Hike of the Week: Arizona National Scenic Trail, Saddle Mountain Passage

Phoenix Magazine (March 17, 2024) by Mare Czinar

Officially the closest Arizona Trail entry point to the Valley, the dirt pullout at Bushnell Tanks on State Route 87 half way between Fountain Hills and Payson, provides access to Arizona’s geological transition zone—a swath of mountain ranges and long valleys created over eons of volcanic activity, seismic uplifts and intermittent sea water deposits. The trailhead sits at the juncture of the Saddle Mountain passage 22 and Pine Mountain passage 21. Saddle Mountain heads north toward Mount Peeley while Pine Mountain goes south toward Four Peaks.

Passage 22 cuts through a remote slice of Tonto National Forest and the Mazatzal Wilderness where a mix of open rangeland, drainages, defunct mining operations and sycamore-lined ephemeral creeks present a continual stream of changing scenery and physical challenges. The passage is also a great place for novice long-distance trekkers to dip their toes into the trail’s more isolated segments because it has three exit options. The Cross F, Mormon Grove and Mount Peeley trailheads are located along the route and make for quick bait outs or abbreviated day hikes.

About halfway in, the passage enters Mazatzal Wilderness, passes 6,335-foot Saddle Mountain and rough-cut McFarland Canyon before ending near 7,030-foot, Mount Peeley where the trail continues north to connect with the 24.3-mile Mazatzal Divide passage 23, one of the most difficult and profoundly beautiful segments of the trail.

  • LENGTH: 16.6 miles one way
  • RATING: moderate
  • ELEVATION: 3,678 – 6,518 feet

GETTING THERE: Bushnell Tanks trailhead.

From Loop 202 in Mesa, take the State Route 87 (Beeline Highway/ Country Club Road) exit 13. Go 41 miles north on SR 87 to the turn off for Bushnell Tanks near the community of Sunflower.

Park in the gravel lot near an “area closed” sign and a large Arizona Trail kiosk. The area is open to non-motorized use.

  • FACILITIES: none
  • HOURS: n/a
  • FEE: none


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