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Ballentine Trail - Tonto National Forest

Summary: The lower Ballentine trailhead is located just east of Phoenix on Highway 87 and offers several hiking options from a casual 3 mile loop to a grueling 23 mile adventure. On the way to the upper trailhead, the path passes from a lower desert life zone to chaparral to pine forests.
Directions: Drive east out of Phoenix on the Bee Line Highway (Highway 87) to just past mile marker 210 to a parking area on the right (south) side of the road.
You can get to the upper trailhead by taking Highway 87 to Forest Road #143. Turn right (south) on FR #143 and follow it several miles to the trailhead parking on the left (I'm not more specific since I did not drive this route).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Moderate
Length: 3 miles - Pine Creek Loop
11.5 miles - Entire length of the Ballentine Trail (requires a car spot)
23 miles - Out and back along the Ballentine
Date Hiked: October 2004
Weather Conditions: Pleasant and sunny
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area, walk through the fence to the start of the trail (0 miles). There is a sign pointing left for the Pine Creek Loop Trail #280 (1.5 miles to the Ballentine junction). The right path is the Ballentine Trail #283 (though the sign is missing). We'll take the right path which heads east a short distance beside the highway before bending left to climb moderately up to a ridgeline. The gravel covered path in this section is easy to follow, though deeply eroded in sections, as it travels through typical low desert terrain consisting of of: saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, palo verde, mesquite, brittlebush and rabbit brush. The trail tops out at a ridge then drops down to a signed junction with the Pine Creek Loop trail which heads left (1.5 miles). Those wishing to do a short and sweet loop can take this path back to the car; we, however, will head straight on the Ballentine Trail towards: Boulder Flat 3 miles, Rock Tank 7 miles, Kline Trailhead 11 miles. The path begins climbing at a steady grade as it winds through some low hills dotted with interesting rock formations. The path eventually climbs up to a flat basin where it splits into several tracks (this is Boulder Flat, 4.5 miles). There was evidence of off road vehicle tracks when I was here, which I'm guessing is the cause of these rogue paths. Stay on the center trail, then straight again 50 feet beyond where another track splits off to the right. If you've managed to remain on the Ballentine Trail, you'll reach an old trail sign confirming this fact after another 150 feet. The path beyond Boulder Flat doesn't see as much use as the lower section and is somewhat overgrown in places, becoming increasingly more so the further you go. If you happen to be wearing long pants, you'll be glad to have them since your legs will be snagged by cat's claw, scrub oak and manzanita. The path heads up a wide valley and continues climbing. There are quite a few cairns at first which help guide you forward when the path becomes a bit faint. The trail eventually climbs up to a grassy spot, skirts this area to the left, then passes through a fence. As you continue up the drainage, look for cairns that mark an abrupt right turn marking a spot where it crosses the dry wash, before it resumes its upward progress. The path continues up the wash, to a point near the head of the drainage where it leaves it to the left and begins climbing steeply on a deeply eroded path up to the ridgeline above. Once on the ridge, the trail bends right and becomes somewhat challenging to follow as it travels through thick stands of scrub oak and manzanita. Take your time through this section to ensure you stay on the faint trail. Eventually the route descends a short distance into a shallow drainage and crosses it to enter a pine forest. Here the underbrush thankfully fades away, and although the path is still rather faint, it becomes much easier to follow. The trail heads up through the woods, crossing the stream several times before climbing more steeply up to the right to a flat area with some nice (if dry) campsites. The path eventually breaks out of the trees and begins dropping down a wide valley on a rocky trail (which looks more like a dry stream bed at first rather than a trail), keep an eye out for cairns. The trail eventually becomes less steep and less rocky as it winds its way through the desert chaparral towards a road in the distance. You'll know you're getting close to the upper trailhead (about 20 minutes out) when you pass through a fence, then about 5 minutes from the end you'll reach a cement trough and fence. With little fanfare, the path reaches FR #143 at a pull off littered with typical redneck detritus (beer cans, styrofoam cups, cigarette boxes, shotgun shells and bullet casings - sounds like a party - yee haw!). If you were smart and spotted a car here, your trip is complete (11.5 miles). If not, turn around and begin the long slog back. Be sure to take the Pine Creek Loop trail on the return. It branches to the right at the signed junction you passed earlier and contours along a slope to the left of Pine Creek. There are some views across the creek of the saguaro dotted hills beyond. Just before reaching the highway, the path bends left and travels west above the highway back to the parking lot where you began your adventure (23 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author hiked from the lower Ballentine trailhead to the upper and back again, using the Pine Creek Loop on the return, traveling solo at a fast pace in just under 9 hours.
Books: None
Maps: Tonto National Forest Map
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

The Ballentine Trail. Climbing towards Boulder Flat.
Nice desert scenery further
up the trail.
View from the Pine Creek
Loop Trail.