SALOME WILDERNESS IN GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA

This Wilderness was established in 1984 and contains approximately 18,530 acres, with a major canyon running practically its entire length. The upper reaches of Salome Creek and Workman Creek are small perennial streams snaking their way through the bottom of this scenic canyon. Pools of water can be found nearly all year. Cross-country travel is very difficult.

Elevations range from 2,600 feet at the lower end of Salome Creek to 6,500 feet on Hopkins Mountain. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit this area; however, trails are rare and access to the wilderness is limited.

In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing and extraordinary opportunities for solitude.

Access Points

Before you access this wilderness we recommend to contact the Forest Service District that administers it. 

Pleasant Valley Ranger District
PO BOX 450 FOREST ROAD 63 YOUNG

AZ 85554
Phone: 928-462-4300

Trailheads at the northern end of Salome Wilderness are usually accessed via the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Road (Arizona Highway 288). There is also a road clinging to the edge of the hill (well back from the high water line) around the northern side of Theodore Roosevelt Lake that runs along the southern boundary of Salome Wilderness.

Salome Wilderness History

If you hike rough and lonesome Salome Canyon, the major canyon that runs almost the entire length of this Wilderness, you probably won't encounter another human being. However, you may see remnants of the Salado Indians, who lived here until vanishing about 700 years ago.

 

As you work your way north, the land becomes increasingly rugged with many bedrock outcroppings. It culminates in Hell's Hole, a region of precipitous bluffs. Water is sometimes available from several small springs. Elevations range from 2,600 feet at lower Salome Creek to 6,500 feet on Hopkins Mountain.

 

Semidesert grasslands and chaparral dominate the vegetation. Winters usually freeze, and summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Several trails provide access to the area. From the Reynolds Trailhead, hikers can follow the Hell's Hole Trail, which descends steeply for 5.3 miles and dead-ends in Hell's Hole.

Salome Wilderness Trails

Salome Wilderness contains about 18,530 acres in the Sierra Ancha Mountains northeast of Roosevelt Lake. The majority of the wilderness is the canyon containing Salome and Workman Creeks, the upper boundary of the wilderness being defined mostly by the rim of the canyon. Owing to the steepness of the canyon walls and the "slot" nature of the stream beds (vertically eroded into pink granite), cross-country travel is exceedingly difficult. Elevations range from a low of 2,600 feet where Salome Creek emerges from the wilderness above Roosevelt Lake to a high of about 6,500 feet on Hopkins Mountain. As you can see from the photos on this page, making your way through the bottom of the canyon might be very hazardous to your health in spots.
 

Of the defined trails that do exist, one leaves from the trail head at Reynolds Campground (along the From the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Road) and works its way down the side of the canyon below Workman's Creek to the bottom of Hell's Hole. Another branches south from that and follows an old jeep trail to the west of Hopkins Mountain, eventually ending on Boyer Ridge to the west of Thompson Mesa. The only other trail that accesses the wilderness leaves from a trail head along the road that skirts the edge of Roosevelt Lake and essentially travels along the southern edge of the wilderness area until it dead-ends at Salome Creek. Some hardy (some might say "foolhardy") souls who traveled down the stream beds to the bottom of the wilderness say that you should be in pretty good shape to take on this wilderness... but this is Mogollon Rim country at its finest.  There are no marked or maintained trails in the bottom of the canyon, probably because of intermittent flash flooding. If you're in the bottom of the canyon when a good rainstorm hits, there isn't much in the way of feasible escape route... This area freezes in the winter and temps pass 100°F regularly in the summer.
 

A group size of no more than 15 people and no more than 15 head of pack or saddle animals of any type is enforced within this wilderness year-round.

Find Hiking Trails in the Hells Gate Wilderness

Salome Wilderness Fish Species

SALOME CREEK:

Contains native fishes and stocked brown and rainbow trout. In the lower reaches native fish such as speckled dace, longfin dace and roundtail chub are found. There are also nonnative green sunfish. Arizona Game and Fish reports that the fishing area goes into the Salome Wilderness for a couple of miles. There is private property nearby -- please respect that property.

Access:

From Young, go south on State Hwy.288 for 12 miles to FR 609 and turn right. Follow FR 609 (primitive road) for 5 miles to FR 486 and turn left. Continue on FR 486 for 4 miles (a primitive four-wheel-drive road) to JR Canyon. Park on National Forest System land; do not park on private property. Hike east cross-country for approximately 1 mile to Salome Creek.


WORKMAN CREEK:

Below the waterfall, Workman Creek is stocked twice a year during the early part of summer. Above the falls, the creek supports a small naturally-reproducing population of rainbow trout. There are no native fish found in Workman Creek at this time. Most fishing activity takes place between State Hwy. 288 and Workman Creek Falls.

Access:

From the junction of U.S. Highway 60 & State Hwy. 188 (between Globe and Miami) drive northwest on Hwy. 88 for approximately 15 miles to the junction of State Hwy. 288. Bear right and follow Hwy. 288 for approximately 25 ½ miles to the Workman Creek Bridge. If desired, you may also drive along the creek on FR 487 that turns right (east) just past the bridge. It is approximately 3 miles to Workman Creek Falls (a high-clearance vehicle is needed).

Salome Wilderness Fishing Strategy

Small stream tactics are in order for this creek. Stealthy approach and making the first cast into each pool count. General attractor dries with small nymph or midge droppers will get it done on most days.  The best place to fish this creek is hidden pools at higher elevations where the water is cooler and the trout are larger. The access to these areas requires hiking so someone physically fit is recommended to find the daring spots. Flies and salmon eggs are recommended fishing baits.

Salome Wilderness Boating Options

Kyaking the JUG:

Description:
This stretch of creek is one of the most amazing places that you will be able to boat ever.  It is sheer vertical walls with ZERO opportunities for escape.  You do not want to go in there at what appears to be "a good high level".  It is recommended that you do a canyoneering trip prior to kayaking this creek.  But for those boaters who don't have that luxury...then make sure that you walk the length of The Jug from the north rim.

Rapids:
There are countless slides and falls in here, ranging from 4-30 feet. 
The entrance drops to The Jug are a good indication of what is downstream.  There is only one mandatory portage (Ryan's Falls) 
The rapids of note *with names* are as follows: (IN ORDER)
-Good Twin (small 5 footer that looks like you will piton)
-Last Chance Falls (wierd but hard hitting fall to slide)
-Three Blind Mice (run the top 15ft slide, and the portage(?) the pinch) **This drop could throw a major wrench in your whole trip
-Cave Drop (you'll pass under a fallen spire)
-Evil Twin (the CHOICE drop of the run)
-Ryan's Falls (portage baby - scale walls and cliff jump or repel from the anchor position on RR)
-Camelback (double drops the mark the finish of the Jug)

Take Out: From HWY 88 take A+ (or A Cross Rd) to where the creek crosses the road. (right near a ranch).  Here is your take out.  It is exactly 1.5 miles downstream from the Jug.  It is a bash, but better than hiking out on the put in trail.

Put In: Drive up 2.5 miles to the pull-off (where there is a large Sierra Anches Wilderness Forest Service sign) and park here.  There is a trail (old jeep trail) easily visible.  Hike this for two miles, it will drop you into the canyon.  **Make Sure** you close all the farmers gates!  You will be standing on the side of the Jug.  Hopefully it is running.  If it is and you are qualified enough, you will know what to do from there!!!

VIDEO:  "THE JUG" - This is not for the faint of heart!

Info courtesy of American Whitewater

Salome Wilderness Camping Options

Dispersed camping for free is allowed in Tonto National Forest and in the wilderness area. However, there are no facilities such as toilets or water. Plan to bring your own water or filter water from Salome Creek. There are no problems with fires unless local fire restrictions are in effect. You may need to bring your own firewood since the local flora is typical Sonoran desert scrub and burnable material may be hard to find. Consider using a backpacking stove.

There are several dispersed areas on Salome creek and also near Workman Creek that you can use as camping areas.  Bottom line, this is a wilderness and it is WILD...so proceed with caution and make your own adventure.

Salome Wilderness Swimming Holes

Not far upstream the creek forms a deep pool about 20 meters long beneath a short, pretty narrow section and a waterfall. This is the popular swimming site and also has lots of litter, but there is no more beyond since very few people explore further up canyon. Depending on water levels, climbing ability and the desire to swim through other pools, it is possible to walk many miles further.

 

After the Swim Hole the canyon alternates between open stretches and enclosed deep-water channels, then soon the latter start to predominate and the walls become very steep. The rocks are colored various shades of red, grey and white - usually smooth polished granite at water level then jagged, crumbling, darker rock higher up. In some places pools can be avoided by climbing the cliffs above, though the rocks tend to be quite unstable, covered by cacti and other thorny plants, so remaining at water level is generally easiest. In the summer months, when the exposed cliffs become too hot to touch, wading through the pools is the only option and also provides welcome relief from the heat.

 

Upstream


Two miles into the canyon, a big pool beneath a 10 foot waterfall marks the end of the easiest section; beyond are more pools and cascades, and a tributary on the southeast side (Soldier Creek) then a long flooded section of around 100 meters. After this the canyon opens for a while at an area known as McDonald Pocket then constricts once more and remains narrow for most of the next 10 miles upstream to the Hellsgate Trail crossing.

Salome Wilderness Canyoneering

Salome Canyon is a technical canyoneering adventure located in the Sierra Ancha Mountains north of Roosevelt Lake in Arizona. It is found within the Salome Wilderness Area which encompasses 18,530 acres in the Tonto National Forest. Created in 1984, the Wilderness ranges in elevation from 2,600 feet to 6,500 feet. The Wilderness is named after Salome Canyon which traverses nearly the entire length. This area was home to the prehistoric Salado Indians, and ruins dot the area. If you happen upon a ruin, please do not disturb artifacts as they are protected by Federal Law. There are few trails that enter this wilderness and access can sometimes be difficult. The main trails are the Cactus Butte Trail, The Jug Trail, Boyer Trail, and Hell’s Hole Trail.

The canyon itself is typically broken into two sections, Upper Salome Canyon which requires a long approach and semi-technical canyoneering, and the lower section which is easily accessed and boasts some of the best technical canyoneering in Southern Arizona.  


This is the first deep pool that requires a swim.

The lower canyon is carved just beneath Dutchwoman Butte, and is comprised of basalt and granite in shades of pink and white. Nicknamed ‘The Jug’, this lower section requires at least one rappel and multiple swims. Using the American Canyoneering Academy rating system, this canyon receives a 3C II which indicates that it requires swimming and rappelling, there is strong water current and a waterfall, and it can be done in a half day, car to car. The entire length of the trip is around 5 miles (1 mile of it in the canyon) and can be completed in about 4-5 hours. 

Please note several potential dangers of this canyon:

1. It can receive heavy runoff during the spring and monsoon season (July-August). I have been there when the water is quite high with a heavy current. Please use caution.

2. Due to the higher elevation and more northern location, the water can be quite cold much of the year. You may consider wearing a wet or dry suit if you are not doing the canyon in May, June, or September.

3. There is plenty of water in this canyon. I have had electronic equipment ruined. We also had to drive two men back to Phoenix when they lost their keys in one of the pools. Be sure to either bring equipment you don't mind getting wet, or packing your gear in dry bags or sacks.

4. Watch for rattlesnakes. I personally have never encountered one in my four trips to the area. However, others have...and the area around Roosevelt is known for Diamondback Rattlesnakes. I have also encountered the Arizona Black Rattlesnake not too far from this area...so care is required. Remember that rattlesnakes will not attack unless cornered. So, if you see one, just back off slowly and leave it alone. A nurse I talked to at UMC in Tucson told me that the only folks who come in with snakebite are either drunk or were trying to mess with the snake.
 

Canyon Description
 

Hike down the old road to the canyon, head north through a barbed-wire fence and gate (make sure you close it – there are cattle grazing in the area) and look for weaknesses in the cliffs that allow you access to the canyon bottom. You will probably have to travel several hundred yards upstream until this is possible. The Jug itself is hard to miss with its pink and white granite cliffs.

Once in the canyon, head downstream. At first the canyon is very open with granite boulders lining the sides. The pools are shallow and full of plants you will have to navigate. Soon, you will encounter your first swim amid cattails. Once through this swim, the wading again takes over and you will be wading shallow pools interspersed with rock hopping.

After a bit, the canyon walls start to narrow, the terrain becomes a bit steeper, and the pools become deeper. At this point you will encounter a natural water slide on the left side of the canyon. If there is enough running water, slide down this and be on your way. Otherwise, go to your right and find a weakness that allows you down the wall. From here, the walls steepen and narrow to about 20 feet, and the swimming starts to take over. You will be swimming 50-100 foot pools interspersed with rock hopping and bits of class 3 downclimbing.


The water slide that marks where the real adventure begins.



Eventually you will get to a 50 foot waterfall (it could be dry). This is the heart of “The Jug” and the best part of the whole canyon! There are two options here, to jump or rappel into the pool at the base of the waterfall. Either method requires you to traverse the 20 foot sloping ramp on the right side of the falls to a chain anchor. There are also several good bolts near the waterfall that you could rap off as well. One is to the right of the waterfall down by your feet. One is located above that one on the wall. The ramp is slick when your shoes or sandals are wet! Use caution. Sometimes people tie a sling from the bolts near the waterfall to the ones at the end of the ramp for use as a handline. Some people also opt to attach a short webbing hand line to the bolts at the end of the ramp, downclimb a bit, and jump into the deep pool at the bottom to avoid the rappel. I recommend bringing your rope and harness and rappelling into the pool because you never know what the last flash flood has brought and dumped into that pool that you can’t see.


Rappelling the waterfall. The waterfall is unseen in the picture to the left.



The pool is deep enough that you need to swim while unhooking your belay device. Be careful not to lose it! There is an old ATC stuck in the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall as evidence of this! I opted to just pull my rope through and swim out with my belay device still attached. There are a couple of ledges underneath the waterfall that you may be able to get onto, but it all depends on how high the water level is.

From there, enjoy the best that Salome has to offer. Swim two large 200 foot pools until the canyon opens up and the walls end. From there, find a trail to your right up the hill that connects with the road/trail you came in on and hike back to your car.
 

Getting There


From Phoenix:

Take 87 (Beeline Highway) to 188. Take 188 south. Eight miles south of Punkin Center around milepost 255, take a left onto 60 aka A Cross Road. Take this dirt road (should be fine for passenger cars with a little care) 10 miles to the unmarked trailhead. The unmarked pullout will be on the right at the top of the hill just west of Dutchwoman Butte. You will see an old road zigzagging its way down into the canyon bottom.

From Globe:

Head east on 60 until you reach 88. Go north and turn right onto 288. Head north for approximately 12 miles until the road turns to dirt. From here turn left onto 60. There is a sign pointing the way to Salome Creek. Go west approximately 12 miles. You will pass a house and go over a concrete spillway of Salome Creek, then head steeply uphill for several miles. On the left will be a weird brown ‘building’ which is a water catchment. The unmarked pullout will be on the right at the top of the hill just west of Dutchwoman Butte. You will see an old road zigzagging its way down into the canyon bottom.

The Adventure Hikes and Canyoneering in the Southwest website by Chris Brennan has Latitude and Longitude Coordinates for the parking area and trailhead, the wilderness gate, the downclimb into the canyon, the end of the canyon, and the junction of the trail you hiked in on and the exit trail from the canyon. 

Essential Gear
 

Dry bag or dry sack - This canyon typically has a lot of pools, even during dry years, and it is recommended to bring stuff you don’t mind getting wet…or bring a good dry bag or sack. The dry bag or sack has the added advantage of holding enough air to float your daypack during the swims.
 

  • Rope (at least 100 feet)

  • Harness

  • Belay/rappel device

  • Extra webbing for use as potential handlines

  • Pack

  • Dry Suit (In colder weather)