New River Trail [F.R. 41]
On this trail, ride through the sparsely traveled backcountry east of Table Mesa in the Tonto National Forest. There aren’t many stops on the trail but at the end, you have the option of continuing on, either to Sheep Bridge or Seven Springs.
Permits: A State Trust Land Permit is required for this trail. Permits cost $15/individual or $20 for two people and are good for 1 year. Get permits here.
Where to go:
From central Phoenix, head north on I-17 for 37 miles. Take exit #236 (Table Mesa Road) and head east. After the cattle guard, the road turns to dirt. Staging is available off to the right.
Head east from the cattle guard/staging area on Table Mesa Road. The road remains wide and graded as it passes several small ranches to the right. After 0.9 miles, stay left through a gate off the main road. From here to the forest boundary, the trail is on state trust land so be sure to either have a permit and/or OHV decal. Close the gate after passing through. After the gate, the trail remains fairly wide. Stay right at 1.5 miles as the trail drops to cross the New River at 1.7 miles. Water in the river is possible.
Stay left at 2.6 miles as the trail passes by a gravel pit. Continue east as the trail winds through the hills along New River. At 4.1 miles, you’ll cross into the Tonto National Forest and the road becomes Forest Road 41 on maps. Stay right at 4.2 miles as the trail makes a right turn to head south. The trail comes to a small clearing at 5.0 miles where Table Mesa is visible to the west and the town of New River to the south. After this, the road becomes rougher as it makes a sharp left turn uphill. The trail climbs until 6.3 miles. After this point, it drops rather quickly, offering a nice view to the east. Use caution as you drop down the hill and past a set of switchbacks at 6.4 and 6.5 miles.
After the switchbacks, the trail heads north through a couple of rough creek crossings. Depending on the season, trail condition could vary. Right turn at 7.0 miles as trail begins to climb again. The road crosses New River again at 7.2 miles before paralleling it for a little while and crossing it again. A water crossing could be possible here. After the second crossing, the trail remains rocky and rough as it heads along the south bank.
At 9.5 miles, you’ll find some precariously stacked boulders off to the left. The terrain and vegetation begins to change as you continue to climb. The trail drops into the New River again at 10.9 miles where it becomes rockier and slower going. Old foundations off to the left at 11.3 miles mark one of the few actual sites to explore along this trail. The trail continues climbing and heading east along the edge of the river bottom and remains moderately rough.
At 13.3 miles, the trail makes a sharp right turn uphill as Forest Road 37 joins from the left. From here on out, things are significantly easier as the road continues to climb towards Seven Springs. Use caution on the switchbacks at 13.6 and 14.0 miles. The trail continues climbing as F.R. 17 joins from the right at 16.2 miles. The trail reaches a high point of 4,291’ and drops down for about a mile to end at F.R. 24 at 18.9 miles.
At the end of the trail you have options. Most people turn right on F.R. 24 and continue 3.2 miles south to Seven Springs – home to a campground and of course, natural water features. The road is easy and continues all the way to the town of Carefree. Alternatively, you can continue north on F.R. 24 which will take you to Sheep Bridge. This is more difficult but could provide a very long loop to end back at I-17 and taking a new path. The choice is yours. We retraced the trail back to the staging area on Table Mesa Road.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
This trail is moderate. The beginning and end are easy, consisting mostly of wide forest roads. In the middle, the trail crosses the New River several times making it variable and always rocky. We’ve rated this a ‘5’ out of ‘10’. Aggressive stock SUV’s with 4WD and good clearance can make this as long as there isn’t a lot of water in the river bottoms. Long and wide vehicles not recommended due to the numerous tight turns and the few steep approach angles in the river bottoms. This trail is great for ATV’s, dirt bikes, and UTV’s as the narrower wheel base makes it easier to pick a line. Allow 4-6 hours to complete this trail out-and-back, nearly 40 miles roundtrip.