Boulder Canyon Loop, Superstition Wilderness: Canyon Lake Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona

Boulder Canyon Loop - 6.05 miles

Superstition Wilderness: Canyon Lake Trailhead

Boulder Canyon

Boulder Canyon

Round-Trip Length: 6.05 miles (distance may vary in canyon)
Start-End Elevation: 1,677' - 2,349' (max elevation)
Elevation Change: +672' net elevation gain (+1,695' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Boulder Canyon Loop - 6.05 Miles Round-Trip

The Boulder Canyon Trail begins at Canyon Lake Trailhead on the NE corner of the Superstition Wilderness. It runs 7.6 miles south to the Dutchmans Trail, but first intersects La Barge Creek Canyon at 3.2 miles, which can be taken back to form a challenging cross country loop.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The off-trail portion follows La Barge Creek Canyon into Boulder Canyon, a veritable obstacle course of rugged cobble, deep pools and heavy brush. Only fit and experienced hikers should attempt this route.

Despite the modest distance, allow plenty of time to negotiate the canyon. Consult a water report before setting out, as the La Barge - Boulder Canyon drainage can fill with deep, impassable pools after heavy rains. Avoid this route when rain is imminent:

The Boulder Canyon Trail climbs steeply to the wilderness boundary with expansive views over Canyon Lake (.65 miles : 1,948'). It wraps to a north face before curling back south on a rocky climb toward Frog Peak.

The trail crests at 1.18 miles (2,349'), then undulates ruggedly with little net elevation change through 2.5 miles (2,214'). Note greater concentrations of saguaro, cholla and brush as you progress. At 2.3 miles the trail begins a fast descent to the floor of La Barge Canyon (3.2 miles : 1,804').

The main trail continues across the wash and scales a saddle into Boulder Canyon, but you'll turn right here to begin the off-trail portion of the loop. Head south down the wash, which is initially wide with grassy islands that aid travel. There are some particularly nice, shaded campsites on this stretch.

Decidedly more challenging travel begins around 3.9 miles through rugged boulders and some of the route's thickest brush. You'll reach a large pool at 4.25 miles, which you must skirt (right) via a narrow rock slot.

The route weaves around adjacent pools into a narrow section choked by more heavy brush. Note cottonwood, willow and cattail in this richly appointed riparian corridor.

Though difficult to see from this limited vantage, La Barge Canyon seamlessly merges with Boulder Canyon between 4.15 and 4.25 miles (approximate).

The walls of Boulder Canyon open and recede around 4.65 miles, signaling your upcoming departure from the canyon. The route passes several more large pools before leveling on a rock terrace above another large pool (5.1 miles).

Continue (right) on the rock terrace and look for large cairns on the far side of this pool leading up the east canyon wall. This is your exit point (5.15 miles : 1,680').

If you miss this marked exit, you'll soon encounter impassable terrain above contiguous deep pools that flow virtually year round into Canyon Lake (the lake's inlet).

Cairns lead steeply up the east canyon wall on a faint path that rejoins the main trail at approximately 5.5 miles (1,916'). Retrace your steps back to Canyon Lake to complete the loop. Even if off track, an intuitive NE heading from the canyon exit point will eventually intersect the main trail.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 32.040 W111 25.370 — 0.0 miles : Canyon Lale Trailhead
  • N33 31.645 W111 25.122 — .65 miles : Cross wilderness boundary (1,948')
  • N33 31.672 W111 24.913 — 1.0 miles : (2,229')
  • N33 31.446 W111 24.649 — 1.45 miles : Spur to viewpoint - begin rolling travel
  • N33 31.235 W111 24.408 — 2.0 miles : (2,158')
  • N33 30.993 W111 24.400 — 2.5 miles : Rolling descent (2,214')
  • N33 30.560 W111 24.081 — 3.2 miles : Enter wash, turn right for loop
  • N33 30.758 W111 24.399 — 3.7 miles : Social trails weave thru brushy islands
  • N33 30.947 W111 24.655 — 4.15 miles : Heavy brush, rugged travel
  • N33 30.991 W111 24.717 — 4.25 miles : Large pool - pass to right
  • N33 31.227 W111 24.786 — 4.65 miles : Canyon widens and walls recede
  • N33 31.443 W111 25.100 — 5.1 miles : Edge of largest pool to this point
  • N33 31.491 W111 25.110 — 5.15 miles : Follow cairns to right - scale to exit
  • N33 31.661 W111 25.183 — 5.5 miles : Rejoin Boulder Canyon Trail (1,916')
  • N33 32.040 W111 25.370 — 6.05 miles : Canyon Lakes Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions inhabit this area, and can be difficult to see amid heavy brush and debris. Never place your hands or feet where you can't see them.
  • Long sleeves and durable footwear is strongly recommended.

  • Bighorn sheep are sometimes seen in lower Boulder Canyon and around Canyon Lake.

  • The Canyon Lake Trailhead and adjacent marina see heavy use, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds. Expect slow traffic on winding mountain roads to the lake.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Dispersed camping is permitted in the Superstition Wilderness. No fee or permit is required.

  • Fires are not permitted on this loop, and in most locations on the west side of the wilderness area.

  • Camp only in established sites, which are not marked but intuitively found throughout Boulder Canyon.

  • Water is typically available in Boulder Canyon, but always plan to carry all of your own water. Treat all natural water sources before consumption. Note that Water Reports are usually posted at the trailhead, but may not be current.

  • Contact the Mesa Ranger District (408.610.3300) for current trail information and potential restrictions before heading out.

  • Group size is limited to 15 individuals.

Fishing Information

Fishing is permitted in Canyon Lake, and up Boulder Canyon. Arizona Game and Fish stock the lake monthly November - March with rainbow trout. Other species include Largemouth, Smallmouth and Yellow Bass; Crappie; Sunfish; Channel and Flathead Catfish; Walleye.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is no fee to enter the Superstition Wilderness from this location.

Directions to Trailhead

The Canyon Lake Trailhead is located 14.1 miles north of Highway 60 on Hwy 88. The trailhead is on the south shore of Canyon Lake across from the marina.

From Highway 60, take the Hwy 88 / North Idaho Road exit and head north. Drive 2.2 miles to a fork and bear right to stay on Hwy 88. Follow signs to Lost Dutchman State Park (7.1 miles), past which mountain driving conditions begin.

Park in the marina, located on your left just after the second one-lane bridge (14.1 miles). The trail begins across the street from the lot.

Contact Information

Superstition Wilderness
Mesa Ranger District
5140 E. Ingram St.
Mesa, Arizona 85205
Monday-Friday: 8 am - noon | 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Canyon Lake Marina and Campground
16802 N.E. Highway 88
Tortilla Flat, AZ 85219-9898

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


""Fires are not permitted on this loop, and in most locations on the west side of the wilderness area." Sorry but the above statement is incorrect; I don't know where this information could have come from, as there are more fire rings than one can count in the western superstition wilderness that see frequent use. I camp twice per month out there, if not more often, year round - yes even in summer sometimes. I have often seen and smelled the smoke and fires from other campers. I occasionally make a fire out there myself. There are no signs at trailheads alluding to fire restrictions in the Superstition Wilderness or on the wilderness or forest websites. The only time fires are not permitted out there is when there are forest-wide fire restrictions usually beginning in late May continuing into mid July until Monsoon rains pickup and this is a region by region thing in AZ."
Frequent Backpacker of the Superstitions  -  Phoenix  -  Date Posted: January 3, 2019


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