Head east, up and over scenic Four Peaks - East Valley Tribune: Outdoors

Head east, up and over scenic Four Peaks

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Mandy Zajac writes and edits arts, entertainment and lifestyle content for the Get Out section of the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 5:30 pm | Updated: 1:43 pm, Wed Aug 1, 2012.

Headed east on the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway through Mesa, you can’t miss Four Peaks, the tallest, craggiest mountains on the northeastern horizon. After a few years of seeing them framed in the windshield on my daily commute, and peeling the mountains’ image from countless Four Peaks Brewing Company beer labels, I wondered: Can you get up there?

Yes, it turns out, you can.

The scenic drive up and over the mountains can be completed in five hours or so — perfect for a recent Saturday when my husband and I itched to get out of town but had no particular destination in mind.

To get there, take State Route 87 (The Beeline Highway) north to just shy of mile marker 204, about 15 miles north of Shea Boulevard. The turnoff, on the right, is Forest Road 143; it’s marked with a sign reading “Four Peaks.” (You can also take the Bush Highway/Power Road north to the Beeline; F.R. 143 is shortly after you turn northeast/right onto S.R. 87 toward Payson.)

The 28-mile route up and over the peaks is a graded dirt road, but it’s rough and rutted enough in places to rattle your teeth in your jowls. Our high-clearance SUV handled it fine, though we might have been glad for four-wheel drive had the handful of wash crossings been sloppier or had we found snow at the top.

As it was, we made our way with little difficulty, save the few times we met another vehicle coming the opposite way on a narrow stretch of road, or when the occasional ATV sped a little too fast around a blind curve. The takeaway: Be wary of curves you can’t see around; go slow.

The mountains are part of the 60,740-acre Four Peaks Wilderness Area, according to the Tonto National Forest. The tract ranges in elevation from 1,900 feet on the floor of the Sonoran Desert to 7,600 feet on Brown’s Peak, the tallest of the four nubs. On the drive up, you’ll go from saguaros to manzanitas to pines. A few riparian zones bear sycamores and cottonwoods.  

As for wildlife, we saw rabbits, squirrels, a snake and a Gila monster, though Arizona Game and Fish Department’s OHV Trails and Places to Ride guide warns that the area has one of the highest concentrations of black bears in the state. Livestock also graze there, judging from the cattle guards and cow patties we crossed along the way.

Eighteen miles in, you can continue down the other side of the peaks, to Highway 188, or take a sharp right turn up the mountain onto Forest Road 648. A sign marks the spot. The uphill route takes you about a mile closer to the top, to Lone Pine Trailhead, where there are upper and lower parking areas.

That’s where we chose to stretch our legs on the 2-mile Brown’s Trail #133. You can also access two other trails here, Pigeon #133 and Four Peaks #130. Temperatures were markedly cooler than in Mesa, and we hiked through forested spots. Views of Roosevelt Lake to the east were spectacular.

There are no restrooms up there (or anywhere, for that matter), and the Wilderness Area adheres to a Leave No Trace policy. That means you must pack out all trash, minimizing traces of your presence. If you bring a dog, it should be leashed at all times.

Rather than go back the way we came, we descended the other side of Four Peaks, bottoming out 11 miles from Lone Pine Trailhead at Highway 188 in the Tonto Basin. There, a right (south) turn will take you past Roosevelt Lake and into Globe, where you can catch U.S. Highway 60 back to the East Valley (about 115 miles, total). A left (north) turn takes you 20 miles past map dots like Jake’s Corner to S.R. 87, where it’s about 50 more miles south back to Mesa. Both routes are scenic.

A network of trails totaling about 40 miles run throughout the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, according to Tonto National Forest. A free, 20-page Recreation Opportunity Guide, which gives directions to trailheads and describes each trail, is available from the Mesa Ranger Station, 5140 E. Ingram St., or (480) 610-3300.

For more information on the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, visit www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tonto/specialplaces, and click on “Four Peaks.”

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