February 2022
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Castle Creek Wilderness

The Algonquin Trail to Big Dipper in the Castle Creek Wilderness is a hidden gem, but a challenging 4.4-mile hike.

It’s a hidden gem because there are running creeks, frogs, granite boulders with pools of water, mica, panoramic views, and not many folks on the trail, and because this hike isn’t found in any hiking book I could find. The Algonquin Trail had the most mica I’ve seen on any trail, glistening in the sunlight everywhere.

The hike is challenging as it drops 1,300 feet, with plenty of loose rock and catclaw, which can cut up your legs and make you sorry you wore shorts. Definitely wear pants for this one.

That comes before you get to the creek, where you’re walking on, over and around granite boulders.

Most of the Algonquin Trail is exposed to the sun, so dress appropriately. After the 1,300-foot drop you come to the junction with the Poland Creek bed, and the rock-hopping begins down the creek. After a while it turns into Horsethief Creek.

If you continue along the Algonquin Trail it’s a 10.1-mile round trip, but our party, as many do, decided to follow the creek to Big Dipper, which some refer to as Hell’s Hole.

At this point you have to turn around unless you brought ropes, because that's the only way to get down. The waterfall was dry when we went, but the pond below was substantial, enough for a swim if you’ve come from the other end.

Most online guides rate this trail as moderate; many in our group considered it difficult, and one called it easy. It's is named after a mine.

The drive into Algonquin Trail is entertaining. The trailhead is 22 miles from I-17, mostly on gravel, passing by the old Cordes Station and the bar at Cleator. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle — we saw no sedans on the road.

Algonquin Creek is part of the 25,817-acre Castle Creek Wilderness, established in 1984 at the southern end of the Bradshaw Mountains and managed by the US Forest Service.

The wilderness area ranges from 2,800 to 7,000 feet in altitude. The lower range is home to saguaro, palo verde and mesquite. The higher ranges include chaparral, Ponderosa pine, Arizona white oak and alligator juniper.

The Forest Service names eight trails in the wilderness area, including Castle Creek Trail and Willow Creek Trail.

There is parking, but no restroom, at the Algonquin trailhead. The sign pointing out the trail is on the right, with the trailhead on the left as you come from I-17 at Bloody Basin Road.

Photos by Stan.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com