Hells Gate Trail

Payson, Arizona 85547

Hells Gate Trail

Hells Gate Trail Professional Review and Guide

"This hike takes you to the confluence of Tonto and Haigler Creeks in the Hellsgate Wilderness, a spot noted for its spectacular canyon narrows. The Hells Gate Trail wanders south over a low pass, then crosses Little Green Valley and climbs up a ravine through ponderosa pine forest.

It crosses a flat for a short distance before passing the head of Salt Lick Canyon. A short climb leads onto the Green Valley Hills, then the trail passes through a saddle and turns east. It works its way along a ridge, and then turns south onto Apache Ridge."

Hells Gate Trail Reviews

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The trail head has camping near the parking lot for those interested in getting there late at night. The trail starts in ponderosa pines which grow on the north side of ridges and in the canyons. At several points the trail and the road co-exist. Stay to the northeast where the trail separates from the road for easier hiking. The trail eventually leads to chaparral where the vistas to the west are wonderful in the morning. If you wish to see "Hell's Gate", stop about a 1/2 mile from the confluence of Haiglers and Tonto creek. The deep canyon to the south east will indicate where the Tonto creek is flowing. The views from the top are amazing. There are at least two water falls that can be seen from the top. The trail then becomes very steep and the rock on the trail is loose. I highly recommend poles. Without crossing the creek, there are a few camping sites at the confluence of the creeks. There are a few more sites 20 yards above these sites if the they are occupied and a few more across the Tonto Creek. Camping site are limited. The way out is a stenous 2000 foot hike. The trial is mostly facing south and quite warm even in April, and we started our hike at 7.
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This trail is wonderful. We backpacked in on a Saturday and stayed overnight down at the creeks. We saw one day-hiker one our way in that practically ran the trail out and back. At the bottom, there were only four other folks, a couple of guys fishing and another couple camping out overnight. On our trip out on Sunday, we saw only two more people making the hike in part of the way. The water was about mid-calf high, low enough to walk across to the good camping areas. We brought our water filter and probaby filtered about 6 liters of water. It was great. Last quarter mile down to the creeks is *very* steep. We were very happy that we had our hiking poles as it's pretty much a scree slope. Hot on the way out as it's totally exposed during the worst part of the climb out. Great training hike for the Grand Canyon. Definitely wouldn't do it later in the year, i.e., summer. It would be too hot. We will most likely do this hike again next spring. Good stuff!
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Nice trail. We didnt see anybody. Good spots to set-up camp all along the way. There was only one creek with any water at about 3.5 miles in. Without rain, that will be dried up in a week. The only other water is at mile 7 (El Grande Tank) and the bottom. The 'tank'(1 mile before the trail end) is stagnant water and not very appealing. Great 1 or 2 night trip.
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First of all, the trail description here is wrong when providing directions to the trailhead. There is no marked sign off of SR260. 11 miles east of payson, you should turn south on FR405A and then a half mile later right into a parking area to find trailhead. That confusion out of the way, the trail was beautiful. It has a bit of everything--solitude (although it was a less populated Monday morning), thigh and calf crushing climbs, steep and precipitous declines, walks along ridge lines with amazing views of Mogollon rim, and of course the climax of reaching Hellsgate canyon and Tonto Creek. Most of the work (uphill) came on the return trip which was a unique change from most standard hikes--maybe good preparation for The Grand Canyon rim to river to rim walk.
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During this time of the year the trail was pock marked with little patches of snow all over. It starts with a slow incline, levels out and then gets to the "strenuous" parts. A lot of steep elevation changes, up and down. There are two other trails out there that connect with the Hells Gate Trail at multiple junctions. A small foot trail, and a jeep trail. They generally lead to the small places (with extremely different, and longer routes) however, the foot trail leads north east on your way home, so take care not to find yourself on it (you'll want to be heading north west). Near El Grande tank, the trail is overgrown by bushes and can be hard to find. Look closely. The last stretch is steep switchbacks on loose rocks. Tread carefully. Good luck!

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Trail Information

Nearby City
2,080 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
Backpack or day hike
Best March to May, October to November
5,300 feet
Trailhead Elevation
6,000 feet
Top Elevation
Payson Ranger District, Tonto National Forest
Local Contacts
USGS Promontory Butte, McDonald Mountain, Diamond Butte, Diamond Point; USFS Tonto National Forest
Local Maps