The 37,440-acre Hellsgate Wilderness is centered around a 1,000' deep canyon at the base of the Mogollon Rim. The primary erosion factor is Upper Tonto Creek, a perennial stream that has created deep emerald pools that are often separated by impassable waterfalls. Haigler Creek drains into the Upper Tonto after traveling through the impressive canyon that it, too, has cut into the solid rock. Both creeks are inhabited by smallmouth bass, catfish and trout. The water flows also support black bears, beavers, mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, javelinas and gray foxes.
Elevations in this exceptionally rough and broken countryside vary from 2,960' where the Tonto exits the area on the southwest to 6,440' on the top of Horse Mountain in the northeast corner. All through the area you can come across ruins left by the Salado people after they abandoned the area about 700 years ago.
There are 6 trailheads that give access to Hellsgate Wilderness but the area sees very little human use, most of that coming from fishermen looking for some good fishing far away from it all. Off-trail travel is very difficult and if you decide to follow the creeks, be prepared to swim in some places. A trip from one end of Hellsgate Wilderness to the other will take you at least 2 full days and you will be climbing in some spots and swimming in others.
Group size is limited to 15 head of people and 15 head of livestock. The stay limit is 14 days in any 30-day period.
Tonto Creek in Hellsgate Wilderness
Hellsgate Wilderness map
Hellsgate Wilderness area map