Horse Mesa Dam – Grand Canyon of the Superstitions

Today 4 of us hiked down to the Horse Mesa dam area, through Fish Creek Canyon which is also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Superstitions”.  The route runs on Forest Road 80, about 2.5 miles each way (in and out).  Elevation loss is about 900 feet which you need to regain on the hike out.

To reach the “trailhead” take AZ88 (Apache Trail) out from Apache Junction.  About 4 miles after you cross the “ford” at Tortilla Flats you’ll find FR80 on your left.  Follow FR80 2 or 3 miles until you reach a gate. (This is a good road, easily negotiable in your uncles Buick sedan.) Here’s where you leave your vehicle.  There’s parking for 6 or 8 vehicles.  You’re now at the “top” of the trail.

Continue afoot down FR80.

The hike is on a well maintained road which services the Horse Mesa dam on the Salt River.  The dam serves two purposes.  It forms the reservoir called Apache Lake, and is also a hydroelectric dam providing power to Phoenix about 60 miles away.  For security reasons, hikers are not allowed to approach the dam, but the hike does take you down to the river level.

First you’ll find yourself in a steep series of switchbacks stretching about 3/4-mile.

You’re immediately immersed in an awesome deep canyon environment, about 1,500 feet deep from the cliffs above you to the bed of Fish Creek hidden far below you at this point.

I’ll shut up for a while, and just show you some of the views on the way down.

The “turn around and go home” point of this hike is the bottom of the canyon where Fish Creek joins the Salt River in Canyon Lake.

Hope you enjoyed the walk.


This entry was posted in Arizona hiking. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Horse Mesa Dam – Grand Canyon of the Superstitions

  1. Carolyn says:

    The cave, did you look inside?? I hope you are making a book of all these walks, because it would make a fantastic book for the coffee table. Yes most definite, I enjoyed the walk. Oh any info on how the cross was placed there??
    Lil Sis Carolyn


  2. oldslowhans says:

    We didn’t climb up into the cave. Actually it is more of an alcove than a cave. I have no info on the cross, although they commonly are placed where someone went over the edge.


    • Randy binting says:

      The is or was a sign at the gate on FR 80 that says “Go no further” and it mentions the FBI and State Police. Was the sign there when you went? I’m guessing they’re paranoid of terrorists attacking the dam.


      • oldslowhans says:

        That’s the place, but they seem to tolerate hikers (up to a more threatening sign down near the water).


      • Randy binting says:

        Went last Friday and the sign at the first gate had been upgraded to a more threatening one – us government, no trespassing. It was a long way to turn back so on we went with no issues. The sign was a copy of the second sign posted after the bridge.


    • Anita Dolliver says:

      I don’t know if you will see this because this page is quite old but the cross was placed for a school teacher that went over the edge. Horse Mesa used to house 9 to 12 families and had a one room school house. I lived there as a kid in the 70’s and went to that same school house. The death of the teacher was before my time there though. I always wondered how it was that the cross never washed away during heavy rains. If that is the same cross, that’s amazing.


  3. Norm Ryder says:

    Wow. Any fish down there? I am looking for a fly fishing experience. Norm


  4. Doug H says:

    Iam trying again to comment about your slide show, with Help from Hal who is visiting us. Here goes.


  5. Rachel La Exploradora says:

    Love thIs post! Gonna go check it out tomorrow. 🙂 Where abouts was the alcove located?


  6. Sativa Barrington says:

    Your pictures are awesome! Myself and some friends have ATVs and would like to ride that road…is the top of the switchbacks as far as one can go on any vehicle? thanks!


  7. Anita Dolliver says:

    I lived in the community at Horse Mesa Dam as a kid. I climbed all over those mountains. Best childhood ever! Loved your pics.


  8. Dana H Dellinger says:

    Hi. Anywhere down there to put a kayak in? Thanks


  9. Jason lamb says:

    i went there this las week end 5/19/ 2019 and i was dissapointed about the sign, the first sign. if i have seen more people hiking down i would go with them. but i didnt want to take a chance, do you know if people regularly hike don the switchbacks to water level??????


    • oldslowhans says:

      That sign is certainly rather intimidating, but we have always hiked past it without any interference. SRP trucks regularly have passed us on that road, without comment. A disclaimer, I have always hiked with others, and we are “obvious hikers” with hydration packs, hiking staffs, etc.

      At the bottom near the water you will reach a second gate. We have never passed that point.


  10. Craig Cooper says:

    past history : In 1986 my wife & I traveled down the access road in our 4wd Toyota with our canoe strapped on top the pickup shell. The gate was there but was wide open. Don’t remember a warning sign. We drove down to the lake (very steep road as I remember, parts cut thru solid rock canyon walls) to what was once the historic river bank. It was an improved area or landing probably made for dam const.. We launched our canoe and beached ‘up river’. Then we hiked up the N side cliffs in search of Skeleton Cave, which we did NOT find. BUT, our reward was climbing up on the (then) large herd of re-introduced (BLM) Big Horn Sheep. Must have been at least 2 dozen sunning themselves on a big sandy ledge of the cliffs. There was lotsa sheep pellets & urine smell so they must use that spot in the winter afternoon sun. Most of the sheep were on the ground but stood up as we approached. Not sure if the breeze was in our faces so they did not smell us, or just that they were NOT familiar with people up there. We fumbled around getting the camera out and a lens on. We began taking pictures as the group started to slowly move away from us in single file walking along the ledge and around a bend in the canyon wall. ………one of my better outdoor experiences during my 50 yrs in AZ. PS we did get some good pictures


Comments invited

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.