April 2024
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Jug Trail, Salome Wilderness

The Jug Trail in the Salome Wilderness offers waterfalls, running creeks, slot canyons and great views of Roosevelt Lake below and Four Peaks above.

Getting to the Jug Trail presents two challenges, however. The first is it’s about a four-hour drive from Prescott, so for us that meant camping out the night before at Roosevelt Lake, which offers its own scenic views.

The second challenge is crossing Tonto Creek near Punkin Center to get to Forest Service Road 60, leading to the trailhead. That can be challenging; snow runoff or heavy rain can turn Tonto Creek into a river, and strand people on one side or the other. This has been a problem for decades, and a bridge is being built for those occasions.

Ron Turner, who works in the Tonto National Forest Supervisor’s office, showed our hiking group where to cross, and several other vehicles were also crossing at this point. High-clearance vehicles are needed, for both crossing the creek and the bumpy Forest Service road.

Turner joined us on the hike, making two Prescott connections for our party — he worked at Prescott National Forest before joining the Tonto team. The second Prescott connection was Carly Taylor, who works at Prescott’s Natural History Institute and was also taken in by the beauty of Jug Trail. The Jug Trail outing was hosted by Wild Arizona, a nonprofit working to protect, maintain and restore Arizona’s 90 wilderness areas. During our hike Four Peaks still had snow on it.

Taylor pointed out that Jug Trail leads to Salome Creek, a perennial stream nestled between red cliffs full of saguaros. “I couldn't believe how lush and green the wilderness was in February after the winter rains, with lots of small herbs and grasses coming up beneath the ocotillos and mesquite. It was a delight to dip my toes in that freezing snowmelt water, surrounded by the wonderful people Wild AZ brought together for the outing. If you can make the treacherous drive through a flood-prone basin and up into the mountains on a dirt road, this hike is well worth doing for the beautiful vegetation and stunning views of the nearby Roosevelt Lake and Four Peaks Wilderness,” Taylor said.

Jug Trail is in the Salome Wilderness, which covers 18,350 acres and was established in 1984, with a low elevation of 2,600 feet and a high of 6,500 feet at the top of Hopkins Mountain.

The higher parts can gather snow and the lower parts can be hotter than 100 degrees. Salome Canyon runs almost the entire length of the Salome Wilderness, which has unique fauna and flora, including the coastal wood fern, usually only found along the west coast.

Jug Trail, about 900 feet higher than Roosevelt Lake, is one of only two trails in Salome Wilderness, the other being Hell’s Hole Trail. The wilderness area is very rugged and prone to flash flooding, which explains its scarcity of trails.

Jug Trail is a moderate seven-mile hike that drops about 800 feet on the way in and climbs that much coming out.

You’ll reach the wilderness sign a bit more than two miles in. After passing through a fence meant to keep cattle in, you’ll see beautiful Salome Creek in the narrow canyon below with its cascading water. After just a few minutes you’ll come to a natural boulder overlook, a perfect spot for lunch, to soak in the sun and tranquility.

From this point on you’re seeing Salome Creek running alongside the trail and figuring how to get down to it. About a mile farther in it’s easy to get down, and most of our party pulled their pant legs up and waded in the cool water. The creek was cold, but enjoyable and relaxing.

This trail is extremely popular among canyoneers, as rappelling is the only way to see the largest waterfall. We didn’t do that as we enjoyed the trek to the creek and back. Salome is also good for fishing, offering brown and rainbow trout, speckled dace, longfin dace, roundtail chub and green sunfish. Thanks go to Wild Arizona volunteer coordinator Nizhoni Baldwin and Wild Arizona conservation associate Sam Baggenstos for leading this beautiful hike.

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