Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Canyon Creek's amazing recovery
Issuing from the base of the Mogollon Rim, Canyon Creek is a top Arizona fishing and hiking destination. Back in 2002, the Rodeo-Chedeski fire torched parts of the forests surrounding this beautiful perennial stream while leaving other sections intact. Since the fire swept through, the forest service, game & fish and other agencies have been working to restore and stabilize the waterway. Vegetation has been replanted and fencing keeps resident wildlife from browsing sensitive saplings. In between the blackened trunks and barren knolls, pockets of lush pines, alders, locusts and willows frame sprawling green pastures that burst with color in summer wildflower season (May -September). The hike is a combination of stream side bushwhacking, meadow strolls and--where the brambles are too thick to stay near the water---adjacent FR 188 serves as a detour. Beginning at Airplane Flat campground (which was untouched by the fire) the hike portal is a wooden gate near campsite #10. Narrow paths blazed by anglers head toward the water and sometimes are obscured by brush and dead tree fall. Also, be prepared to crawl under barbed wire and pass various gate contraptions put in place to protect newborn riparian vegetation. (Please do not cut or otherwise alter these fences). At roughly 1.25 miles, OW Bridge leads to a private ranch. Here, informative signs with maps, fishing rules and insight into the creek restoration project mark a popular stop for anglers trying for coveted brown trout. Continue hiking south along the stream---there's no definitive way to go, just head in the direction of the the water, crossing back and forth at low flow points or on primitive log “bridges”---expect wet feet if you really want to get the most out of this trek. Numerous signs along the road herald additional access points and you'll probably run into people fishing along the banks on your way to the 5-mile point where the trail ends at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
LENGTH: 5 miles one way
RATING: easy (some route-finding)
ELEVATION: 6,200' – 6,600'
KID FRIENDLY?: yes
DOGS: leashed dogs allowed
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 140 miles one way
FACILITIES: outhouses, non-reservable camp sites, site host in season, picnic tables
FEE: none. Some hike reports state that a Tonto Pass is required. It is not.
From Phoenix, travel north on AZ87 (Beeline Highway) to the AZ260 junction in Payson. Turn east (right) and continue 32 miles on AZ260 to Young Road (FR 512) between mileposts 284-285. Turn south (right) and go 3 miles to FR 33 (Canyon Creek Recreation Area) located just past milepost 330. Turn left and go 5 miles on FR 33 to Airplane Flat campground. The last 5 miles are on a winding, precipitous, but good dirt road suitable for sedans in dry weather. Do not park in designated campsites---use the dirt turnouts.
INFO: Pleasant Valley Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 928-462-4300