Hiking Amazing Arizona: Barnhardt Trail, Mazatzal Wilderness (Tonto NF)

Took about a 3 mile detour this morning to see some magnificent chevron folding exposed in Barnhardt Canyon. The Barnhardt Trail runs through the Mazatzal Wilderness in the canyon of the same name, connecting the Tonto Basin with the Arizona Trail on the Mazatzal Divide and exposing some of the finest geology around. The full trail is 12 miles long, 6 each way, but you can get a pretty good experience on even just the upper 3-4 miles if you are coming from the Arizona Trail headed north or south. The AZT crosses the upper end of Barnhardt Canyon just south of Chilson Spring. Some of the finest exposed geology in the Mazatzals is ready to be seen a short distance to the east in the form of exposed chevron folds on sheer cliffs.

Hiking in Upper Barnhardt Canyon in the early morning
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Moon over Barnhardt Canyon on the Mazatzal Divide
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Upper Barnhardt Canyon panorama, viewed hiking the Barnhardt Trail in the Mazatzal Mountains
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Maples along the Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Hiking along Barnhardt Canyon with views of chevron folds in the Mazatzal Mountains
Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
Hiking along Barnhardt Canyon with views of chevron folds in the Mazatzal Mountains
Barnhardt Trail
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest

About the area: This stretch of the Arizona Trail lies within the Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Sunflower in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size and surrounds the Mazatzal Mountains. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

The Mazatzal Mountains themselves are an incredible place. Formed during an orogeny (a term referring to the process that creates mountains) when Arizona was a coastal region on the margin of what became North America, the Mazatzals gained their rugged nature as tectonic collisions compressed rock, lifting it and thrusting it above other rocks (overthrust). We’ll see the resulting folding in the next entry during a short side hike on the Barnhardt Trail. Mazatzal Peak, the highest point of the Northern Mazatzals, towers 1700 ft above the trail with a jagged west face that makes it appear as though half the mountain was simply cut away. This passage passes through the northern half of the full range. Unfortunately the area was greatly impacted by the Willow & Sunflower Fires, which burned much (though not all, as we will see) of the old ponderosa forest that had made the mountains one of the most popular long-distance stretches of the Arizona Trail. Yet the incredible geology, solitude, sunsets, and views remain for the hardy and prepared souls who venture into this special place. Bagworms spin magnificent webs here, and temperatures are relatively tolerable outside of winter, when snow can make stretches impassable for those without adequate preparation.

Relive Video
Barnhardt Trail & Arizona Trail, Passage 23 (Mazatzal Divide)
Mazatzal Wilderness
Tonto National Forest
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Barnhardt Trail
Trail SurfaceDirt trail
Length (Mi)6 one-way
SeasonAll year, but snow can make sections impassable in winter.
Potential Water SourcesChilson Spring on upper end, short distance north along Arizona Trail (Mazatzal Divide Trail)
Barnhardt Creek on lower end
TrailheadsLower: Tonto Basin
Upper: Arizona Trail (Mazatzal Divide Trail) near Chilson Spring
Trailhead AccessLower: Vehicular. 4 mi dirt/rock road from AZ-188 to trailhead
Upper: Foot access only
WildernessYes
Possible Loop Combo?Y Bar Trail
Special considerationsManzanita present – wear pants & sleeves
Dog-friendly? Yes
Ecosystems Traversed in areaInterior Chaparral
Great Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Relict Conifer Woodland
FeaturesGeology
Views
Ecological diversity
Waterfall, in wet months
Interior Chaparral Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Birchleaf Mahogany
* Ceanothus
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Manzanita
* Shrub live oak
* Silktassels
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Arizona alder
* Holly-leaf buckthorn
* Junipers
* Oaks, including Arizona oak, canyon live oak, Emory oak, Gambel oak, scrub-live oak
* Piñon pine
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* Buckwheats
* Globemallows
* Lupines
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Wormwood
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Agaves – golden flowered, Parry’s, Toumey’s
* Banana & soap tree yucca
* Barrel cactus
* beargrass
* beehive cactus
* buckhorn cholla
* Cane Cholla
* hedgehog cacti
* prickly pear cacti
* Rock echeveria
* Sotol
* Whipple’s cholla
* beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Golden-flowered agave
* Parry’s agave
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
* Tonto Basin agave
Northern Mazatzal Mountains ecology. Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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