Trip Report: Superstition Wilderness, White Rocks Spring and Weaver’s Needle
This romp came together as part of a planned trip to the Phoenix area for some family business. Superstition Wilderness wasn’t really on my radar until I started looking for areas to hike around the Phoenix area, but once it did, I knew this would be a great place to explore. It’s an expansive wilderness area within an hour’s drive from the airport. A lively and abundant desert area with some good, reliable sources of water, and some good remote spots for setting up camp. Add some stunning landscapes and geological features like Weaver’s Needle and you have a great adventure in the making.
This hike is relatively short, a fairly easy 7.5 mile hike into some great camping spots and opportunities to setup a base camp to explore Weaver’s Needle. While the Saguaro cactuses dominate, there is some welcome relief from the sun in the shade of the mesquite trees in the lower valleys where you’ll be camping. Water may be scarce at the camp site, but an easy 1.5 mile hike to Charlebois Spring will yield a very reliable water source.
Being a desert environment, there are some additional planning considerations, particularly on the point of water. The impact of the dry, cloudless air cannot be understated. Even at moderate temperatures (70-80°) that may not seem terribly hot in other parts of the country, will feel considerably hotter in the desert. Without the moisture in the air to absorb the energy from the sun, you will really feel the effects of radiant heat. And that dry air very quickly wicks the moisture from your body with every breath you take. Don’t take it lightly.
Wear a sun shirt! Cover up as much as possible. It may seem counter-intuitive but you will be cooler wearing a long sleeve shirt blocking that radiant energy. I like the REI Sahara shirts, with an SPF of 50 and a collar that I can turn up over my neck if needed. Some people prefer sun hoodies. Either way, cover up!
Wear a wide brim hat (or use that hood on your hoodie!). You’ll usually see me wearing a Tilley Airflo LTM6. This isn’t the widest brim Tilley, but I find any wider can interfere with the backpack. And along with a turned-up shirt collar, it provides very good protection. Outdoor Research also makes some great sun hats, like the Sun Runner Cap, the Sombriolet, or the Helios.
Carry plenty of water! Think you’ve got enough? Carry some more. I use Hydrapak Seeker Reservoirs. They are light, collapsible, and have a 42mm thread that is compatible with the BeFree filters. I typically only put clean water in the reservoirs, but having at least one other bottle or reservoir with a 42mm thread means that if my “dirty” bladder fails, I can just use one of the bottles or reservoirs in its place.
I promise that will be it for the product placements. I don’t tend to put those into my Trip Reports, but this topic was important enough that I wanted to provide a few solid recommendations to make it as easy as possible for you to prepare. Now let’s get on with it!
Day 1: First Water TH to White Rocks Spring
Distance: 7.57 mi
Elevation Gain / Loss: +1378′ -1231′
You begin your hike at the First Water Trailhead. We arrived to find the mail trailhead full (not surprising for a Sat. morning with beautiful weather), which isn’t a big deal as there is a second parking lot with plenty of room about .5 miles before the trailhead. Your first and last day hikes will simply be .5 miles shorter if are able to find a spot at the primary trail head.
The trail will be dusty and rocky the entire way, as is to be expected for this environment. I didn’t find gaiters necessary, but I do recommend long pants. There are spots where the trail narrows and the plants here all bite. Most of the hike will be exposed, but keep your eye out for the occasional shade from a large rock or even a large cactus. Break often, hydrate, and cool down. Even when you might not think you need to.
Superstition Wildernes – Cooling in the Shade
From the trailhead (either one) you will start on Dutchman Trail # 104. In about .3 miles you will reach the intersection with Second Water Trail. Stay to the right to continue on Dutchman Trail #104. Along the way you will see plenty of Saguaro, including what we think was the largest of the trip at around the 3.4 mile mark (measured from the primary trailhead, not the overflow).
Superstition Large Saguaro
Continue to enjoy the various prickly pears and other flora for another .5 miles or so when you’ll get your first really good view of Weaver’s Needle. It’s still 2.5 miles away as the crow flies, but better views will come tomorrow as you hike closer.
Superstitions: Weaver’s Needle from Dutchman Trail
You’ll soon come to several intersections, in close succession. . The first is with Black Mesa Trail (which you will take on your exit hike), followed in .2 miles by Boulder Canyon Trail. Keep to the right at both of these intersections, staying on Dutchman Trail. At the third intersection, you will take the left fork onto Bull Pass Trail. Keep an eye on your GPS/map, though the signs are generally pretty good.
Superstitions: Dutchman and Black Mesa Intersection
Continue on until you reach the rough area of camp, about the 7-7.5 mile mark (depending upon which trailhead you started from). The CalTopo map under the Details section will show you pretty clearly where we setup, and it was a very nice spot. Room for three tents, a nice fire pit, and a bit of shade. But there are plenty of spots all around. We say some decent spots back up Cavalry and plenty more as you continue along Dutchman Trail towards Charlebois Spring.
Speaking of which, we sought out White Rock Spring but were not able to find it. We found no obvious trail towards it and the two other groups of hikers we encountered were similarly unable to locate it. Plan for this and expect to tack on another 3 mile round trip as you head to Charlebois which is a reliable source of water and easy to locate.
Additional Notes on Charlebois Spring
While it may be disappointing to learn you have another 3 miles of hiking to get water, it’s a really lovely walk through a particularly beautiful part of the wilderness and brimming with life. We saw plenty of birds, including cardinals, owls, and cactus wrens. as well as jackrabbits and lizards. I would recommend this hike even if you didn’t need to go after water!
The first time we went for water, we missed a turn in the trail just as you cross the dry creek bed of La Barge Creek. Once you cross the creek, it is pretty easy to just follow the intersecting dry creek bed leading down from the spring. In fact, it looks like a continuation of the trail. If you do this, you will likely find water, as there are multiple pools. Some better than others. We pass by a few and kept going upstream and were rewarded by a large, clean, pool.
Superstition Wilderness Pool Below Charlebois Spring
To reach the actual spring, just as you cross La Barge Creek, look for the continuation of the trail just to the right of where the intersecting dry creekbed. You will soon come to an obvious camp site. Go through the camp site and continue on a small trail beyond. You will eventually come to a concrete trough for watering horses. Keep going and you will reach a nice pool in the shade of a bunch of sycamore trees. This is as far as we explored. There may be other pools upstream of this one. It didn’t smell great in the area, but the water itself looked clean and clear, smelled fine and contained fish (I assume they were Gila Topminnow based on references I have found to an endangered fish sourced from Charlebois Spring)
Day 2: Day Hike Exploring around Weaver’s Needle
Distance: 5.18 mi (more or less, depending on how far you want to explore)
Elevation Gain / Loss: +2368/-3185
To get a closer look at Weaver’s Needle, backtrack on Bull Pass Trail for just about 1/2 of a mile to the intersection with Dutchman Trail. This is not the same intersection where you departed from Dutchman yesterday, so don’t go that far. From where you departed yesterday, Dutchman makse a big U-shaped diversion around Black Top Mesa and then reconnects to Bull Pass. It this point where it would reconnect that you are looking for. And it will be pretty easy to spot as you’ll be looking straight down the trail towards the Needle.
After about .9 miles down Dutchman, you will come to the intersection of Terrapin Trail. Take that to the left and continue onward towards the Needle. In another .25 miles or so you will see an interesting rock cluster on the trail, creating a bit of a protected cave and just beyond a nice little spot shaded by trees. This is a great place for a break and a cool-down away from the sun!
Superstition Wilderness Weaver’s Needle 051
Superstition Wilderness Weaver’s Needle 061
The rest of the hike is fairly exposed until you reach stopping point, when you will find some boulders large enough to cash a shadow if you are early in the day. Most of the hike is a fairly gentle slope, until about the 2.2 mile mark where it begins climbing a bit more steeply. But it’s only a few hundred feet of elevation so you’ll quickly reach a saddle, the end of our recorded hike, where you can catch your break and take in some great views of the Needle an the surrounding area.
Day 3: White Rocks Spring to First Water TH
Distance: 8.81 mi
Elevation Gain / Loss: +1535/-1712
For the hike out, I opted to take a slightly different route to change up the scenery. It is slightly longer, and frankly, not that scenic, so you may want to consider just heading back out the way you came. If you decide to follow my path, just head back down Bull Pass trail as you leave camp. At about 1.4 miles or so you will reach the top of a saddle. Pay attention here as the most obvious trail is actually to the left and leads to a climb up to the top of Black Top Mesa (not to be confused with Black Mesa). Instead, you want to continue straight across the saddle to keep on Bull Pass Trail, which is just not as visible because it continues on a descent somewhat obscured from view as you top the saddle. Back to those successive intersections, keep to the right of the first two and be on the watch for the trail sign pointing the way north for Black Mesa trail. From here you will have a steep climb for just a few hundred feet gradually leveling and eventually becoming mostly downhill for the final 3 miles to the trailhead.
As you reach the top, the namesake mesa will be to your right.
Superstition Wilderness Black Mesa
And as you continue through this area you will see some of the devastating effects of fire. Keep in mind that Saguaros grow very, very, slowly. A large Saguaro like this one may have been 150 years old or older before succumbing to fire. Looking at the fire data for many of the recent fires in the area, it’s a mix of lightning and human cause. Be careful out there. While fires are permitted in the area, these desert environments are literal tinder boxes. It won’t take much in the way of a stray spark to cause a rapidly spreading fire. Clear the ground all around your camp fire and keep the fire small and contained.
Superstition Wilderness Fire Damaged Saguaro
The desert is an incredible environment to hike in. It’s stark but at the same time can be strangely beautiful.
Region: Tonto National Forest: Mesa Ranger District: Superstition Wilderness Style: Out and Back, Basecamp, Optional Day Hike Distance: 16.4 Miles (w/o day hike) Elevation Gain: 928 (w/o day hike) Duration: 3 Days, 2 Nights Dogs: Allowed Date: 3/6/2021 – 3/8/2021
Map below shows all three days of activity:
Day 1: First Water TH to White Rocks Spring (orange track)
Elevation: +1378′ -1231′
Day 2: Day Hike towards Weaver’s Needle (blue track)
Elevation: +1298′ -1297′
Day 3: White Rocks Spring to First Water TH (red track)