Reavis Falls Hike

Superstition Wilderness

Photos and text by Gordon Burhop

Reavis Falls is one of the many anomalies found in the Sonoran Desert. It flows most of the time except during times of severe drought. Obviously, the water flow is highest in spring and after heavy rains. The falls is also one of the highest in the entire state of Arizona at almost 200 feet.

Reavis Falls

To truly appreciate the experience of hiking to Reavis Falls one has to know something of the history of the area. It is located on the creek of the same name in the most inaccessible part of the Superstition Mountains. Most people will know something of the “Lost Dutchman” story. That’s not what this story is about. The “Dutchman” preceded the Reavis story by about 20 years. Some accounts will spell it Reavis and I don’t think it matters which is correct.

Old Man Reavis came to the Phoenix area to prospect for gold and farm. He established a ranch/farm in the eastern end of the Superstition Mountains during the latter half of the 19th century. At that time, Apache Indians mostly inhabited the area, just east of the small community of Phoenix, Arizona. The Apache Trail was just that, a primitive walking trail used mostly by local Indian tribes. Reavis would grow fruits and vegetables and during season bring the produce by mule and wagon to Phoenix to sell. He knew a lot about the local Apaches and their beliefs.

Superstition Mountains

They were not always friendly towards white men infringing upon their land. Reavis believed the Indians would not attack a crazy person. When he thought the Indians were around watching, he would strip naked and run around acting irrationally. He made this technique work for many years. Later he would bring tourists to his ranch and take them into the surrounding wilderness. One such attraction was the creek and falls that today carry his name. Years later his head separated body was found by passersby. He was buried south of the location of the ranch. It is believed Reavis died of natural causes and animals ravaged his remains.

Apache Lake and the Four Peaks Wilderness

The Apache Trail was improved in the early 20th century for the purpose of building the Theodore Roosevelt Dam and the subsequent lake. The ‘trail’ has not changed much since then and the U.S. Forest Service now uses the ranch house. Reavis’ apple orchard still exists and is a Boy Scout destination in the fall as they pack in with their Dutch ovens. Much of the area has been designated ‘wilderness’ and is off limits to motorized vehicles.

The first time I made this hike, I had a hard time finding the falls. I finally located it on the Pinyon Mountain topo. I drew a grid of one-mile increments on the otherwise open spaced map. The contour lines revealed where the falls had to be, in the lower-right third of the map. Since then I have been there numerous times and the trail is now easier to identify and follow. It's 12.8 miles round trip.

The author and daughter in law Kathy on the trail.

Take the Apache Trail out of Apache Junction towards Canyon Lake. The first section is blacktop and, although slow and curvy, it is scenic and enjoyable. Passing the little community of Tortilla Flat, the road turns to gravel. Any car can make this, including the spectacular Fish Creek Hill. Take your time here in case motorhomes or boat trailers are encountered. The farther out you go the less traffic you’ll see. The road roughly parallels Apache Lake, one of the beads of the necklace of reservoirs on the Salt River. Pass a county maintenance facility on the right and look for Forest Road #212 leading off to the East. There is a sign identifying the Reavis Ranch trailhead. If you get to the Apache Lake Marina, you have gone about three miles too far.

Note: The Apache Trail continues northward to Theodore Roosevelt Dam and the lake, which is a worthwhile attraction in its own right.

Deer were seen on every hike

December 2020 Update - Courtesy DUSA Reader Dacia Murphy - "The Apache Trail is closed about a half mile after it turns to gravel. The Woodbury fire a couple years ago destroyed the area between fish creek and apache lake, we were devastated when it happened because that road means a lot to us here in the East Valley and Apache Junction. The USFS is saying the road will more than likely be closed indefinitely."

Two slow miles on rough #212 lead to the trailhead, where there is a parking lot and motorized vehicles can go no farther. An ordinary automobile can do this part but care should be taken. High clearance is advised. The hiking trail goes eastward on an old Jeep road that was used by Old Man Reavis and other pioneers. Four miles out the trail takes a decided, large sweeping turn to the south. If continued it will take you past the prominent feature called Castle Dome, and then continue on to the ranch location, Reavis’ grave and Rogers Trough with its Indian ruins. Just past the large curve a trail leads up a slope on the east to a ridge. You will pass a fence line just prior to arriving at the crest.

Reavis Creek

The trail then drops down about 1500 feet in a few miles. This is the difficult stretch. What I have done is drop my overnight gear before descending. There are some great camping spots near the top of the ridge. The trail steeply descends over loose talus and large boulders. Continuing you must cross another small, but rugged canyon before dropping into Reavis Creek. I have seen people camping in this area also. The falls is about one half mile upstream. This last leg is not easy either since boulders the size of houses litter the canyon floor. Go over, around or under these obstacles. The falls is in a steep, dark box canyon and you cannot go farther without special equipment and skills. I have made this hike several times, in and out, in one day but it is definitely difficult. The trip is a spectacular, even to those that believe they have seen all of the Superstitions.

TRAVEL NOTES: Maps needed:
Phoenix metro area map
Tonto National Forest map
Pinyon Mountain Topographic map

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