Phoenix, AZ: Red Tanks Divide, Superstition Wilderness

Explore the Superstition Mountains on this overnight across Red Tanks Divide. BY QUINN HARPER
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Explore the Superstition Mountains on this overnight across Red Tanks Divide. BY QUINN HARPER

Legend has it that there’s a fortune in gold hidden somewhere in these desert peaks of the Superstitions. A German supposedly found it in the 19th century and kept its whereabouts a secret. But so far, all I’ve found is merciless catclaw. I’ve spent the better part of the day scampering up barely-there trails and sidestepping ornery rattlesnakes. But, after a 1,200-foot climb deposits me on Red Tanks Divide, the high point of this 19.2-mile loop, the desert opens up in all directions, naked stone and towering saguaro glowing in the afternoon sun. I think I’ve found the prize.

Trip stats
Distance: 19.2 miles
Time: 2 days

Turn-by-turn
From the Peralta trailhead

(1) Follow the Dutchman’s Trail #104 for 2.7 miles to a fork.
(2) Continue along the valley floor, following the Coffee Flat Trail #108 to mile 7.1.
(3) Make a sharp left to head north up Randolph Canyon on the Red Tanks Trail #107, and follow cairns to a junction at mile 7.7.
(4) Split left (continuing on the Red Tanks Trail) and follow the canyon northwest, cresting the divide near mile 10.1, to a junction at mile 11.5.
(5) Head through Upper La Barge Box Canyon to mile 13.
(6) Veer south onto the Whiskey Spring Trail #238 and follow it 3.6 miles back to the original fork (head south through Miners Canyon near mile 15).
(7) Retrace your steps 2.7 miles on the Dutchman’s Trail #104 to the trailhead.

Campsite
Whiskey Spring (mile 13.7)

Select a shaded spot (first-come, first-serve) beneath the cottonwoods, which turn yellow by November. You can count on Whiskey Spring to flow in fall after the summer monsoons (it can flow in springtime, but call ahead to check). Head clockwise (hitting this spot at mile 5.5) for a shorter first day.

Season
Come November, the temperatures have dropped from the hellacious triple digits to the heavenly low 70s, and summer monsoons have replenished most water sources. Temperatures remain moderate through April, when wildflowers and saguaros bloom, but water becomes scarcer.

Water
Find water at Whiskey Spring (and sometimes in tinajas in Red Tanks Canyon) in autumn. Don’t expect much in late spring (call ahead to check). Note that there is reliable water (even in dry years) at La Barge Spring, 2 miles beyond the Whiskey Spring Trail junction (mile 13), on the Red Tanks Trail.

DO IT
Trailhead 33.397446, -111.347916; 34 miles east of Mesa on Peralta Rd. Season November through May Permits None Custom mapbit.do/BPmapRedTanks ($15) Contactbit.do/SuperstitionWildTrip databackpacker.com/RedTanks

Trail Facts

  • State: AZ
  • City: Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 19.2
  • Contact: bit.do/SuperstitionWild
  • Land Type: Wilderness Area