Best Hikes in Tonto National Forest (AZ)

Tonto National Forest Overview

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. 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. Discover more about the best hikes in Tonto National Forest described below!

Nearest Metro AreaPhoenix, AZ
Area Size2,873,200 acres
EstablishedMarch 4, 1907
Hiking Trails900 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Tonto National Forest

(*** = best hikes in Tonto National Forest)

Butcher Jones Trail #463 – 5.0 miles out and back
Butcher Jones Trail, Burro Cove and Beyond, Photo by davidpinter

Unlike most of the best 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
Superstition Mountians/Hieroglyphic Trail
Superstition Mountians/Hieroglyphic Trail, Photo by sciman111

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
Horton Creek Trailhead, Photo by Richard N Horne

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
Weaver's Needle in the Superstition Mountains
Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains, Photo by Steve

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
Picketpost Mountain
Picketpost Mountain, Photo by Kevin Dooley

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
Siphon Draw Trail 2
Siphone Draw Trail, Photo by Dave Bezaire

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
Wave Cave, Superstition Mountains
Wave Cave, Superstition Mountains, Photo by lamblukas

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
Wind Cave
Wind Cave, Photo by Chris J

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!

Featured Image: The Four Peaks, Photo by Jay Wright

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