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Soldiers Camp Trail, Four Peaks Wilderness - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A remote out and back hike on a seldom used trail with good views of the Four Peaks. My advice on this hike is to pay careful attention to your surroundings since there is much route finding involved. If you memorize your route on the way in, it will make your return trip considerably easier. 
Directions: Drive east out of Phoenix on the Bee Line Highway (Highway 87) to between mile markers 203 & 204 (just before mile marker 204). Turn right at the sign for Four Peaks onto the dirt Forest Road 143 (bumpy and rough in a few places) and drive 2 miles to a junction with the right branching FR 401. Turn right onto 401 and follow it 4.2 miles to Cottonwood Camp (a cowboy camp with a few old trashed buildings). Head east through the area ignoring the many branching use roads and drive across the creek. The road becomes 4-WD at this point and soon begins climbing a series of rocky hills. Drive 4.6 miles on this rough road (which is still FR 401) to a small pull out on the left marked by a brown plastic trail sign.
Road Conditions: Four Wheel Drive
Navigation: Difficult
Length: 7 miles one way, 14 miles out and back
Date Hiked: January 2005
Weather Conditions: Sunny and nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the Soldiers Camp Trailhead, pick up the trail next to the brown plastic trail sign which soon leads past a wooden sign letting you know you are on Soldiers Camp Trail #83. Though obviously not used very often, the path is fairly distinct at first (and marked by frequent cairns) as it ascends gradually through grassy hills dotted with prickly pear, saguaro, cholla and agaves towards the jagged profile of the Four Peaks in the distance. The trail then descends a short distance into a shallow valley, crosses a wash, then heads up the valley to eventually climb out on the right side. Continue along the path as it continues to ascend at a comfortable grade up along a ridgeline eventually reaching a minor sloping saddle where it becomes considerably more difficult to follow. Head straight across the saddle (resist the temptation to continue climbing the hills to the right) and begin descending into a minor drainage keeping your eyes peeled for infrequent cairns. Near the bottom of the drainage, pick up what appears to be a very old section of road that bends right crossing first a small drainage, then a larger one marked by the bowling ball cairn pictured below. On the other side of this wash you will see cairns leading straight and to the right. Stay straight, traveling perpendicularly to the wash you just crossed, and begin ascending the hill on the other side. The faint to non-existent path bends slightly to the left and enters a shallow 'V' shaped drainage which has few cairns and no discernable trail. Climb up to the top of this drainage to a saddle marked by a large cairn. The trail continues to the north descending gradually to the drainage of Boulder Creek and Soldiers Camp (which is nothing more than a grassy area beside the creek). Cross Boulder Creek and continue straight up an arm of the hill on the other side (again, there is no trail, keep your eyes open for cairns) to another minor saddle which has the remains of an old rock wall and some great views of the Peaks. The path levels out for a short distance as it continues north on the left side of a wide valley, eventually becoming steeper and steeper as it climbs out the head of the valley to Big Saddle and a sign for the Four Peaks Wilderness. Head straight across the saddle and begin descending steeply on a somewhat more distinct trail that leads through a forested area to soon reach a fence line and small boxed spring. The trail continues descending beside the fence, eventually leveling out before coming out at the Mud Spring Trailhead which features a small and not very level camping area under the trees. When ready, return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this hike solo at a moderately quick pace. It took 4 hours to hike from the Soldiers Camp Trailhead to Mud Spring with some time spent route finding. It took 3 hours to return since the route was familiar.
Maps: Tonto National Forest Map or Click here: Map 1, Map 2
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Desert and Four Peaks. Bowling ball cairn.
Four Peaks in the clouds. Big Saddle.