Oatman Massacre Trail
Drive 24 mostly easy miles through the Sentinel Volcanic Field and past the historic Oatman Massacre site where the Oatman Family was killed when traveling along a wagon route in 1851. After the massacre site, the trail continues east through farmland to end at Painted Rock Petroglyph site.
Permits: A State Trust Land Permit is needed 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 the West Valley (I-10/Loop 101 Junction), head west on I-10 for 20 miles. Continue south on Highway 85 towards Gila Bend for 36 miles. In Gila Bend, continue onto I-8 West for an additional 28 miles taking exit 87 (Agua Caliente Road). Follow Agua Caliente Road north for 1.4 miles. As the paved road turns northwest, turn sharp right onto Oatman Road. Staging is off to the left right off Agua Caliente Road.
Leaving the paved Agua Caliente Road, the trail (Oatman Road/Road 8232) heads due east. It remains fairly wide and graded for several miles. After roughly 1.0 mile, the trail makes a wide left turn to head in a north-northeasterly direction. The remains wide and easy. The surface becomes quite rocky the further north you go. You’ll also notice an increase in volcanic rocks (evident on both sides of the road) as you are now driving through the Sentinel Volcanic Field. Continue following the main road as it crosses washes and as other trails branch off.
At exactly 9 miles, you’ll come to an important four-way intersection. There is a small BLM marker (Route 8234) on the left that marks the turnoff to the Oatman Massacre site. The 1.5 mile one-way drive to the massacre site is rougher and much narrower than the main trail. It heads northwest from Oatman Road. Follow previous vehicle tracks and rock cairns (markers) as you meander through the lava flow. Stay right at 0.8 miles where the road forks.
At 1.5 miles from the main trail, you’ll reach a simple sign marking the site where the Oatman Family was killed on February 18th, 1851. The view looking northeast is quite good from here. You are now sitting on the edge of the Sentinel Lava Flow. Just to the east of the marker along a rough trail is the historic stagecoach route. The very rough trail once climbed up here from the Gila River onto the lava flow. If you look close enough, some of the rocks still have scuff marks from the wagons that traveled along the route. When you’re done here, return the 1.5 miles back to the main trail and turn left to continue north.
Back on the main trail, your odometer should now read about 12.0 miles since the roundtrip to the massacre site added 3 miles. Continue northeast as the trail gets narrower and rougher. The road makes a left turn at 12.4 miles as it descends towards the Gila River and follows a drainage down the edge of the lava flow. This section is the roughest and requires good clearance. 2WD is fine here. The trail gets very overgrown and lightly traveled before going right through a gate, then turning left at 13.7 miles. The trail now heads due north on the edge of farmland. The trail makes another zig-zag at 14.0 miles as you continue heading north along the east side of a field. Be respectful of the owners land and stay on the main road, don’t mess with anything or ride off trail. At 14.1 miles off to the right is the Fourr Family Grave. The Fourr Family was an early pioneer family that lived in the area and helped turn the arid landscape into a lush production center. A sign-in log and bench sit in the shade and make for a nice stop.
At 14.6 miles, stay straight where a left used to lead to the Oatman Family Grave just to the west. Unfortunately, the grave is no longer accessible as all roads heading west to it are marked “no trespassing”. The trail used to skirt around the fields and heads southwest to the grave.
Continue north as the road crosses the normally dry Gila River at 15.0 miles. The road passes an abandoned trailer and at 15.3 miles comes to a junction. To the right is an alternate route south of the farm in front of you. I continued north along the “more traveled” route as it passes through the fields. The road turns right and then zig-zags east through a farm and past a house before connecting to Rocky Point Road at 16.7 miles. I never saw any “no trespassing” signs while heading east from the Massacre site, but after getting to Rocky Point Road, I looked back and saw that it was marked “no trespassing” going back west. Use at your own discretion. As long as you are just passing through, I don’t see the problem with it when going east – just be respectful. If you are doing the trail in reverse or, if the main road is closed in the future, you should take the alt. route south of the private farm. It continues south of the farm on a lesser trail and then connects with Rocky Point Road after following along the powerlines.
Continue east on the wide, graded Rocky Point Road. The trail crosses the dry Gila River again. Do not enter if flooded. At 18.1 miles you’ll enter the third and final set of fields on either side of the road. Follow the powerlines and stay on the main trail for the next 2 miles as you pass through a farm. At 20.3 miles you’ll pass over a cattle guard and the road becomes pavement. Continue east. Turn right at 21.4 to get to Painted Rock Petroglyph site and campground at the end of the trail. There is a small fee but it is worth checking out the big pile of boulders with all kinds of writing on them. The writings date back to early Native Americans and also feature “graffiti” from those who traveled along the Butterfield Overland Route in the 1850s. When you’re done here, return the 18.4 miles back the way you came to Agua Caliente Road, or continue east on the paved Painted Rock Road 10 miles back to I-8.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
This is a fun and mostly fast moving trail. One-way, the trail is about 22 miles including the side trip to the Oatman Massacre Site. Street legal vehicles can continue east on the paved rock past the petroglyph site. Allow for about 2-4 hours on the trail. The driving time is only about an hour, but there is a lot to stop and look at along the way. This is a good trail for dirtbikes, ATV’s, and UTV’s, but since this trail doesn’t loop back, you could be riding over 40 miles from end to end and back. Allow for longer if you do this. Much of the trail is wide graded dirt roads. Some of the sections as the road drops of the lava flow are rough, narrow and washed out. A vehicle with high clearance and 2WD is sufficient. The side trip to the Oatman Massacre site is rough, narrow, and lightly traveled but is manageable when going slow. We’ve rated the trail a ‘3’ out of ‘10’. There are a lot of great camping spots along the trail if you want to extend your trip. Overall, this is a relatively quick and easy trail with a high historical value for the interested traveler.