The Back
Roads to Tonto Creek

The pebbly fringe of Tonto Creek north of Roosevelt Lake.

a few dusty acres between nowhere and Roosevelt Lake, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it
community of Jake’s Corner is a popular waystation for outdoor enthusiasts.

A rustic gate along Forest Road 184D

outwardly ramshackle appearance and come-as-you-are ambiance are big draws for
anglers, hunters, boaters, bikers and ATV riders. Sometimes, hikers find the place, too.

Located 22
miles north of the lake along State Route 188 in Gila County, the iconic
watering hole is the northern outpost of a string of RV parks, creeky-floor
honky-tonks, bait shops and general stores.

The back roads around Jake's Corner are rough but scenic.

The scenic stretch of SR 188 runs through the
Tonto Basin—a drainage gorge that separates the wilds of the Mazatzal Wilderness and the
Sierra Ancha Mountains. Dozens of creeks
and streams in the area flow off the foothills into the major course of Tonto
Creek which feeds Theodore Roosevelt Reservoir.
Although recreation in this hilly, watery back country usually involves a
motorized vehicle, there are plenty of places to hoof it along
dirt roads.

Paper Flowers bloom year-round above Tonto Creek.
Tonto Creek

Other than
the state-traversing Arizona Trail which makes a grueling climb through the
mountainous terrain to the west, there aren’t many non-motorized routes nearby unless
you go 20 miles north to Payson. But, hiking
on shared-trails can be just as enjoyable when common courtesy is applied. Directly across from Jake’s Corner Bar, a
maze of forest roads offer miles of boots-on-the-ground exploratory options. Like the adjacent community, the walkabouts
here harbor no pretense. They are simply-signed and retain a raw, non-nonsense air.
Many of the routes are championed by the Tonto Recreation Alliance–a volunteer
organization that works with government agencies to maintain and promote
off-highway vehicle access and educate recreators about public access issues in
the Tonto National Forest.

Cacti and mesquite frame Mazatzal Mountains views.

One circuit
to try is a rough-cut route to Tonto Creek.
From a dirt parking area a half-mile from the bar, follow Forest Road
184A a few yards, then head left at Forest Road 184D. The first mile is a wobbly
trek through wide-open high desert with great views of the Mazatzal
Mountains. After a series of dips and
climbs on choppy two-tracks, pass a gate at the one-mile point and hike up to a
knoll where a faint road curves to the left.

Glimpse of Tonto Creek from the difficult downhill hike.

From this highpoint, head right
and continue to the Forest Road 184D/951 junction. Ahead, to the left, is “hell’s half mile”.

Mazatzal Mountains on the western horizon.

Primitive FR951 descends nearly 500 feet with
take-no-prisoners aggression toward the creek.
A hiking stick is essential to work through the loose rock and uneven
trenches. Expect to pick up some mud and
grit on this half-mile plunge. There’s no mercy until the messy road meets the
sandy edge of Tonto Creek.

Sycamore and willow saplings grow in flood plains.
Rapids in Tonto Creek.

Lined with
cottonwoods, sycamores and willows, this beautiful bend in the creek features white-capped
rapids, calm reflecting pools and optional miles of streamside exploring.

Tiny waterfalls in Tonto Creek.

Take time to watch for waterfowl and spy the
footprints of deer, raccoons and bobcats pressed into sandbars before heading
back the way you came.

The descent to Tonto Creek is steep and rocky.

Short in
miles but with an overall elevation change of 917 feet, the effort warrants a
post-hike beer and burger reward at Jake’s. Dressed in dusty boots and trail garb,
you’ll blend.

A calm bend in Tonto Creek
A snowy bank where FR951 meets Tonto Creek.

miles round trip


2607 – 3101 feet


From State
Route 87 (Beeline Highway) south of Rye just past milepost 235, go 3.2 miles
south on State Route 188 to the community of Jake’s Corner.

from Jake’s Corner Bar, turn left onto Forest Road 184 (not signed) and
continue 0.5-mile to Forest Road 184A (utility poles) and park. Roads are paved and sedan-friendly dirt.

Tonto Recreation Alliance