Just outside of greater Phoenix sits a wonderlands filled with majestic Saguaros, towering pale red bluffs and messages, dozens of mines, and and extensive network of OHV trails. This my friend, is the Gila Traverse, highlighting some of the best of which Arizona and the Sonoran desert have to offer.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 144 miles / 2.5-5 days
Season: October - May, but the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are the best times to go. You may encounter snow around Pinal Peak during the winter months (check with Tonto NF for snow levels Sulphide del Ray campground).
Avg Technical Rating: 3
Peak Technical Rating: 5
Typical Terrain: This track has a reasonable amount of steep and rocky jeep tracks (expect to be traveling at reduced speed), along with many graded dirt roads and minimal connecting pavement.
Recommended Vehicle: High clearance 4x4 Recommended Gear: n/a
Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s are not recommended.
Alternative Routes: Yes! See the bottom of route guide for more details. Permits: n/a
Crossing the Gila River: The Gila is typically safe to ford when water flows are less than 350 CFS, but always proceed with caution. To get up to date CFS readings, please check: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/az/nwis/uv/?site_no=09474000&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060
Just outside of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area sits the Gila Traverse. The lowlands and beginning of the route are synonymous with the Sonoran desert-- towering Saguaros, desert washed, mesas and pink and pale red cliffs and canyonlands. At higher elevation the desert transitions into chaparral, and then ultimately into pine forests at the higher elevations around Pinal Peak. Beyond the natural elements found in this corner of the Sonoran desert, you'll also find dozens of mines, including numerous massive open pit mines that still operate today. The areas mining present and past are on full display as you explore the Gila Traverse. And for those seeking more rugged and technical trail options, the OHV network around Florence provides a wealth of options. Be sure to check out the alternative routes section below, but this is really just scratching the surface in terms of the OHV trails.
The route can be driven in either direction and offers to starting points. The main starting point is at highway 177, near the massive Ray open pit mine. However, there's an alternative starting point to the west through Box Canyon Road. If the Gila River is running high, you'll want to take the Box Canyon entrance, as the track from highway 177 crosses the Gila River two times (more details on crossing the Gila River can be found above in the route overview). Starting from highway 177 be sure to check out the Ray mine viewpoint (DP1). The first leg of the journey travels on Walnut Canyon, a mildly technical track with mesas and Saguaros around just about every corner. As you wrap around Copper Butte, you'll drop onto Rincon Road, another mildly technical trail with more awesome views of the tabletop mesas and bluffs that dominate the desert scenery. Soon enough you'll find yourself at the banks of the Gila River (DP2). The track crosses the Gila for a short stint on the south side of the river until arriving at Donnelly Wash and the old Cochran Stone House (DP3). There's also a super cool old steel truss that is perfect for taking pictures. Cochran was an old mining camp around the beginning of the 20th century, and just up the hill you'll come across 5 well preserved coke ovens (DP4) that were used for melting ore that was mined in the area. Head on up the mountain until you reach the intersection of East Martinez Canyon Road and swing a right until you reach the locked gate. The 1.9 mile out-and-back hike leads to one of the best-preserved original condition mine sites in Arizona according to DesertUSA. At the site one can find old ore cart tracks, conveyors, generators, milling equipment, mine shafts and more. Retrace your tracks until you're back on the main track and keep working you way over the mountain. Before reaching Granny's Pass (DP6), you'll hit a fun little rock garden that's just technical enough to push the limits of a stock 4x4. From here, you'll swing a right onto Ajax Mine Trail, which in a short few miles leads to the old Ajax Mine (DP8). Daytrips to Ajax mine are popular, so you may encounter a bit of trail traffic in the area, especially on weekends. The Ajax Mine was part of the Mineral Mountain mining district, and during its heyday it produce copper, silver, and gold. The old mine is made of brings and is still standing today. The track drops down the east Ajax Mine Road until descending into Telegraph Canyon-- another mildly technical and rocky track. Along the way you'll pass the famed Arizona Trail (DP9), but if you're up for another short hike (2.5 miles), be sure to Arnett and Telegraph Canyons (DP10), which leads to all sorts of interesting rock formations and cliffs. A couple of miles down the road sits the town of Superior and Highway 60, a great place to refuel and resupply if needed. From Superior, the track heads into the mountains, Montana Mountain being the destination the next section of trail. Along the way you'll pass through the scenic and rugged Hewitt Canyon (Dp11). See if you can spot Elephant Arch (Dp12) along the way! As you climb higher and higher, the Saguaros gradually disappear and chaparral begins to filled the mountain slopes and canyons. A favorite stopping point in Montana Mountain is the old Miner's Cabin (DP13). Descending down Queen Creek Canyon Road you'll pass by a large open pit mine, eventually reaching the pavement of highway 60. Follow the highway to the east to the next section of track that goes up and over Pinal Mountain. The Pinal Peak area is much less traveled than some of the previous trails explored, but given its proximity to Phoenix you can expect to see others on the road and trails. At 7,838' feet, Pinal Peak (DP14) is the highest location along the route, and sees a decent amount of snowfall during the winter months. At the higher elevations, the chaparral forest gives way to thick pine forests. The mountain pass at Sulphide del Ray campground sits at just above 6,000, so it's definitely possible to drive this section during the winter if the snowfall hasn't been to heavy (always check with Tonto NF on conditions during the winter). The final leg of the track drops into Russel Gulch, with more rocks and bumps along the way until the route reaches its terminus at at the highway just outside of Globe. Alternative Tracks Box Canyon Road Peak Trail Rating: 4 Box Canyon provides an alternative starting point for when the Gila River is running high. It also provides an opportunity to start the route from the west, with easier access for those coming from the Phoenix Area. Box Canyon is a popular OHV trail, and with its fun rocky features and slot canyon walls, it's always a fan favorite! Woodpecker Trail Peak Trail Rating: 7 You'll need a heavily modified vehicle if you want to take on Woodpecker Trail (35s, lift, rock sliders and skids recommended). This is a favorite trail among the Jeep crowd. You can expect to be inching along as this track has a ton of rocks and boulders! Ajax Mine Wash
Peak Trail Rating: 7-8 This is another one of the more gnarly trails in the Florence area, and you may even need 37" tires to make it through the Ajax Mine wash with its massive boulders and numerous waterfall sections. The trail is short, but it'll take you awhile to make it through! Devil's Canyon
Peak Trail Rating: 6
Devil's Canyon provides a fantastic alternative to reach Pinal Peak. While the track is quite rocky, it impresses its visitors with fantastic views of the surrounding desert and canyons.
Camping Recommendations Much of the track sits within the Tonto National Forest, where dispersed camping is permitted. However, given the popularity of some of the trails, it can be difficult to find a site during busy weekends. Some of our favorite places to camp include:
Miner's Cabin vicinity
Pinal Peak Campground and vicinity
DP1 - Ray Mine Viewpoint
DP2 - Gila River
DP3 - Cochran Stone House
DP4 - Coke Ovens
DP5 - Martinez Mine
DP6 - Granny's Pass
DP7 - Cottonwood Canyon Petroglyphs
DP8 - Ajax Mine
DP9 - Arizona Trail
DP10 - Arnett & Telegraph Canyons
DP11 - Hewitt Canyon
DP12 - Elephant Arch
DP13 - Miner's Cabin
DP14 - Pinal Peak
Maps + Navigation
Digital Mapping Files