Agua Caliente Trail
On a long but easy road, cross through a remote stretch of desert southwest of Arlington. Along the way, you’ll pass the prominent 4th of July Butte, wind through the scenic Gila Bend Mountains and have the opportunity to check out the unique abandoned site of Sundad and visit Agua Caliente, an old ghost town. Because this trail is remote and long, be sure to pack equipment accordingly and make sure your vehicle is in good working order – this isn’t a place you want to break down and be stranded.
Where to go:
From the West Valley (I-10 & Loop 101 interchange), head west on I-10 for 20 miles. Continue south onto Highway 85 towards Gila Bend. After 3 miles, turn right onto Baseline. Continue west on Baseline for an additional 3 miles. Turn left onto Palo Verde Road and follow it south for 2 miles. Turn right onto Old Highway 80 and follow it for 11 miles through Arlington. Turn right onto Agua Caliente Road (you’ll be at a dairy). Continue right off the paved road to stay on Agua Caliente Road as it turns to dirt. Staging is available on both sides of the road over the next couple miles.
As you leave the paved road, reset your trip odometer. Continue west along a wide, graded dirt road. After about three quarters of a mile, there will be some good staging spots on both sides of the road. The road continues in a westerly direction occasionally crossing dry washes and powerlines. At 4.8 miles, the road makes a sharp right turn. A lesser trail continues south towards Woosley Peak. Continue heading in a north-westerly direction as the trail makes a few twists and turns. At 9.3 miles, you’ll cross over a series of cattleguards and a railroad line. Ahead of you will be a decent view of Saddle Mountain as the road turns left to head west again.
The trail continues to head west and slowly climb through the Yellow Medicine Hills which you’ll pass through at 11.4 miles. The road remains fairly uneventful although the numerous washboards may require you to speed up or slow down to find the right speed. At exactly 20 miles you’ll arrive at 4th of July Butte, a prominent volcanic upwelling on the right side of the trail. The road swings south and the views improve almost immediately. The trail crosses a large wash at 21.4 and again at 21.8 miles as it begins to climb.
This begins the most scenic and arguably the most fun section of the trail as the road twists and turns through the Gila Bend Mountains. While the trail remains fairly wide and easy, be sure to pay attention around tight turns. The turns begin at 24 miles. At 25.4 miles, you’ll cross over a bridge and a rugged wash. There are numerous trails that branch off at this point and others in the surrounding area which allow you to find a more challenging section of trail. The side trails also serve as a good spot to camp. The road continues to climb until it reaches the highest point (1,507’) at the 27.3 mile mark. After this point (not exceptionally scenic), the trail continues to drop until the end. The curvy mountain roads end at 29.0 miles as the trail returns to a fairly flat, straight, boring desert road.
The trail continues south past a few small hills and parallel to another dry wash. At 32.4 miles, a road will branch off to the left. This is a side trail to the site of Sundad. If you stop on the main road, you’ll notice several rock patterns on the ground marking entrance. Check these out, then continue east along the lesser and more difficult trail 0.7 miles to Sundad. The side trip does have a few good washout that will require 4WD and high clearance. Stay left after 0.5 miles, then you’ll reach the site at 0.7 miles. The ruins, which consist of cement foundations and numerous rock and glass patterns on the ground, continue south along the road. The site is rumored to be an old tuberculosis asylum from the early 1900s. There is some mining evidence on the hills behind the main “town” site. Regardless, the site is interesting to check out and unique. When you’re done, return 0.7 miles back to the main road. Turn left to continue south to Agua Caliente or if you’re doing the trail one-way. We decided to turn right (and return back to the beginning) since we were doing this trail as an out-and-back. At this point, it is still 12 miles to the end of the trail and involves pavement. Make sure you meet those requirements (and have plenty of fuel) if you plan on continuing to the end AND returning.
Leaving Sundad, the wide trail continues south and remains fairly flat. As you continue to descend, the vegetation becomes even sparser. You’ll cross over a wash then make a sharp right turn at 37 miles. Turn left at 37.5 miles. The road becomes 555th Street. Continue south 2.5 miles past farm land and private residences before crossing over a railroad track. Continue right onto Hyder Road. The pavement begins at 43 miles and the trail ends at a main junction at 44.3 miles. To get to Agua Caliente ghost town, continue left (south) on the paved Agua Caliente Road. After 3.3 miles, turn right onto Old Agua Caliente Road. Continue west 1.1 miles to the cemetery and town site. There are quite a few remains, but some of them are on private property so observe all warning signs.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
This is a long trail. One way, the trail is 43 miles from end to end, not including any side trips. We rode from the start of the trail to Sundad and back and it was almost 70 miles. Most of it is fast moving and straight but there are a few sections that require you to slow down. Allow for 4-6 hours to complete this trail. Be aware that traffic on this trail is sparse. We saw one other group while we were out. Consider adding your own stops and turnaround points to make this trail shorter. Ideally, this trail should be done as a one-way, that way you cut down on mileage. We’ve rated the trail a ‘2.5’ out of ‘10’ for the occasional steep and curvy parts and the remote factor. If you’re looking for a new trail and a few interesting places to check out close to Phoenix, this is your trail.