The Mountains of Arizona •
Hackberry Mesa • Superstition Mountains
• Superstition Wilderness
• Tonto National Forest
• Maricopa County

Hackberry Mesa in dawn light

Partway up the slope, big saguaro

Atop the mesa now, the top is yay ahead

This here be the top

View down over Garden Valley and interesting rock formations

On the hike down, famous Weavers Needle, perhaps one of the most well-known stick-ups in the state, is visible behind a foreground ridge

Garden Valley, and the trail. In back is the main massif of the Superstition Mountains

Hackberry Mesa now in the sun

Part of the hike out passes through this scape of burned trees

I thought this was a cool image of the various rock formations, as I hiked out

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Date: March 18, 2022 • Elevation: 2,793 feet • Prominence: 385 feet • Distance: 6.5 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 620 feet • Conditions: Clear skies, cool at first but warming fast


Hackberry Mesa is in the Superstition Mountains, a low-profile peak with cliffs to the north and west and a long sloping grade to the east. A few popular trails surround it. It appeared just the last half-mile looked to be off trail, but without annoying things like cliffs to slow me down. I figured, with an early start, I could hike it and still get home in the late morning to do my day job.

I was out the door before 6 a.m., and 40 minutes later, rolled into the First Water trailhead off highway AZ-88. This is the same trailhead I used when I hiked Black Top Mesa a couple years ago. Being a Friday, I assumed not many cars would be there, but I was surprised to see about a dozen vehicles already there. Many, I assume, were doing multi-day backpacks. I found a spot, got situated, and started hiking about 6:30 a.m. as the sun was rising. It was chilly, in the high 40s.

I followed Trail 104. It drops gently about a half-mile to the junction with Trail 236, the First Water Trail. A right on Trail 104 would lead to Black Top Mesa. I stayed straight, now on Trail 236. It crosses a dry creek, wanders a little, then swings southeast and hugs the side of a long ridge, being level for long stretches. Then it descended into another creek and made a hard left, now heading northeast.

This segment gained somewhat steeply. My knee was improving from a recent slight sprain and it was good to test it on this trail, which was just rocky enough to force me to use all the muscle groups in my legs. It was a little weak, but held up well.

The trail gains to a lovely flat meadow called Garden Valley. Up ahead to the northwest was Hackberry Mesa. I kept to the trail about another half mile, until I was south of Hackberry Mesa, slightly east of an empty earthen tank. Now it was time to leave the trail and ascent the southern slopes of the mesa. The slopes looked typically steep and any line looked good. Down low, the grass and cactus was abundant, with batches of palo verde too. I had to zig and zag a few times to find a relatively scratch-free route through the flora.

Now on the slopes, I aimed upward and followed any open lane as I found them. The footing was stable, but some parts were loose. This wasn't the big rounded volcanic boulders like on lower desert peaks, but a little more angular and smaller, just enough to skid out from under my feet once or twice. I just went slow. I gained about 200 feet here.

Now on the upper sloping plateau, I walked uphill toward the top. The brush and low trees sometimes obscured line-of-sight navigation. I found myself wandering a lot just to get past the obstacles. However, it wasn't challenging. I was at the top quickly, a 90-minute hike so far.

The views were typically lovely. The day was clear with no clouds and I had ideal conditions and lighting for photographs. The register held just a few names going back 5 years. Someone was here in January. But I expected more people would have been up here, but it only came out to about 4 or 5 people per year. It's not like it's miles off any trail. I spent about fifteen minutes up top, relaxing and looking around. It was starting to warm.

I descended essentially the same line I came up. I was a tad more east of the earthen tank, but the descent off the slope went fast with no mishaps. I was keeping an eye out for snakes. I did not see any, but heard a lot of buzzing. The bees are also getting active and I probably walked past a few hives.

Back to Garden Valley, I got on the trail again and started the trek out. Then I started seeing more people. A guy was coming up the trail so we chatted. Up ahead was a trio with big packs on, evidently overnighters. They were discussing among themselves "who had the car keys". That didn't sound encouraging. I saw a few more solo hikers in the ensuing fifteen minutes.

Once past the second creek and on that first ridge, I started encountering group after group, usually in batches of 4 to 8 people. All were heading inbound, me outbound. It was warming into the 70s, which is lovely, but possibly barely on the warm side. It was supposed to be in the mid 80s today. I must have passed at least 40 people as I hiked out. Every single person was friendly.

I was back to my car a little shy of 11 a.m., a little over 3 hours for the round trip, covering 6.5 miles by my reckoning. This does not include the zig-zagging I had to do on the mesa itself. The lot was packed now. As I exited, more cars were coming in, sometimes 4 at a time, like they were all in one group.

The Superstitions are an amazing range with many trail options. Today's crowds may have been motivated by the cooler weather before the heat of the day set in. I have no beefs with a lot of hikers. Everyone here looked like they were here to hike, not litter the place like over by Canyon Lake. But it can get crowded. I knew this, which was partly why I came here on a weekday and early as possible. I knew tomorrow would be near impossible to score a spot.

This was a great hike. The peak was easy and a good one to test my knee on more challenging terrain. The scenery was outstanding as it always is in the Supes. This may be it for me until later this year. It'll be getting hot soon.

(c) 2022 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.