Sunday, April 2, 2017

Garden Valley Trail - Tortilla Flat, AZ

Statistics: The Garden Valley Trail is a loop hike of 5.5 miles total with an elevation rise of about 400 feet from the river bed to the highest point of the hike.

We do a lot of "butt-buster" hikes when we travel, but sometimes it's nice to mix things up a bit and just take a nice scenic walk through a beautiful valley... a garden valley to be precise. There's not a lot of running water in this part of Arizona but this hike spends about half its time following the First Water Creek, which is fed by Canyon Lake to the north... so I assume it is flowing most of the year, but I can't be certain.

That being said, this is a very pretty and peaceful hike (we only saw 2 other people for the first 4 miles), unlike a lot of the more popular routes in the area that are much busier. I suppose one of the reasons this hike might have less traffic is because it's kind of hard to find, and the signage on this loop is terrible. And that's where this post comes in!

Before I start with the hike itself, you may be interested in knowing that you have to take a somewhat washboardy gravel road for about 2.5 miles from the main road to get to the trailhead. But it's not too bad, you just have to take it slow if you drive a passenger car like we do. The trailhead itself has a nice large parking lot with an outhouse. There's a standard map that doesn't even outline this hike, so it will be useless to reference. I highlighted the loop here with a yellow line (at the left) so you can see where this hike is in comparison.

Ok, now on to the hike. As I mentioned above, there were hardly any people here on a gorgeous weekend afternoon, so I assume it's because of two things... 1, the map doesn't show it and 2, you'll walk right past the start of the trail if you don't know what to look for.

Starting at the trailhead you will head up the First Water Trail until you get to the fork at .36 miles with this sign. Here you want to stay to the left.

Next you have to watch carefully because at the half mile point there is a nondescript wooden post, just sticking out of the ground to the left of the main trail. It has no sign or words but there is a sandy narrow trail that starts behind it. Follow that to the left to begin your hike down the Garden Valley Trail.

At the half mile mark - don't miss this post
Follow the little trail behind it
Once you head down this trail the beauty of First Water Creek begins to emerge. Within just a few minutes you will be greeted by beautiful, refreshing pools like this.

Then for the next 1.8 miles you will literally follow the First Water River to the north. You will have many options on how to traverse this trail. You can walk on the paths on either side of the water, hop on the boulders that make up the river bed, or walk right in the water if you want. The choice is all yours, but one thing is for certain... you can't get lost because you're literally walking up a river in a canyon.

Ok, with one little exception... and again, this is what we're here for. At the 2 mile mark there's a fairly significant trail that branches off to your left and heads up the side of the hill. It looks like the right way to go but don't take it because it leads to nowhere. Trust us on this one. You won't actually leave the river for the first time until you get to the 2.25 mile mark, and then it will head up the hill to the RIGHT. That is the first time you will begin to ascend from the river bed, and the fork is pretty obvious.

In the meantime, here is a little preview of what you can expect on your gorgeous hike up the river (click pictures to enlarge).

And again, at the 2.25 mile mark you will take a right and head up the trail to begin your loop back home.

Continuing on from here, the next time you will encounter a fork in the trail is at around the 2.75 mark (Note: Don't take my mileage markers literally... GPS readings fluctuate and are not 100% accurate). Here you will find a confusing fork right or left. Stay to the left.

Stay to the left here
At around 3 miles you will take a right. This is where you join up to the Second Water Trail for the first time.

Stay to the right
And finally, the last official fork will be at the Grand Enchantment Trail where you will again stay to the right to hop on the final leg back to the trailhead.

Stay to the right again
Summary: This was a very nice, easy and gorgeous hike that took us about 3 hours at a relaxed pace. Trails like this are what make the Phoenix valley such a great hiking area. We would highly recommend this hike for a beautiful and relaxing Sunday activity.

No really, it's true! And here's a little photo album from our day to prove it.

Happy hiking!

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