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Barnhardt/Sandy Saddle Semi-Loop - Tonto National Forest

Summary: From the Barnhardt Trailhead, this hike will take you on a 17 mile semi-loop hike using the Barnhardt, Sandy Saddle and Divide Trails with an optional detour to a 250' waterfall (if the stream is flowing) in the upper end of the Right Fork of Deadman Creek. Directions for rappelling these falls is provided for those adventurous types.
Note: This hike was completed prior to the Willow fire which burned through the Mazatzal Wilderness in June and July of 2004. Actual trail conditions may differ from those described below.
Directions: From Phoenix drive northeast on State Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) for about 65 miles to the brown Forest Service sign for Barnhardt Rd (FS 419).  Turn left on this dirt road (a little bumpy, but ok for passenger cars if dry) and follow 4.7 miles to the parking area at the end.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Moderate - some faint sections along the Sandy Saddle Trail
Length: 17 miles
Date Hiked: April, 2004
Weather Conditions: Sunny and warm
Required Skills: with optional
Hike Description: Begin walking on the trail (0 miles, 4220 ft) just past the large brown sign for the Barnhardt Trailhead (this sign is supposed to show some of the main trails in the area, though it doesn't make any sense to me). A couple feet past the sign is a signed junction: Barnhardt Trail (#43) heads straight & the Shake Tree Trail (#44) heads left, continue straight ahead on the Barnhardt Trail. The path is wide and rocky at first as it heads through a stile then begins following the south side of the drainage of Barnhardt Creek through a scrub forest of emory oak, alligator juniper, scrub oak, one seed juniper & prickly pear. About 15 minutes later you will pass a sign marking the Mazatzal Wilderness Boundary. The trail continues to ascend moderately for the next several miles. Look for a narrow break in the rock on the left hand side - about 100 feet up this short drainage is a nice waterfall (when it's flowing, which it probably isn't). In the upper end of the canyon, manzanita becomes more common and eventually becomes the dominant plant species. The trail bends to the right around the head of Barnhardt Creek & shortly thereafter reaches a signed junction with the right branching Sandy Saddle Trail #231 (4.2 miles, 5960 ft), turn right onto the Sandy Saddle Trail. The path descends somewhat steeply to a dry streambed and crosses it a few times (look for cairns in this area), then begins climbing, gradually at first, then more steeply up a rocky slope to top out at at a sandy saddle (what did you expect?). The trail then begins descending beside (and sometimes in) a rocky streambed on a somewhat faint and overgrown path (keep your eye out for cairns) to end in a 'T' junction with the Divide Trail (7.2 miles, 6040 ft). Turn left on the Divide Trail and in a few minutes look for a dry wash which runs parallel to the trail on the right. To visit the falls, leave the trail and walk down this dry wash for 5 minutes to the edge of a large cliff band and, if the stream is flowing, a 250' falls. The falls plunge about 120' to a ledge, then another 100' to a shallow pool.

For most, this view of the falls will be plenty. Adventurous types with rope ascending skills can rappel the falls to explore down this right fork of Deadman Creek. To perform this stunt you'll need a minimum of two ropes; 170' and 100' in length, harness, descending and ascending gear and decent climbing skills. The first rappel can be rigged with the longer rope using a sturdy alligator juniper tree located ~30' back from the top of the falls on stream left (there are 2 beach ball sized boulders immediately in front of this tree). This rappel will bring you to an obvious ledge. If the rock is dry, it is possible to down climb the rest of the way to the pool at the base of the falls (beware that the rock is smooth and could prove dangerous when wet, in this case a safer means down would be to bring a 250' rope and rappel all the way into the pool, which was about 3' deep when the author was here). A short trip down canyon will bring you to a second drop off & falls. If you have a long rope (maybe 150'?) you might be able to rappel directly down this drop off. If you only brought a short rope like me, you can climb up and around to the right until you have a view of a steep grass covered slope to the north. Rig your rope from another alligator juniper tree to get past an annoying cliff band, then down climb the remainder of the way to the slope, which can be descended with some care to the base of the second falls. Explore down stream & when ready return back up the falls using your ascending gear to get back up the ropes.

When ready, walk back up the streambed to the Divide Trail and continue south on this rocky and level path as it winds its way through a corridor of manzanita. Shortly after catching some views of the rugged south face of Mazatzal Peak and Suicide Ridge you'll reach a signed junction with the Barnhardt Trail (11 miles, 5660 ft). Stay left on the Barnhardt Trail trail which is quite flat for the next few miles as it travels through more manzanita corridors & in and out of shallow ponderosa pine filled drainages below the rounded humps of Mazatzal Peak until it reaches the junction with the Sandy Saddle Trail you took earlier. Stay right on the Barnhardt Trail and follow it back down the mountain to the trailhead and your vehicle (17.1 miles, 4220 ft).

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and a friend hiked to the falls at a fast pace in about 3.5 hours along the route described above. We then spent 4 hours descending the falls, exploring downstream in the right fork of Deadman Creek and climbing back out again. Another 3.5 hours of walking brought us back to the trailhead (for a total of an 11 hour day).
Maps: Click here for a map of this hike.
Mazatzal Wilderness Tonto National Forest, USFS
Books: Several sections of this hike are described in: Arizona Trails - 100 Hikes in Canyon and Sierra' by David Mazel
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappelling the first falls. Looking up from the
bottom of the 2nd falls.
Ascending back out.