CHEVELON CANYON IN GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA

Chevelon Canyon is a trip only experienced adventure seekers should attempt.  Sporadic rock cairns belie clues where the primitive trail cuts through thick  vegetation or was taken out by floods. As a general rule, if you find yourself getting very high on the canyon walls or disoriented, backtrack, cross the creek and hunt for signs of a passage. 

 

This is a somewhat hard to navigate, yet beautiful gorge of vertical limestone cliffs, flowing stream channels and refreshing pools.  

 

Within the moist riparian corridor at the bottom of the canyon, Ponderosa pines, alders and Gambel oaks (think: fall foliage hike) provide plenty of cool shade, but just a few yards up from the stream, drier pinon-juniper grasslands speckled with cacti can be quite warm in summer.  

RATING: experienced hikers only

ELEVATION: 6,300' -6100'

FACILITIES: restrooms, campsites, picnic tables are nearby

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Access Points

From State Route 260 east of Payson, go north, then west, on Forest Road 300 (also known as the Rim Road). Three vistas along the road provide spectacular views off the Mogollon Rim, and on a clear day, you can see the Hellsgate Wilderness, the Sierra Ancha and even the Four Peaks to the distant south. After a few miles, you’ll reach the turnoff for Woods Canyon Lake, and on a summer weekend, most of the traffic will likely be headed that way. Instead, continue on FR 300 as it curves to the north.

Here, the road turns to dirt as it winds through thick forests of ponderosa pines. You’ll see aspens, too, including a big stand of them around Mile 5.5. Keep an eye out for elk and black bears, along with Abert’s squirrels, which you might see darting across the road.

At Mile 8.3, turn right onto Forest Road 169, which passes several campsites spaced between designated wildlife areas, where camping is prohibited. Massive ponderosas line the road, which soon begins to twist and turn as it gains elevation. After 12 miles on FR 169, you’ll turn right onto Forest Road 169B, and here, you’ll realize why a high-clearance vehicle is required for this drive. The rolling, deeply rutted road will put your suspension to the test if you’re going too fast, so take it easy — the trek on this road is less than 2 miles to Chevelon Canyon Lake Campground.

Park at one of the dispersed campsites, then walk down the old road (closed to vehicles) that leads to the lake. It’s a steady descent of less than a mile, but watch out for loose rocks along the way. After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach the north end of the lake, which the Arizona Game and Fish Department created by damming Chevelon Creek in 1965. Ponderosa pines cling to the steep walls of Chevelon Canyon, which cradles this roughly 200-acre reservoir.

Wilderness Area

Chevelon Canyon, lake and stream are all part of the surrounding Hell's Gate Wilderness.  For more information on adventures in the Hell's Gate Wilderness click the button below.