Best Hikes in Tonto National Forest (AZ)


Located just north of Phoenix, Tonto National Forest in central Arizona is 5th largest national forest in the country. It is extremely diverse and its landscape ranges from the Saguaro cactus-heavy Sonoran Desert in the south to tall pine tree forests of the Mogollon Rim in the north. There are 8 wilderness areas within Tonto National Forest:

  • Four Peaks Wilderness
  • Hellsgate Wilderness
  • Mazatzal Wilderness
  • Pine Mountain Wilderness
  • Salome Wilderness
  • Salt River Canyon Wilderness
  • Sierra Ancha
  • Superstition Wilderness

In the winter, national and international visitors flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments of the Tonto’s lower elevations with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.

One fun bit of history with Tonto National Forest is the mystery of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. In the late 19th century, a German immigrant by the name of Jacob Waltz found a gold mine in the mountain range but soon after fell ill and died. He apparently gave clues to his caregiver but the treasure-trove was never found. Whereabouts unknown, many believe that it is hidden somewhere in the Superstition Mountains and a curse falls on those who go looking for it.



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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Tonto National Forest

  • Butcher Jones Trail #463 – 5.0 miles out and back
    • Unlike most of the hikes in Tonto National Forest, you’re sure to see water on this trail with gorgeous views of Saguaro Lake. Being so close to the lake, you can expect to be joined by several other hikers along the way.
  • Hieroglyphic Trail #101*** – 2.8 miles out and back
    • Easy trail that the whole family can do that will take you out in the Superstition Mountains to ancient petroglyphs.
  • Horton Creek Trail #285 – 7.0 miles out and back
    • This trail is a little further out from Phoenix than the rest; the trailhead sits close to the north boundary of Tonto National Forest. However, it is a nice change of pace from the other desert hikes as you stroll through tall pines.
  • Massacre Grounds Trail – 5.3 miles out and back
    • Pretty easy desert hike with classic views along the way. At the end of the 2.7 mile trail is a waterfall if there has been rainfall recently.
  • Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle*** – 4.5 miles out and back
    • Peralta Trail is very enjoyable and easy enough for the whole family to enjoy if they can manage a little bit of the uphill. At the overlook, you can enjoy an incredible view of Weavers Needle and Tonto National Forest in the distance. Weavers Needle Loop continues on in a 12.7 mile loop if you wish to continue for an extended hike.
  • Picketpost Mountain Trail – 4.2 miles out and back
    • Strenuous uphill trail that climbs 2,000’ in elevation to the top of Picketpost Mountain. Waiting for you at the top is a bench and mailbox to leave a message in! The elevation gain and difficulty locating the trail make this one for serious only.
  • Siphon Draw Trail #53 to The Flatiron*** – 4.8 miles out and back
    • Difficult hike that is not easy to navigate but the reward is incredible. After the first 1.5 miles, you’ll start scrambling up the rocky Siphon’s Draw until you reach the tip of Flatiron which offers views over Apache Junction Valley and Tonto National Forest from the edge of a 5000’ cliff. Note: the trail is not maintained past a certain point so you’ll need to know where you are going!
  • Treasure Loop Trail #56 – 2.4 mile loop
    • This is a short and relatively flat trail that is perfect for a family hike. There are great views and great rock formations along the way.
  • Wave Cave Trail*** – 3.0 miles out and back
    • Fun and isolated hike off of the Superstition Ridgeline Trail that leads to a shaded cave with a unique wave-like rock formation that makes for a great picture!
  • Wind Cave Trail #281 – 3.0 miles out and back
    • This is a decent hike but not one to go out of your way for. The trail up to the cave is more enjoyable than the actual cave which is more of a shallow over hang in the cliff than something you could walk in. If you’re up for more of a challenge, you can continue on to complete the full 9.4 mile Peak of Interest Loop!


***Most Recommended Hikes



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