaw and some shrub. Not a nightmare like #240, still too much pain for most. The upper most 0.25 mile is pure heaven with a great trail winding through tall skinny pines.

Friends don't let friends hike these two trails. Yet alone suggest and pressure those working Friday night shifts with phrases like come on man, bros before pillows...gasp

Twin Peaks was my second worst catclaw story for 8 years. Sandals through pre groomed [ Half Moon Trail #288 ] was the first. I was blind. Unprepared is not a parallel comparison. #240 wins the honors. I never want to experience it again... until the next time
6.39 mi • 1,200 ft aeg
Finally made it to the "Big Dipper". I had tried to do this hike last year, but the water was flowing so strongly I ended up staying on the Algonquin.. I came up last month with the intention of doing this hike and got so caught up in trail maintenance that I never even made it to the river. Today, with the trail being clear, (to the river - though I will admit that I was disappointed to see that I had missed some patches of cat's claw from my previous visit), I had no problem making my way to the Big Dipper. The river bed was dry with only a couple of isolated pools to be seen. So I was able to hike the entire length without having to deal with any of the vegetation that boardered the banks. As I was hiking though, I was eye-balling the banks and I "think" the northern face would offer an easier route to the Dipper if the wash was flowing and you were trying to skirt the water. This lack of water is a stark contrast from what I encountered last March. In the write up Joe mentions a "Hell's Hole" in the area. Not sure exactly what that is referring to, but now would be an ideal time to try to identify that area, since there is no water to compete with. I took a couple of pictures of the pool at the base of the fall and headed back. Looked like there was a very slow seep just prior to the fall - so slow I couldn't see the water moving, but rocks were wet that I wouldn't expect to be wet.
Instead of heading back to the vehicle I continued on the Algonquin and worked on cutting back some of the encroaching vegetation. (I had hiked this flat section to the cabin back in 2016 and I "remember " it as being a fairly clean hike. Based on how bad it has gotten since then, I'm thinking someone must have been doing some maintenance prior to that visit). I didn't spend too much or get very far, but I was aggressive in the the sections that I cleared. Hopefully that will keep the trail clear for that much longer. Plan on coming back up after some decent rain or snow?? and seeing the Big Dipper in action. Saw 2 deer on the way out which was a pleasant surprise. Otherwise, I had the trail to myself ( though there were couple of vehicles at the TH taking pictures). Looked as if Crown King was going to be busy today. Passed at least 20 vehicles heading up, as I was heading out.
2.7 mi • 0 ft aeg
Drove up with the thought of visiting the Big Dipper, but got side tracked with my war on Cat's Claw : rambo : About 2 years ago I had done some "pruning" on the first .5 miles of the trail. Today I got down to the first river crossing (almost), about 1.35 miles in. The first .5 miles still looked pretty good, though there are patches of "Cats" that are starting to "Claw" there way back on the trail. My thought was to touch this up on my way but by the time I turned back my hands were so sore and blistery that I didn't have the motivation to do the trimming that I had planned on. That being said, the trail down to the first river crossing (today it was a dry river bed crossing) is fairly clean. Encountered one family that had hiked down hoping to see some water. No luck :( Hope to return in the near future to enjoy some of the fruits of my labor...and maybe do some more trimming along the way.
3.7 mi • 1,200 ft aeg
Definitely avoid this trail at all costs. The overgrowth of thorned bushes is numerous and the sheer amount of bees and wasps is alarming. On top of it all, while mentioned that the waterfall is perennial, that is not so. All the way down with cuts all over and not a single source of water was a joke. Even if there was a waterfall present, I would avoid this trail. Side note: getting to the trailhead is a pretty solid 26 mike treck with a lot of blind turns and crazy drivers so be careful. I even watched one Jeep almost take out a cow crossing the path.
2.64 mi • 651 ft aeg
Headed up to Crown King for the pines and ambience. Continued past on the increasingly bad roads toward the East Fort trailhead. We stopped a little short of the trailhead just to quit riding and start walking. My companions were not at all happy with that rough road but it is Subaruable; the ride takes about 45min beyond Crown King.

Short walk to the fort which is a really cool with preserved walls and a great view from the top of the Bradshaws. Brought along Charlie, my son's new dog from the pound that he picked up the day before. He did fine.

Downtown Crown King was crowded with an auction going on or something. So we went across the road to The Mill for a nice lunch and the most hummingbirds I've ever seen.
6.88 mi • 1,653 ft aeg
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
Third time back in as many years to Horsethief Basin. The views are spectacular, I get to use my Jeep for what it is intended, lunch at the Mill afterwards, and fudge from the Crown King General Store; it is the quadfecta hike trip!

Gathered up my hiking harem at the McDonalds at I-17 and Carefree highway for the 2 hour drive up to Horsethief basin. I originally planned this as a beat the heat of Spring hike, but a cold front set our trailhead temp between 37 and 40 degrees. Luckily, we were prepped for the cool start.

The road up to Crown King is bladed and graded and high speed in the Jeep. The initial part of the road from Crown King to Horsethief Basin has recently been graded and is nice and smooth. It doesn't last long until you're bouncing your way through rocks and ruts on your way to the Recreation Area and toward the Fire Tower Lookout. If you leave Phoenix early enough, you will have little to no traffic to contend with on your way up the hill.

There's room for 2 cars on FS52 at the trailhead for East Fort Trail #31. We decided to do something different this year. We started our day with a hike up FS52 to the Horsethief Lookout Tower. The attendant passed us in his Suzuki Samurai on the way up, but was in no hurry to climb up the expanded metal steps and open the tower for visitors. That's OK, we were anxious to get on the trail and get out of the chilly early morning winds.

I was looking forward to Coal Camp Spring Trail #203 as it would cut some roadwork out of this already jeep road heavy loop. To quote The Eagle from his 2012 triplog, "Coal Camp #203 to Jim Creek #235 - Nice little Connector to both Willow Springs and Jim Creek TH's from the Lookout. Route not bad, GPS Track helpful" and Hansenaz from 2016, "After the overlook I needed some IT help. (Invisible Trail) But not too dense and easy enough to keep heading the right way. This whole area has burned and though it's much more green than black these days I think the net effect is that some old roads have disappeared. Eventually I hit a Jeep Rd / ATV track and took that to South Fort." From the lookout tower, there's a sign and the trail starts nice enough with some deadfall and wild flowers (weeds), but the footpath is easy enough to follow. The romance with #203 didn't last long though and we found ourselves searching for the path of least resistance through the dense fields of cat claw. Undeterred, we pushed through the pain for a little over a mile before coming out on the road to Jim Creek Trail and ultimately, South Fort Ruins.

It was a nice reprieve to be out of the cat claw and picking up the pace down the road. We were rewarded with beautiful purple snapdragons lining the roadway. For as windy as it has been over the past week, we were afforded great views south over Lake Pleasant, Cardinals Stadium, and South Mountain.

Coming back down from South Fort and heading north on FS696 toward Willow Springs trail saved us the brutal ascent up the fire cut doing the loop in the opposite direction as we had done in the past. There were a couple of slips and falls as we dropped off the hill but no injuries were sustained.

reaching the bottom of the hill we turned right on East Fort Trail #31. Nature has started reclaiming this trail at spots and despite having been on the trail twice before, there was a couple of sections that left scratching our heads for a moment. The snow capped San Francisco peaks were visible to the north and blooming hedgehog cactus were littered throughout the ruins. After enjoying some caffeinated jelly beans and relaxing on the warm rocks, we made our way back up to the jeep.

On the way back out, we stopped and took in the sites around Horsethief lake and then down into Crown King for a delicious lunch at the Mill and a round of fudge at the Crown King General Store.

What a wonderful day only 75 miles from Phoenix.

Snapdragons abound!

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