The Peralta Trail is a hiking path in one of Arizona’s finest and most visited hiking areas. Contained in the Superstition Wilderness Area, this trail is one of the best in a region steeped in history and folklore. Not to mention, its stunning views of the desert. With all that this trail has going on, you’re going to want to get all the facts before planning a trip.
Setting the Stage: The Superstition Wilderness
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The Peralta Trail in Arizona is nestled snugly in the Superstition Wilderness is the name of the area around the Superstition Mountains, which are east of the Phoenix metropolitan area. These mountains are anchored by Superstition Mountain, a large ash and basalt formation rising out of the desert. The mountain was formed around 25 million years ago, and was eroded by wind and rain into its present shape.
The ground around the trail area is a beautiful mixture of oranges, browns and reds. The terrain is predictably rocky, but not un-traversable. Massive boulders litter the landscape, and other smaller rock formations just out of the ground, worn into their present shape by the slow march of time.
As you might expect, the environment around the Superstition Wilderness is a desert one. Mesquite bush and cactus dotting the rocky and dry landscape. Of particular beauty is the Sagauro Cactus, the quintessential “cartoon” cactus that can grow as high as 40 feet!
As far as wildlife goes, there is an impressive diversity on display due to the wilderness’ protected status. If you’re lucky, you can spot gila monsters, desert hares and squirrels, countless insect species and maybe even the odd snake or two. Just remember how to best act around snakes and you will be fine.
History of the Region
Humans first established settlements here around 1200 years ago. The Hohokam and Salados peoples set up cliffside dwellings and other small villages in the shadow of the large rock formations. The harshness of the living conditions prevented the indigenous folk from making too big of a settlement, but there are numerous archaeological finds in the area which give glimpses into their past lives. You can even see some for yourself while hiking if you know where to look. More on that later.
The indigenous peoples, like many other desert peoples of the American Southwest, mysteriously left their homes around 1400 AD and abandoned their majestic cliffside dwellings. The Superstition Wilderness area went relatively unused for hundreds of years until the 19th century mining rushes. Then, in the 20th century, it became a protected area. It was officially recognized as a protected wilderness in 1964 and is managed by the Forest Service.
Superstitions of Superstition
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The land around Superstition Mountain is shrouded in mystery and steeped in folklore. Some of the native Apache people, for example, believed that the entrance to the underworld was located somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. It is described as a giant hole in the ground where spirits go.
In more recent times, the Superstition Mountains have been central to the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. One of America’s most famous lost treasures, the Lost Dutchman’s Mine was allegedly the mine of a German man named Jacob Waltz (“Dutchman” was a common misnomer of “deutsch man,”). On his deathbed he supposedly told Julia Thomas, a woman who cared for him as he lay dying, the location of his secret mine. There have been a number of competing theories and legends surrounding this story, and the end result is that every year there are people who seek out this lost treasure of gold.
Point of Interest: Weaver’s Needle
This rock formation juts high into the sky and is visible for miles around. It is the most famous feature of the Peralta Trail and is not to be missed. The pillar of fused volcanic ash has been eroded down to look almost like a point from some vantage points, hence the name. Weaver’s Needle is named after the famous mountain man Pauline Weaver, and is said to be instrumental in finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. Legend has it that at some particular time on a particular day, the shadow of the needle points to the mine’s opening.
Hiking Conditions and Details
The Peralta Trail is relatively short, at around five miles, but makes up for its length with some difficult conditions. The first leg is two miles up desert scrub and slickrock chutes. It is not recommended for beginner hikers or those with limited mobility. Superstition Mountain hiking may not be easy, but it is rewarding!
At the top of the first leg is Fremont Saddle, a popular viewing point for Weaver’s Needle. From there the trail gets a little bit easier but does go up some more hills. How many depends on which route you take. Either way you are sure to see many a stunning vista, including views of Weaver’s Needle, Gold Canyon and Boulder Canyon.
There are a couple side trails that you can take if you so choose, that will extend the length of your stay but will open up more things for you to see. For example, there is a small social trail to the east of Weaver’s Needle to a lone pine tree; this is a popular vista for many visitors.
The Peralta Trail intersects with other trails at some point, so be careful you don’t get lost by going down the wrong. It is best if you get a Peralta Trail map, either online, with a hiking app, or a physical copy.
Gold Canyon Arizona’s Weather
The closest inhabited area to the Peralta Trail is Gold Canyon, Arizona. Therefore, it is best to check the weather there before planning a hike. Be on the lookout for excessively high temperatures. Temperatures can rise to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which may put people at risk of heat stroke. The heat will radiate off of the ground and cook unprepared hikers.
Rain can also be a danger. It may not be often, but the Superstition Wilderness does see rain. When it does, the slick rocks get even slicker and footholds are much more difficult to find. These conditions do not make the trail impassable, but they are cause for concern and extra caution.
Make sure you take enough food and especially water to last you the hike and then some. Also make sure your hiking shoes are snug and sturdy, this won’t be a leisurely walk. It is best if you plan your hike early in the day, starting at around 7:00 or 8:00 A.M. In this way, the temperature won’t be as high and there will be plentiful shade in which you can find refuge from the sun.
To reach the Peralta Trail trailhead, take US Route 60 east out of Phoenix. About eight miles past Apache Junction, look for signs for the Peralta Trailhead. Turn left on Peralta Road, also known as Forest Road 77, and drive about eight more miles to the parking lot.
Peralta Road is a dirt road, but it is well maintained. All but the most fragile and cumbersome vehicles should be able to handle it. If you are traveling there on the weekend, get there early. This trail is popular and the parking lot fills up quick.
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The Peralta Trail is Arizona’s most popular hiking destination, but there are other great trails and sights to see that are a short hike or drive away. They are also all within the Superstition Wilderness area.
A trail that leads to some actual petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people hundreds of years ago. The ancient art is a beautiful and fascinating sight to see.
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Wave Cave Trail:
This trail leads to the aptly named Wave Cave. At the mouth of the cave, there is a natural rock formation that resembles a crashing wave in the sea.
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Lost Goldmine Trail:
While perhaps not as scenic as the Peralta Trail, the Lost Goldmine Trail is a bit longer but much easier. There are a variety of activities available for hikers of all skill levels and dogs are allowed there, provided they are kept on a leash.
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Don’t Get Spooked by Superstition
There is a reason that the Peralta Trail is one of the most heavily used trails in Arizona. The beautifully scenic views and rich history have captured the hearts and minds of hikers for generations. Whether you’re searching for lost treasure or just want a good hike with fantastic photo ops, this trail is for you.
It isn’t an easy hike, though. Steep slopes and unsure footing can be a bar to some less experienced hikers. However, for those who can handle it, the sweeping vistas of Weaver’s Needle and towering Saguaro cacti are well worth it. Just make sure that you pack enough water and dress right for the sometime punishing Arizona heat.