Grounds Trail

Weaver's Needle on the horizon seen from Massacre Grds.

It’s curious that even though geologists say that the
Superstition Mountains are an unlikely source for rich deposits of gold, myths
and legends of finding, loosing and raiding the precious mineral in the
unforgiving back country persist.

Hill 2636 is a distinctive feature along the trail.

From territorial times to the present day, people have been
fascinated by the strike-it-rich rumors and tales of ill-gotten gains that ring as loudly and off-key as cymbals in the hands of a restless kid.

Rock pinnacles (L) above Lost Dutchman SP.

Exposure, accidents and violence have claimed the lives of
many who followed the lure of greed toward the proverbial mother lode. For those who believe in ghosts, Massacre
Grounds is a good place to find them.

This rough chute is the most difficult part of the hike.

If you could pick a place to meet your maker, the
yucca-studded volcanic mesa surrounded by rolling grasslands, abrupt canyons
and sheer cliffs would make for a glorious sendoff.

The hauntingly beautiful spot at the far northwestern edge
of the Superstition Wilderness near Apache Junction is the site of a legendary 1848
ambush where a group of Spanish miners met their demise at the hands of a band
of irate Apaches. Hazy historical
accounts suggest that the Apaches took the miner’s pack animals but left the
gold—further stoking the quest for hidden treasure. A good place to tease out the vague, conflicting
but always intriguing history of the area’s rough-and tumble past is the
Superstition Mountain Museum. The small, but packed space located along State
Route 88 not far from major trailheads has regular educational events and

Hikers on the saddle. (R) beneath Hill 2636.

The museum’s new exhibit “The
Gold Seekers” uses photos and artifacts to give an overview of the area’s
infamous fortune hunters while adding incentive to take a hike into them thar

Gory history notwithstanding, Massacre Ground Trail is a
real treat to explore.

Yucca and agaves at the massacre grounds.
View from Massacre Falls
Volcanic structure of the Massacre Grounds site.

Climbing gently along a well-defined path, the route cuts
through the remnants of 35-million-year-old volcanic activity. Contorted lava
flows, volcanic necks and rugged washes shaded by desert trees and shrubs
complement wide-open views of the surrounding wilderness.

Desert holly grows in moist drainages on the trail.

The first mile makes a mild ascent of the
foothills at the base of craggy mountains. Acres of chain fruit cholla cover
the flats that provide a platform for viewing the Four Peaks on the northern
horizon and the colorfully layered mounds of the Goldfield Mountains to the

Chain fruit cholla frame views of Four Peaks.

Once past the wilderness boundary
fence, the climbing intensifies as the route swings over the saddle of Hill
2636—a dominant conical butte.
From this
point, the distant urban profile of Downtown Phoenix is barely visible to the

Four Peaks are visible throughout most of the hike.
Goldfield Mountains on the western horizon.

After a dip into a damp,
shady corridor, the trail meets its most difficult challenge—a 0.1-mile slick
rock chute. The loose rock and high-steps of this short section look
intimidating but getting through isn’t too tough for anybody with nubby footwear and the smarts to take it slow.

A primitive trail leads to the base of Massacre Falls.

With the climbing mostly in the rear view, the
final trudge to the massacre site is a breathtaking journey up a sloping mesa to
a junction above a precipice that meets a hoodoo-topped wall of stone. To the south,
the signature stone pinnacles of Lost Dutchman State Park appear as giant slabs
falling away from the massive cliffs that encompass the Massacre Falls. Dark
stains on the rock veneer show where waterfalls cascade over the cliffs after
heavy rains. A well-worn path to the right heads down the escarpment to the
base of the falls. To the left, a slender footpath traces the edge of the
mesa’s broken brim, culminating at the purported location of the miners’ bloody
last stand. Trail’s end is a desolate
platform at the cusp of sky and stone with no signs of conflict and no pot of
gold. But the site’s aura resonates in eerie
canyon echoes and the calls of ravens passing overhead.

View from Massacre Grounds.
The trail to the massacre site.

miles round trip (including side trip to the falls)

RATING: moderate

2116 – 3185 feet


From U.S.
60 in Apache Junction, take the State Route 88 (Idaho Road) exit 196 and
continue 7.5 miles on SR 88 to First Water Road (Forest Road 78) located just
past Lost Dutchman State Park on the right.
Go 0.5 mile on FR78 to the signed Crosscut-Massacre Ground Trailhead on
the right. FR 78 is rough dirt passable
by carefully-driven sedans.


Tonto National