Four Peaks Wilderness, located in Tonto National Forest in Arizona, is a great area that you can enjoy year-round. This vast wilderness has over 60,000 acres of diverse landscape and is home to various wildlife.
There is a fun, scenic 26-mile off-road trail, known as 4 Peaks Road, that meanders through parts of the wilderness. Each season offers a different experience on this road from small flowing creeks, beautiful wildflowers to snow-capped mountains and muddy trails! This rutted, slightly rocky trail is perfect for every skill level!
Key Points – Four Peaks Road
- Usually open year-round (Depending on the weather conditions & fire restrictions) Contact the Tonto N.F., Mesa and Tonto Basin Ranger for updates on weather and trail conditions (480) 610-3300.
- Easy trail but there are some rough and rocky areas; High Clearance Vehicle recommended.
- Driving time is between 2 1/2 – 5 hours depending on the number of stops; Great for day trips!
- Mileage is around 26 miles for the main trail.
- Elevation is about 2200 to 6000 feet.
- Don’t forget your camera! If you ride this trail during the springtime, you will see some wildflowers.
- Location – There are two different ways to start this trail, view starting point A and starting point B below.
- Starting point A: Intersection of Highway 87N (Beeline Hwy) & 4 Peaks turn, just N. of mile marker 203; GPS Coordinates 33°40’10.1″N 111°29’43.3″W
- Starting Point B: Intersection of Highway 188 & 4 peaks turn off, just N. of mile marker 255; GPS Coordinates 33°47’18.0″N 111°15’52.8″W
The 4 Peaks Wilderness is one of our favorite spots to visit. It is easily accessible, and every time we hit 4 Peaks Road, we always notice something new. To enjoy this road in its entirety, there are two main points of entry: the intersection of Highway 87/Four Peaks turnoff, just north of mile marker 203 or from the intersection of Highway 188/Four Peaks turnoff, just north of mile marker 255.
Our POV video above shows us entering by the 4 Peaks turnoff from Highway 87. If you decide to take this way, you will love rolling in this way because once you hit unpaved territory, immediately you will be greeted by the beauty of the 4 Peaks Mountain range which provides the perfect backdrop to the sweeping views of the green desert.
There are also various side trails that lead to Butcher Jones Recreational Area, Saguaro Lake, and the Salt River. Even though the majority of the trails are pretty tame, some areas are extremely wash boarded, steep and rocky. It is recommended to drive these roads with a high clearance vehicle. So be mindful and always proceed with caution!
With a 40-mile trail network, the 4 Peaks Wilderness has multiple hiking opportunities to explore. For more information on the various hiking trails, check out USDA’s Tonto National Forest website.
The landscape in 4 Peaks Wilderness is impressive. As the elevation shifts, so does the vegetation. A desert vista filled with cacti can gradually transition to rocky mountains and then, change over to a forest with trees ranging from Ponderosa pine, douglas fir, aspen, manzanita, Gambel oak, pinion pine, cottonwoods, and sycamores.
As mentioned above, each season transforms the area. Spring is our favorite time to visit. The wilderness comes alive with colorful wildflowers. The summer which is also monsoon season can bring in dramatic lighting storms and possible flash floods. Due to the elevation, this area makes for a great escape from the heat during the summer months. During the winter, you might find snow on the top of the 4 Peaks Mountain range. And in fall, select trees decorate the wilderness with autumn foliage.
Always keep an eye out for wildlife! We have seen javelinas, quail, wild horses, rabbits, and snakes. According to Wilderness.net, the 4 Peaks Wilderness is home to one of the densest black bear populations in Arizona. Ring-tailed cats, skunks, coyotes, deer and mountain lions can also be found in the area.
There are plenty of places to pull over to admire the scenery and wildlife. Close to the end of the trail, there are fantastic views of Roosevelt Lake. Overall, the 4 Peaks Road is a great way to spend the day exploring, rain or shine!
Play it Safe – Remember to do your research before you go out on any trail. Driving on unpaved back roads and trails can be dangerous to you and your vehicle. Always know your driving skills and what your vehicle is capable of handling. Contact the Tonto N.F., Mesa and Tonto Basin Ranger for updates on weather and trail conditions (480) 610-3300.
A Bit of History for ya’
Four Peaks Road aka Forest Road 143 also goes by the name of El Oso Road. El Oso means bear in Spanish which is such a fitting name for this trail. This area of Tonto National Forest suffered a major historical fire, known as the Lone Fire. Unfortunately, an unsupervised campfire led to this massive fire.
In April 1996, this wildfire burned 60,000 acres of forest. Fortunately, a portion of land on Mt. Oso was spared from the fire. Instinctively, a small population of black bears found this oasis and made it their new home. By 2000, the black bears flourished in the area, and they slowly returned back to their original habitat.
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Source: Arizona Trails Central Region Guide Book by Peter Massey, Jeanne Wilson & Angela Titus)
Reminder – There have been quite a few forest fires in Tonto National Forest. Please remember always to attend your campfires and to extinguish them properly. Never throw out your cigarettes and always clean up your mess. What you pack in, always pack out.
If you have experienced this trail, tell us about it below. We would love to hear from you!