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Castle Creek Wilderness - Prescott National Forest

Summary: A nasty hike through thickets of cat's claw.  Wear long pants & bring gloves if you attempt this hike.
Directions: From Phoenix drive north on I-17.  Exit at 248 for Bumblebee, drive under the highway and along 59, shortly the pavement ends and you will continue on a well graded dirt road for 4 miles.  Just before mile post 4 and a cattle guard, turn left onto FR-684 (4-wheel drive), there is a small faded sign for 684 on the left side.  Follow the most well used roads and the occasional signs to the end.  Along the way you will pass a ratty mine claim trailer, signs for Black Canyon Trail and two gates.  Park next to the steel tank.
Road Conditions: 4-wheel drive
Navigation: Difficult
Length: ~16 miles
Date Hiked: October, 2000
Weather Conditions: Nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the sign for Castle Creek Trail #239 begin climbing up towards the two white outcroppings above.  The trail is moderately distinct at this point, but becomes more visible as you climb.  The trail climbs a ways, then levels off before dropping down into a wash.  A short climb on the other side brings you to a sign for the Wilderness Boundary and a signed trail junction (1.5 miles).  Straight ahead is the continuation of #239 (Horsethief Basin & Senator Road (SR) #52, 5 miles), the right is for #240 (Bench Well 0.25 miles, Two Peaks Trail 2 miles), turn right onto #240.  After 0.25 you come to an old sign for Bench Well (dry when the author was there) and a steel windmill of the type you often see around AZ.  Cross the wash and bend right (look for cairns).  At this point the trail becomes very crappy and overgrown with cat claw and scrub oak, a trend that continues for the majority of the hike.  The trail is also quite faded and difficult to follow, cairns and flagging tape mark the way (though at some points you will have to push your way through thickets of scrub to proceed).  After a few miles you will come to Cow Springs (3.5 miles) which was dry when the author was there.  The trail continues climbing towards the right, then bends to the left and travels up a dry wash.  Look for a cairn and flagging tape on the left hand side for the continuation of the trail through the brush.  Eventually you will come to a shoulder and a fence.  Go through the fence and turn left (looks like there used to be a trail sign at this point but it has been trashed).  The first part is a little tricky, but the trail becomes more distinct and there is a respite from the brush for a while.  The trail climbs up towards one of the two peaks then skirts it to the right at the last minute.  Continue hiking and you will come to a signed junction: Twin Peaks Trail #240 continues straight and Senator Road #52 to the left, turn left towards SR-52 (8.5 miles).  The trail descends then becomes quite wide as it travels through a nice Ponderosa Pine forest (this part of the hike is actually nice, though it's the only nice part).  The trail dumps you out straight onto FR #679, continue straight following #679 until you reach a major junction.  Turn left at the junction towards the sign for the "Yellow Helispot", there is also a sign somewhat hidden in the brush on the right for Trail #239 (9.5 miles).  At the end of the road just past the register look on the right for two cairns marking #239, just beyond is a gate and a Wilderness Boundary sign.  Begin descending through a trail very similar to that you came up (not quite so overgrown, but bad enough).  Follow the cairns as you descend.  When you finally come to a corral the trail fades into multiple use paths.  Climb over the fence into the corral and stay to the right and you will pick up the cairns once again.  A short distance beyond is the trail junction you passed by earlier (14.5 miles).  Turn right and hike the remaining 1.5 miles back to your car (16 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars): Zero stars
The author performed this hike in shorts and his legs became shredded by cat claw.  The result was quite painful since the brush was unrelenting.  My suspicion is that years of historic cattle grazing has promoted woody plant growth and the result is that the Castle Creek area is now dominated by cat claw and scrub oak.  I can not recommend this hike, though it might be nice to drive to near the summit and walk around in the pine forest.
Maps: Prescott National Forest map - not very good
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Typical view in Castle Creek, looking
down the trail(?), notice the cairn
in the lower right of the frame.