Boulder Canyon Trail, Superstition Wilderness: Canyon Lake Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona
Boulder Canyon Trail - 15.2 miles
Superstition Wilderness: Canyon Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||15.2 miles (distances may vary in canyon)|
|Start-End Elevation:||1,677' - 2,295' (2,349' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+618' net elevation gain (+1,978' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Boulder Canyon Trail - 15.2 Miles Round-Trip
The Boulder Canyon Trail runs 7.6 miles south from Canyon Lake Trailhead to the Dutchmans Trail in the Superstition Wilderness. This challenging hike climbs steeply from the lake before dropping into La Barge Canyon and merging into Boulder Canyon. It continues on an oscillating, oft-rugged path deep into the backcountry.
Boulder Canyon is a popular backpacking destination with fairly reliable water, and many good campsites to choose from. Though well marked by cairns, anticipate vague and overgrown sections once in the canyon:
The Boulder Canyon Trail climbs steeply to the wilderness boundary with expansive views over Canyon Lake (.65 miles : 1,948'). It wraps to a north face before curling back south on a rocky climb toward Frog Peak.
The trail reaches its highest point at 1.18 miles (2,349'), then undulates ruggedly with little net elevation change through 2.5 miles (2,214'). Note greater concentrations of saguaro, cholla and brush as you progress.
At 2.3 miles the trail begins a fast descent to the floor of La Barge Canyon (3.2 miles : 1,804').
Follow cairns over the wash to scale a hill that leads to Boulder Canyon. Look for the Indian Paint Mine on the saddle, where native inhabitants once extracted red clay for paint and pottery. The trail drops from this divisive saddle into Boulder Canyon and crosses west to the Second Water Trail split (4.05 miles : 1,925').
The Second Water Trail junction is located in a wide, scenic berth in the canyon. The sign is on a rock terrace just above the canyon floor, and may be difficult to see. It's not critical to navigation, but is a useful progress mark and fine turnaround point for those not completing the trail.
The trail continues SE up canyon, crossing the central wash immediately and many times after en route to the Dutchmans Trail. Crossings are well marked and fairly intuitive, but remain vigilant - cairns may be difficult to see in this indistinguishable landscape.
The trail shifts quickly through heavy brush on (fairly) well-defined paths up both shoulders of the wash. Long sleeves are recommended through dense pockets of cats claw. Expect loose cobble and large, seasonal pools when traveling in / across the central wash.
The trail levels on a rock terrace over the wash and crosses east to the Cavalry Trail split (5.6 miles : 2,055'). It continues to a high-walled bend in the canyon (6.2 miles), past which grades steepen with emerging views of Weavers Needle, Palomino Mtn, Black Mesa and Black Top Mesa.
Walls recede and brush thins in the open upper-canyon to the Dutchmans Trail (7.6 miles : 2,295'), where the main drainage you've been following seamlessly forks to East, Little and West Boulder Creek.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N33 32.040 W111 25.370 — 0.0 miles : Canyon Lale Trailhead
- N33 31.645 W111 25.122 — .65 miles : Cross wilderness boundary (1,948')
- N33 31.672 W111 24.913 — 1.0 miles : (2,229')
- N33 31.446 W111 24.649 — 1.45 miles : Spur to viewpoint - begin rolling travel
- N33 31.235 W111 24.408 — 2.0 miles : (2,158')
- N33 30.993 W111 24.400 — 2.5 miles : Rolling descent (2,214')
- N33 30.560 W111 24.081 — 3.2 miles : Cross wash on canyon floor - canyon travel b
- N33 29.940 W111 24.364 — 4.05 miles : Boulder Canyon - Second Water Trail split
- N33 29.676 W111 24.150 — 4.5 miles : Shifting, variously rugged travel up wash
- N33 29.036 W111 23.563 — 5.6 miles : Boulder Canyon - Cavalry Trail split
- N33 28.773 W111 23.593 — 5.95 miles : (2,090')
- N33 28.577 W111 23.601 — 6.25 miles : Approach bend in canyon
- N33 27.945 W111 23.444 — 7.15 miles : Landscape opens in upper canyon (2,221')
- N33 27.623 W111 23.539 — 7.7 miles : Dutchman - Black Mesa Trail split (2,298')
- Bighorn sheep are occasionally spotted in the lower canyon.
- Anticipate overgrowth - particularly cats claw - once in the canyon. Durable long sleeves are recommended.
- The trail crosses the wash in Boulder Canyon many times. Cairns mark cross points, and are usually easily / intuitively found. In some cases you must look back to pick up the trail on the far side.
- The Canyon Lake Trailhead and adjacent marina see heavy use, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds. Expect slow traffic on winding mountain roads to the lake.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed camping is permitted in the Superstition Wilderness. No fee or permit is required.
- Fires are not permitted in Boulder Canyon, and in most locations on the west side of the wilderness area.
- Camp only in established sites, which are not marked but intuitively found throughout Boulder Canyon.
- Water is typically available in Boulder Canyon, but always plan to carry all of your own water. Treat all natural water sources before consumption. Note that Water Reports are usually posted at the trailhead, but may not be current.
- Contact the Mesa Ranger District (408.610.3300) for current trail information and potential restrictions before heading out.
- Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
Fishing is permitted in Canyon Lake, and up Boulder Canyon. Arizona Game and Fish stock the lake monthly November - March with rainbow trout. Other species include Largemouth, Smallmouth and Yellow Bass; Crappie; Sunfish; Channel and Flathead Catfish; Walleye.
Rules and Regulations
- There is no fee to enter the Superstition Wilderness from this location.
Directions to Trailhead
The Canyon Lake Trailhead is located 14.1 miles north of Highway 60 on Hwy 88. The trailhead is on the south shore of Canyon Lake across from the marina.
From Highway 60, take the Hwy 88 / North Idaho Road exit and head north. Drive 2.2 miles to a fork and bear right to stay on Hwy 88. Follow signs to Lost Dutchman State Park (7.1 miles), past which mountain driving conditions begin.
Park in the marina, located on your left just after the second one-lane bridge (14.1 miles). The trail begins across the street from the lot.
Mesa Ranger District
5140 E. Ingram St.
Mesa, Arizona 85205
Monday-Friday: 8 am - noon | 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Canyon Lake Marina and Campground
16802 N.E. Highway 88
Tortilla Flat, AZ 85219-9898