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Hells Gate Trail is a 14.5 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Payson, Arizona that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 14.5 miles Elevation Gain: 3,326 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dogs on leash

backpacking

camping

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

running

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

This is a hard hike, but you are rewarded with beautiful views and swimming holes at the end. It makes a great overnight trip for backpacking.

hiking
2 months ago

Great trail. A mx of ecosystems. Start out in tall pine forests and move into grasslands/chaparral. Plenty of areas with shade to stop and rest and at elevation there is grass to sit in. Up along the ridge there are some spectacular views out into the Tonto. Saw a gopher snake, some honey toads and lots of cows. I suspect there are elk in the are but didn’t see any. The first half of the hike is easy-moderate with a couple smaller climbs. The second half or third becomes moderate/hard, especially on the return climbing out of the canyon. Very steep with loose gravel and coupled with the length I’d say hard-moderate/hard overall. It has a great climactic ending down in the canyon with a beautiful cold stream that seems like it runs year-round. High cliff walls flank the stream and black hawks were flying through the canyon. It was 105 in the valley and 87 in Payson when I went but apart from some exposed climbs out of the canyon the weather was nice with a strong breeze. Saw 2 guys together halfway through the hike back and no one else the entire time. There is a 4x4 trail that run about halfway but you need a serious rig. I take a lifted xterra through bulldog canyon and butch jones in the valley no problem but was only able to make it about a mile in.

backpacking
2 months ago

Definitely a hard hike, but worth it. Stayed the night down in the canyon so the climb out wasn't as hard the next day. It's a steep climb out of the canyon with loose rocks so I'd recommend trekking poles, even if it's just for that part. The canyon itself was gorgeous. Plenty of flowing water and several swimming pools (if you don't mind the cold). I saw someone fishing with 2-3 already caught so that's a thing. I did a bit of exploring and it looks like the trail actually keeps going. I only saw three, maybe four, viable camping spots but I know there was a group the went further down the canyon and never came back so I imagine there are more. I'd love to go back and explore more next time. As others have mentioned, there is a 4x4 road so if you have the high clearance you could drive roughly 4.7 miles in. There is a sign at the end of the road, right before the canyon decent, where you could park 2, maybe 3, cars. There are several "camping" spots along that road where you could park as well. One thing to note is the hiking trail veers off from the 4x4 road at several points, prior to reaching the sign/canyon decent. The cairns are a bit subtle but the trails are a lot more hiker friendly - they will follow the side of a hill instead of going up and over like the road does. Less climbing for hikers. If you aren't sure that you are on a trail then just stick to the road. The last thing of note is that the green trailhead marker on this AllTrails map is a bit off. If you look at the beginning of this map, the red trail line follows Forest Road 405a for a bit before heading south into the wilderness. You can actually park right where it turns south. No need to hike on the forest road. I don't think I would ever do this as a day trip unless I was able to drive to the canyon's edge. Will probably backpack this again next spring though!

hiking
2 months ago

Great trail but HARD in several senses. The first 4 miles follows a 4x4 track (with several exceptions), and it goes up and down. The small climbs are killers before & after the main event, the 2.5 mile, 1800 foot plunge into Hells Gate. If possible, I would (1) stay overnight at the bottom or (2) find a friend with a 4x4. It’s a hard hike but worth it,

hiking
2 months ago

Such a wonderful hike! I thought the first couple miles were beautiful (other reviews indicate they are a bit boring). The whole thing was incredible. Coming down into the last portion was not super stable, and would be faster with poles. Coming out is definitely a challenge. We took an amazing swim at the creek. I hiked in trail runners and was very comfortable.

backpacking
rocky
3 months ago

Hiked in April, went all the way to the confluence of Tonto and Haigler creeks. The confluence is beautiful and was flowing very nicely with nearly clear water! The hike is very, very rocky almost the whole way. The last 3 miles past the Hells Gate Wilderness sign is the most difficult as it descends nearly 1500 feet the last mile. One way trip was almost exactly 8 miles, so 16 total. Be prepared for rocks and slippery steep terrain. There is just enough space at the bottom for one or two tents, nice little fire pit and the water was great after filtering. I'm giving 4 stars because while beautiful, the effort to payoff is not there personally.

hiking
rocky
3 months ago

Very beautiful! Crossed over sweet lil creek back and forth. So many gorgeous trees. Only had time to do a small portion of the trail, can’t wait to come back for more

hiking
off trail
9 months ago

hiking
no shade
rocky
10 months ago

I thought this hike was going to suck and for the first 4-5 miles it sort of does. The views weren't good and the ground has a lot of loose rocks which makes hiking down or up a chore. Bring hard soles, possibly boots for ankle support and poles for stability. After 5 miles though, the views get better and the hike gets harder. There is a big pond but when I went it was gross green. After the pond, you start hiking down to the canyon. It gets steep so be careful. The stream was muddy when I went but I used it to refill my water using my filter...this probably saved me as I don't think I would've been able to make it back with the water I brought in. I brought in 4 and half liters and only had roughly 2 left when I reached the stream (remember you have to hike back out and up, which is way harder on the return trip). Note, I went in August like a moron. It reached 90 when I hiked...do it in a cooler month. Took me way longer than it should've since I had to stop like every 10-20 minutes because I thought I was going to pass out from the heat. There isn't much cover, so you have to hike a bit then stop when you find some cover. Only an issue if you're hiking in the heat though. Also, I didn't see a single person other than a couple abandoned 3 wheelers (they probably camped out somewhere...) It's a good exercise hike but I don't think the views are that good. Edit: On further research, the best scenery is within the Tonto and Haigler creek itself. I didn't stay long enough to explore since I was short on time and water. I guess I'll come back when I prepared a better day and time.

hiking
rocky
10 months ago

A couple of steep, rocky climbs, beautiful hike, didn’t see anyone else on the trail.

backpacking
rocky
11 months ago

Don’t do this in July or August! Man it was hot the water was brown and challenge was real getting out of there. It was a great hike but it was hard

hiking
Tue Jun 25 2019

Do not underestimate how grueling the climb out from the water will be. I did this solo, and I think if I had had a buddy with me, I would have felt happier about the grind. Still, the swimming was pristine and secluded, well worth the effort. I took 1 gallon + 24 oz water, just barely enough on a day with temps in the 90s in places (different sized people may need more or less water). I grew up hiking in MT and CO, so I am a bit biased: I found stretches of this hike rather dull. I would, nonetheless, do this again, but with a friend and probably when the heat isn't so roasty.

hiking
Wed Jun 05 2019

fantastically great and tough hike. high Temps today in payson were to be 78, ended up being 85, wouldn't do this if any hotter. we have a few clouds and nice breezes so it helped. took us 8 hours, spent 30 at the water which was beautiful! last half mile going down to water took us 43 minutes due to steep incline and all loose rocks. beautiful views, flowering cacti and terrain changes made this worth doing. one note you are hiking 75% of the time on rocks, uneven and loose so wear your strongest soled boots even if you get hot. 4 litres of water minimum

hiking
Sun May 05 2019

Beautiful trail - tones of flowers and in bonus creek and heavenly water to swim. My favorite trail in Payson area. I logged 14.4 miles. It’s not a hard core , hard trail. Yes it’s difficult because of all the elevation changes however the trees and views and vibes will make it all seem more like a hard/moderate. I will definitely go back!

hiking
rocky
Sat May 04 2019

It’s hard. Really hard. All of it. We had 25-30 lbs packs. Takes much longer that 3.5 hours each way.

recorded Hells Gate Trail

hiking
Sat Apr 20 2019

The trail was 7.5 miles to the creek so 15 miles round trip. I went with my kids who are 11, 13, and 15 and we did the round trip in 7 hours with almost exactly 3 hours in, 1 hour break and play at the creek and 3 hours out. I would definitely do it again. We passed 11 total people but the weather is perfect and the views were serene. Like others said, the gravel for the last mile is steep and slippery!!! Be careful! Other than that, perfect Saturday hike!

hiking
rocky
Mon Apr 15 2019

I did a over nighter with my two dogs in mid April. You couldn't ask for better weather. It took us about 4 hours each way with a 40 lb pack. Expect the climb out to be a bit tougher. The hike was beautiful and starts in the forest then leads you slowly into high desert then down into a slot canyon. The last 1\4 mile is steep and full of loose rocks so take your time and watch your step because your legs will already be tired. The pay off is at the bottom of the canyon where there is a river, sand, and deep swimming hole. We set out on a Monday and did not see anyone until we got back on the road where i had parked my truck. I will definitely be doing this trip again.

backpacking
Sun Mar 31 2019

More sun exposure than expected. First water is a cow tank a good ways into the hike. The last decent into the hole was rocky and steep. I would recommend trekking poles.

Mon Mar 25 2019

A lot of beautiful views on this trail. The first 4.3 miles are easy; it's on a wide dirt road, which occasionally gets narrower but is always fairly smooth and well-maintained. There are 15 stream crossings, and a lot of great overlooks. After passing the Tonto National Forest sign, the 2.5 mile descent begins. This is also easy until the final 0.4 mile down into the gorge. The river at the bottom is beautiful and peaceful with a lot of great photo ops. The hike back up to the top is tougher than expected, and gave us a decent workout overall. The entire trail is 14 miles round trip (not 16) and took about 7 hours.

Fri Jun 15 2018

Good hike, did in and out in one day. It was somewhat challenging but nothing too strenuous. I’ve now done this as a day hike 5 times, I guess the reason I keep going back is that I rarely see anyone there. I don’t recommend this for anyone who is not physically fit, the sign at the beginning of the trailhead May sound ominous but it’s there for a reason, make sure you pay attention to it. If you don’t possess the physical ability then this isn’t the right trail for you. BTW- the 16 mile description is down to the bottom and back. I hiked in quite a way once I hit the bottom so my total was 20 miles round trip

hiking
Wed May 23 2018

This trail is great, the views along the hike are excellent and the reward when you get to the end is amazing. It does have some challenging parts but the trail is short enough that as long as you remember it isn't a race it really isn't too bad and then at the end of it you get to go for a nice refreshing swim in the cool deep pools. I can't recommend this trail enough if you are looking for an overnight trip.

backpacking
Thu May 10 2018

Phenomenal. I haven't backpacked in a while. My legs were definitely feeling the climb out! Every step of this hike is beautiful. From the pines at the top to the stunning desert to the riparian area at the bottom. There was definitely no water along the way. I brought a gallon in with me and back out. I didn't drink it all, but any less would have been foolish. It was very warm, in the 80s. I will be back to do it again!

backpacking
Thu Feb 22 2018

My friend and I did this trail and it was incredible! I will say that navigation can be confusing, so study the maps given by the state as well. You have to take some other trails to get to the 37 trail. We went during the week and solitude was serene. I will do it again and soon!

hiking
Mon Dec 25 2017

Really not that hard. Beautiful hike with a great treat at the end. The two rivers converge and there is plenty of water and photo ops

backpacking
Tue Aug 08 2017

This trail is not for beginners! I did it as an overnight in August and enjoyed it immensely. Hikers should be highly aware of snakes (heard a rattler right outside my tent down in the canyon), wasps, and the heat. The water was dark brown in the creek, wonderful to swim in, and good for drinking as long as you have proper water purification. DO NOT attempt this trail during the rainy season--after mile 5 (out of 8.5 one-way), you descend 3k feet into Hell's Canyon and camp next to the creek, which would be deadly if the water were to suddenly rise from flash flooding. The trail has a lot of scree and is pretty exposed, so you're doing it in August heat like me, make sure to soak your clothing/hat at every opportunity and drink lots of electrolytes. Last but not least--trekking poles are highly recommended! When you do this trail, you can say you've been to the gates of Hell and back! :)

hiking
Sun Jul 09 2017

I did this as an overnight hike over Easter weekend. only 2 reasons for 4 instead of 5 stars first the distance on this site as well as the signs at the TH are wrong and it is in fact closer to 8.5mi one way. The second complaint is that in some areas it becomes quite difficult to see the trail and the cairns were few and far too far between. This trail is all about the destination, I spent the night under the stars at the confluence and couldn't have asked for a prettier view. I would only recommend this trail to experienced hikers who come prepared with trekking poles and a method of water purification.

backpacking
Thu May 25 2017

Challenging hike, the mileage on this app is not accurate, it's about 8 miles one way. Bring plenty of water and prepare for a rewarding experience!!

hiking
Sun Mar 19 2017

Went in doing a day hike. Did 5 miles in. Definitely will go back. The views were beautiful. Bring enough water. The uphill and downhill on the rocks can be a little tricky. So worth it!

hiking
Tue Sep 06 2016

We only went in about 3 miles as we were not really prepped for a long 2-day hike. But, it was truly fabulous and I can't wait to do this hike properly!

Mon Jun 20 2016

One Hell of a hike. Ran out of water half way back and temps were much hotter in the wilderness than in Payson. Wow, a serious hike and not for beginners or unprepared hikers. Camped at the creek! Definitely worth the near death experience.

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