SIERRA ANCHA WILDERNESS IN GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA

First established in 1933 as a "Primitive Area," this 20,850 acre wilderness is full of surprises, and is a pleasure to explore. While not large in acres, this very special wilderness includes precipitous box canyons, high cliffs, and pine-covered mountains.

The extremely rough topography limits (and often prohibits) cross-country travel; however, there is an extensive system of trails (trail condition varies from good to poor). A wide variety of plant and animal species are found here. Species range from those found in the desert to those found at 8,000 feet.

Young, Arizona is located in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness - here you will find a small community with big history and heritage.  Home of the infamous Grahams and Tewksburys range war that took place from 1882-1892.  The Pleasant Valley War had the highest number of fatalities of such range conflicts in United States history, with an estimated total of 35 to 50 deaths. 

Today Young, AZ is home to a Gila County's only full service Winery - Bruzzi Vineyard and annual events that celebrate its once rugged western heritage.

Access Points

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

One of the main attractions is the Native American Ruins in this wilderness known as the "Devil's Chasm.  From Phoenix drive east on Highway 60 almost to Globe. Turn left (north) on Highway 188 (also listed as 88 on maps) and drive 14.4 miles to Highway 288. Turn right on 288 which soon crosses the Salt River on a single lane bridge. After 6.7 miles, turn right onto the well graded, dirt Cherry Creek Road (which is also Forest Road 203). After 8.8 miles at the sign for Coon Creek FR #203 bends right and crosses the creek (straight will take you onto private ranch property). At the 13.3 mile point you reach a sign for the left branching Bull Canyon Road (FR #203A), stay straight on FR #203. After passing the Ellison Ranch, the road becomes considerably rougher and rockier and soon you'll reach a Forest Service sign which reads:

History of the Sierra Anacha Wilderness

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

First established in 1933 as a "Primitive Area," this 20,850 acre wilderness is full of surprises and is a pleasure to explore. The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is large in acres, but it is a very special wilderness that includes precipitous box canyons, high cliffs, and pine-covered mountains.

The extremely rough topography limits (and often prohibits) cross-country travel; however, there is an extensive system of trails (trail condition varies from good to poor). A wide variety of plant and animal species are found here. Species range from those found in the desert to those found at 8,000 feet.

The Sierra Ancha cliff dwellings are located on the Pleasant Valley Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest, within the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. Built on ledges and in crevices within the short precipitous canyons flanking Cherry Creek, the Sierra Ancha cliff dwellings were constructed of stone slabs and blocks laid in mud mortar, plastered over, with roofs and floors of heavy timber beams layered over with branches and grass and finished with alternating layers of earth and stone.

Uranium exploration carved a few roads into this area in the 1950s, roads now being reclaimed by natural processes. Elevations range from 4,000 feet near Cherry Creek to more than 7,400 feet on several high peaks, with the highest point on Aztec Peak at 7,733 feet. Chaparral covers lower elevations with turbinella oak, manzanita, and mountain mahogany. Some pinion and juniper cloak the east side of the Wilderness, dropping to semidesert brush and grassland below. Several springs usually offer water year-round, but there is no guarantee.

Group size is limited to 15 people and 15 head of livestock. Length of stay is limited to 14 days.

Sierra Ancha Wilderness Trails

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Thirteen trailheads give access to a network of foot and horse trails. The Center Mountain Trail climbs 2.5 miles for some excellent views of the surrounding area.

Devils Chasm is located in the Cherry Creek area of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. The hike involves a steep climb up a remote canyon to well preserved (and well known) Salado Indian ruins. Normally I would not publicize the location of Indian ruins, but this hike has been published elsewhere and are frequently visited (in fact the author ran into another group of 8 as he was coming down the canyon, and this was on a non-holiday weekday). Not to sound like a broken record but, ruins are fragile and irreplaceable, please leave the area as you found it.

Forest Road 487 continues 3.7 miles past the falls through pine forests, aspen groves, and meadows to the lookout tower atop Aztec Peak (7,748 feet); you can get here with a high-clearance vehicle, mountain bike, or on foot. The tower, when open, provides great panoramas of the Sierra Anchas, Roosevelt Lake, Four Peaks, the Mazatzals, and many other features of central Arizona. 

 

Abbey's Way Trail #151 also climbs to the top of Aztec Peak (800 feet in two miles one-way); the trailhead is on the left 0.6 mile past the falls. Parker Creek Trail #160 is on the right side of the road one mile past the falls; it goes southwest 3.4 miles to AZ 288, dropping 2,100 feet.

 

The Rim Trail #139 begins a short way down Parker Creek Trail and curves east and north 7.6 miles to Edwards Spring with good views. Most of the hike lies within the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. It makes an easy outing, with only a 500-foot elevation gain. 

Coon Creek Trail #254 also branches off Parker Creek Trail for a 4.4-mile, 2,400-foot descent south along Coon Creek to a trailhead at the end of Forest Road 189. 

 

Moody Point Trail #140 begins on the right 2.2 miles past the falls on Forest Road 487; it connects with the Rim Trail and continues east all the way across the Sierra Ancha Wilderness to Cherry Creek (which may be too high to cross when it's in flood) and Forest Road 203; this challenging trail is 8.6 miles long and drops 4,200 feet. You can find many places for dispersed camping along Forest Road 487 above the falls, but only the established recreation areas can be used below the falls. Hikers can cool off in the "tubs," natural pools in Workman Creek; from the Workman Creek bridge on AZ 288, follow the trail downstream 250 yards.

Sierra Ancha Wilderness Fish Species

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Stocked with Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Brook Trout.  There are three main streams that you can fish in the area.  Cherry Creek, Haigler creek and probably the most popular Workman Creek.  Worman 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.

Sierra Anacha Wilderness Fishing Strategy

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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.

Sierra Anacha Wilderness Camping Options

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Alderwood Campground (elev. 5,200 feet; no water or fee) is beside Haigler Creek six miles in on Forest Road 200 from Forest Road 512, then west half a mile on Forest Road 200A. Haigler Canyon Recreation Site (elev. 5,250 feet; no water or fee) has camping and fishing (trout April–Aug.); it's nine miles in on Forest Road 200 from Forest Road 512; you can also approach it from the north via AZ 260 and Forest Roads 291 and 200.

 

Valentine Ridge Campground (elev. 6,600 feet; no water or fee) lies 18 miles north of Young or six miles south of AZ 260 via Forest Road 512, then two miles east on Forest Road 188. Colcord Ridge Recreation Site (no water or fee) is just east on Forest Road 33 from Forest Road 512, about three miles south of AZ 260 or 21 miles north of Young. Airplane Flat Campground (elev. 6,600 feet; no water or fee) is about four miles farther in on Forest Road 33. Upper Canyon Creek Recreation Site (elev. 6,600 feet; no water or fee) and Canyon Creek Hatchery lie just below the Rim; follow Forest Road 33 in five miles. The fish hatchery features a self-guided tour, open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily. Anglers can fish in Canyon Creek for rainbow and brown trout; check local fishing regulations.

 

Colcord Lookout (elev. 7,513 feet) offers a sweeping panorama of the Young area and the Mogollon Rim; the tower is open about May to October; turn west three miles on Forest Road 291 from Forest Road 512 (opposite the Forest Road 33 turnoff).


McFadden Peak has a road up to its lookout tower; turn west about one mile on Forest Road 561 from AZ 288 16 miles south of Young

 

Groups can contact the Pleasant Valley Ranger District office to reserve Reynolds Creek Group Site (elev. 5,200 feet), 19 miles south of Young, for day or overnight use. It's a good base for exploring the Salome and the Sierra Ancha Wilderness Areas and a worthwhile spot in itself for enjoying the pretty creek and wildlife; there's a fee but no potable water.

 

Workman Creek Waterfalls plunge 200 feet in a canyon south of Young; to get there, go south 21 miles on AZ 288, then turn left 3.2 miles on Forest Road 487 at the sign for "Workman Creek Recreation Area, Sierra Ancha Wilderness"; the turnoff is between Mileposts 284 and 285. A gate 2.6 miles in is closed Dec. 15–March 31. The last quarter mile may be too rough for cars. On the way to the falls, you'll pass primitive campsites at Creeksite, Cascade, and Falls Recreation Sites; no water or fee. This pretty canyon supports dense stands of Douglas fir and white fir, as well as smaller numbers of Arizona sycamore and the relatively rare Arizona maple.

 

Rose Creek Campground (elev. 5,400 feet) enjoys a beautiful forest setting beside a creek 23 miles south of Young; no drinking water or fee. The turnoff from AZ 288 is between Mileposts 282 and 283.

Sierra Ancha Wilderness Swimming Holes

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Colcord Falls which is located upstream about a 1/2 mile east past the camping area is a great reprieve from the summer heat. The waterfall is by far one of the best preserved swim holes in the entire state. The waterfall isn't always running but with the heavy rains in 2017 and rains in 2018, the region has had plenty of moisture to keep the falls running all year. It's an easy hike through a narrow wet canyon with a couple hidden springs to look at along the way.