Hiking the Superstition Mountains – Desert Backpacking in Arizona

Join Sara & I for 3 days of desert hiking, backpacking & camping in the Superstition Mountains. And who knows – maybe Sara will find the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine…

For this desert backpacking trip, we’ll be hiking a loop in the Superstition Wilderness, within the greater Tonto National Forest – about 60 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.  Not only was this a beautiful and scenic hike due to the stark desert surroundings and sharp, rugged peaks, but this particular region has added bonus – a rich history full of intrigue and lore right at home in your favorite spaghetti western flick.  Some of these tales are indisputable facts.  Others, are more debatable – the stuff of legends and mystery.  The most notable and famous of those stories being that of Jacob Waltz, or as it’s commonly referred to, the mystery of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold.

As touched on in the video, the story of the Dutchman and the lost gold mine is much to deep to give justice to in the passing of a hiking video, so for those interested, I highly recommend taking the time to check out the various iterations of the story, theories, etc.  For the sake of this post though, the basic idea goes like this – Jacob Waltz stumbled upon some gold in the Superstition Mountains.  Whether it was an actual mine, or a hidden cache that was originally mined elsewhere, depends on which version of several accounts you choose to believe.  In fact, even the fact that he came upon it accidentally is up for debate as well.  Some iterations of the tale suggest that he was given the details of the hidden mine after saving the life of a man who belonged to a wealthy Mexican mining family.  The name of that family, by the way, was Peralta – you know, like the trailhead we parked at.  But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself and going down the rabbit hole.  Hmm, maybe the gold was hidden in a burrow of sorts, and not an actual gold mine.  No wait, I’ve got to stop this.

Okay, let me try this again.  Somehow, Jacob knew where a bunch of gold was in these mountains, and he kept it a complete secret, despite rumors throughout the years that he knew about it’s location.  People would try to follow him when he went into the mountains, but he always lost them, or at the least, waved a gun at them until they left.  Finally, on his death bed in 1891, he confirmed the gold mine and gave some info on it’s whereabouts to two individuals.  Apparently, it wasn’t quite enough info, because they never found it after years of searching.  Word spread, many more people started searching, and they continue to search until this day.  People have gone missing while searching, some have even had their skull found right on one of the trails we hiked on our loop, complete with two bullet holes and their body found separately 3/4 of a mile away (his name was Adolf Ruth, and he went into the Superstitions in search of the gold back in 1931) .

So what does all this have to do with our backpacking trip?  Did we find some gold or something?  Am I devoting my life to finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine?  Well no, but it makes hiking around out there pretty cool and Old Westy, if you ask me.  At the very least, it gives you something to ponder as you hike along the cactus covered traverses, baked incessantly by a sun they just may have glinted off of Jacob Waltz’s prize back in the 1800’s.

But anyway, back to the hike we did.  Here’s the details…

Route Overview - Superstition Mountains - Sintax77

Route Overview – Hiking the Superstition Mountains – Sintax77

Season / Time of Year
Winter – January 20th to January 23, 2016.

Elevation Range
Minimum – 2,283′
Maximum – 3,550′

Full GPS track data and waypoints are available on the Trip Data page.

Trailhead Used
Peralta Trailhead – GPS Coordinates N33° 23.858′ W111° 20.873′

Trails Used Day 1 (in order of use)
Peralta Trailhead Parking Lot,
Dutchman Trail
Set up camp in a relatively flat area along the trail, about .75 miles after crossing an intermittent stream.  This particular stream actually had a decent flow at the time, but depending on recent conditions and time of year, it may not always be that way.

Day 1 Total Mileage: 2 miles
Day 1 Total Elevation Gain: 344′

Day 1 Elevation Profile - Superstition Mountains - Sintax77

Day 1 Elevation Profile – Superstition Mountains Hike

Trails Used Day 2 (in order of use)
Continue on Dutchman Trail
Pass the intersection with Coffee Flat Trail to stay on Dutchman Trail, after which you’ll begin to rack up the bulk of your elevation gain for the day.
Leave the Dutchman Trail and head east on the Whiskey Springs Trail.
Just before the upcoming trail intersection, the trail crosses LeBarge Creek (where we stocked up on water for the rest of the day)
At the intersection, turn left to head west on the Red Tanks Trail.
Red Tanks Trail ends at the intersection with Dutchman Trail.
Turn right to head north on Dutchman Trail.
Set up camp along Dutchman Trail.

Day 2 Total Mileage: 10 miles
Day 2 Total Elevation Gain: 1,325′

Day 2 Elevation Profile - Superstition Mountains - Sintax77

Day 2 Elevation Profile – Superstition Mountains – Sintax77

Trails Used Day 3 (in order of use)
Continue on Dutchman Trail
At the intersection, continue straight (west) on Bull Pass Trail
Turn left to head south on Black Top Mesa Trail, towards the top of Black Top Mesa
Explore the mesa and hunt for the Spanish Hieroglyphs or maybe some of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold, etc.
Retrace your steps back down Black Top Mesa Trail.
At the bottom, turn right to head east on the unofficial Bull Pass Alternate Trail (not the same as the previous Bull Pass Trail).
At the intersection, turn right to head south on our recurring friend, Dutchman Trail.
At the intersection, depart the Dutchman Trail and take Terrapin Trail.
At the intersection, turn right to head south on Bluff Springs Trail.
Return to the Peralta Trailhead parking lot.

Day 3 Total Mileage: 15 miles (plus a couple miles of meandering about on Blacktop Mesa)
Day 3 Total Elevation Gain: 2,933 feet

Day 1 Elevation Profile - Superstition Mountains - Sintax77

Day 1 Elevation Profile – Superstition Mountains – Sintax77

Trip Grand Total Mileage: 27 Miles
Trip Grand Total Elevation Gain: 4,662′

Notable Gear Used on this Trip
Nemo Losi 3p Tent
Sara’s backack – ULA Ohm 2.0
Sintax77’s backpack – EMS Longtrail 70 and a Ribz Front Pack
Generic canister stove
Vargo 450ml titanium cups
Toaks 750ml titanium cook pot
Sea to Summit Alpha Light spoons (long version)
Plenty of various sized Platypus Bags for water storage.
Fozzils Bowlz for eating our chili and queso appetizer
Packit Gourmet dehydrated meals
Sara’s sleeping pad – Big Agnes Q-Core SL
Sintax77’s sleeping pads – Thermarest Z-Lite on top of a Klymit Inertia X-Frame
Hammock Gear Burrow top quilts
Montbell UL Down Parkas
Superstition Wilderness Topo Trail Map
USB battery charger / lantern
Sawyer Squeeze water filter configured in a gravity setup

Highly recommended book for hikes in this area:
Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness‘ by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart
This book appears to be out of print, but I managed to get a used copy and love it.  It has detailed descriptions of all the trails, with some cool related history mixed in.  It also contains plenty of solid maps and a bunch of suggested hikes.

9 thoughts on “Hiking the Superstition Mountains – Desert Backpacking in Arizona

  1. My wife and I were in the Supes just a week after you were there! We also hiked from the Peralta Trailhead but took the southern/western loop down the Coffee Flat Trail, Red Tanks Divide and then it hooked up with the Whiskey Springs Canyon.
    Our first major hike and the miles seemed much longer than what it shows on paper. The switchbacks coming down Whiskey Springs Canyon were long – can only imagine going up that trail!

  2. Very cool trip, it’s such a different landscape than we are use to here in the del valley. Keep up the awesome trips! Did did you just choose Arizona or were you going out there for business? How about a Rockies trip

    • I like to keep an eye on flight prices, and the seats to Phoenix just popped up at the right time / price. We had already seen some pictures and info about the Tonto National forest, so we jumped at the opportunity. I actually just got back from a trip to the Rockies a couple weeks ago with Mike. The flight prices on that one didn’t work out quite as nice, so we road tripped it, which was quite the adventure itself! 🙂

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