Black Cross Butte to Salt River Overlook is one of those hikes you want to attempt because of the challenge and potentially good views, but once you complete it you’re not in a rush to do it again, if ever.
Don’t get me wrong- this hike is worth accomplishing at least once. The views overlooking the Salt River are incredible and unlike any you see elsewhere. But, this hike is not for the faint of heart. It is a non-populated trail deep in the Superstition Mountains that currently has a Mountain Lion lair right off of it. Yeah, frightening. Later in this post I’ll share my encounter story with you.
It is also important to mention the trail is difficult to follow and there are some sections that require scrambling. So, if you’re looking for a new trail to try out and something a little more challenging, this one is for you.
In this guide we’re going to go over very important safety tips for this trail, how to find your way to the overlook, and tips for trespassing into Mountain Lion territory. Are you intrigued?
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Hike Stats: Black Cross Butte To Salt River Overlook
- Hiking Distance | 6.55 miles RT
- Difficulty | Moderate-Difficult
- Elevation Gain | 1,455 feet
- Total Time | 4-5 hours
- Permits/Fees | None
- Trailhead | 33.56019, -111.35458
- Road Conditions | Well graded dirt road, 2WD okay.
- Dog Friendly | No
Below is a map of the route from Black Cross Butte To Salt River Overlook.
Overall the trail to from Black Cross Butte to Salt River Overlook isn’t that difficult to follow as long as you have an online map downloaded. If you don’t have an online map it will be very difficult to find your way as the trail disappears and reappears spontaneously.
I highly suggest downloading and utilizing the Gaia GPS app as it works wonderful offline. You can download my GPX track from my library and upload it to your device and follow it the entire way!
You can also follow the track on AllTrails if you prefer. However, the route I took was different as I chose to skirt around a large unnecessary butte AllTrails wanted me to hike up and down twice. My track saves on elevation gain, time, and physical energy. Unless you prefer to climb up to the butte to see if the views are any good- to each their own.
This is the trail I had my very first Mountain Lion encounter with. I want to be transparent as the lion has been and still currently lives in a cave about 100 yards off the trail. As far as I can tell it has been there for at least a year and has never attacked a human, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Hike with a partner or group and keep your eyes peeled. Do not enter the cave and keep your distance.
Black Cross Butte to Salt River Overlook is a fun and beautiful hike so I don’t want this to deter you. I just want you to hike prepared!
I share my encounter story later in this post!
Best Time To Hike
The best months for hiking within the Superstition Mountains are November-April due to the temperatures. Hiking during these months will save you from the exhausting summer heat. I do not suggest attempting this hike during the summer!
It is also best to begin this hike early in the morning. Everyone has different experiences when it comes to route finding and you want to be sure to leave enough daylight for you to get to the Salt River overlook and back before dark. This is a dangerous trail to be on in the dark due to the Mountain Lion nearby, scrambling involved, lack of trail, and overgrown vegetation.
I’d suggest hiking right after sunrise so the lion has had time to go hunting for its prey (I’m not joking), and the ensure there is plenty of light when you begin.
Where To Park
Getting to the trailhead is very easy and you’ll enjoy the added bonus of stunning views along the way. If you input these coordinates they will take you right where you need to go- 33.56019, -111.35458. Or click on this link to Google Maps it.
From Tortilla Flat you’ll continue along the Apache Trail (HWY 88) as if you’re driving to Apache Lake. After a couple of miles there will be a dirt road called Forest Service Road 80 on the left side, turn here. Drive down this road until you reach the gate (pictured above) blocking you from continuing down the road. This is where you park and begin your hike!
While the trailhead is not marked it is very easy to spot from here.
Tips For Hiking Black Cross Butte To Salt River Overlook
- Wear long pants to protect your legs from the overgrown vegetation.
- Make sure your pants are durable enough to withstand cactus and rocks, otherwise you’ll end up with holes and pilling.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks.
- This is Mountain Lion territory and there is one that has been using the cave off this trail for a year now. Do not attempt to visit the cave for you may have an encounter.
- Hike with a friend due to the above tip. Leave your dog at home.
- Do not attempt without a downloaded map of the route!
- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses since the trail is completely exposed to the sun.
The Hike: Black Cross Butte To Salt River Overlook
From the parking lot the trail is very distinct for the first 1.25 miles. It is your typical dirt and rock trail that has the occasional large step in random areas. Not even a quarter mile in and I had a large, round prickly cactus ball stuck into the side of my leg. My friend had to use nearby rocks and sticks to pluck it out of my skin because it was so deep I couldn’t do it myself. It hurt extremely bad so when I suggest long pants and durable ones at that- I say it for a reason!
The early morning sun casts beautiful lighting across the distant mountains as it rises in this area. Many people don’t visit this portion of the Superstition Mountains, myself included, so I was surprised with how beautiful it is.
Roughly 1 mile in and you’ll find yourself facing a large cave entrance, about 100 yards off the main trail. There is a social trail that leads to the cave for people visit but I would not suggest it. While it looks tempting, this is the cave where I had my first Mountain Lion encounter.
Please continue to follow the main trail and skip visiting the cave.
My friend and I had no idea what we were about to experience, so, we had chosen to visit the cave. There were no bones or sign of life inside of it so we felt comfortable spending all the time we needed inside.
But, little did we know, that while we were inside the cave, there was a Mountain Lion just outside of the entrance, hidden down in the bushes, waiting for us to leave its’ lair.
As we were hiking out of the mouth of the cave, single file, we heard a very loud, deep growl come from the bushes just to our left. We stopped dead in our tracks, locked eyes, and agreed what we had just heard was a Mountain Lion. I whipped out my knife and my friend grabbed a rock. We walked backwards very slowly, trying to spot the lion, but we were never able to actually see it.
It sounded like it was right next to us but I’ll be generous and say it was 10-15 feet off the trail, hidden in the bushes by a large rock. You can actually see the area it was located in the above photo! I scoured all of my photos and zoomed in afterwards to see if we had captured it when we weren’t paying attention, but no luck.
Both of us were brave enough to continue and complete the hike, but we did so full of body chills. I never want to hear that sound again.
After further research and hearing of other hiker’s encounters in this area, I think it is safe to say this cave is the lion’s lair and it was just coming back from it’s morning kill. There have been reports of people finding bones inside this cave. If you don’t believe me, watch this Youtube video and fast forward 5 minutes in.
Needless to say, the lion lives in the area and we are trespassing into it’s territory. Please be respectful and don’t visit the cave!
There is no way to avoid getting near the cave as the main trail distantly passes by it. Right after you pass the cave, the trail descends into a wash which holds seasonal water. Be extremely careful in this area too as I can only imagine it is a water source for wildlife.
Once out of the wash the trail becomes difficult to follow, so keep your GPS device with the downloaded track handy. We had ours out the entire time. Even when you think you are in the trail you could be far off on a different one.
From this point on there is no other way to describe the hike other than prickly, constant route finding, and tight scrambles.
Eventually the trail will lead you to the edge of a cliff where you can explore and hike along for as far as you’d like. It was extremely difficult to get a good photo angle of the river below because of the steep drop offs, so this is one you’ll just have to enjoy in person.
The views were absolutely stunning and they gave me Grand Canyon vibes. I don’t know of any other hike in the Superstitions that leads you to views like this!
Once you’ve gotten your fill just retrace your steps back the way you came. Keep your GPS device handy with the track on it because everything looks different when you hike the opposite way. You will have to pass by the lion cave again, but keep your distance and you shouldn’t have any issues!
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- Conquering Three Sisters Summit In The Superstition Mountains
Final Thoughts- Was It Worth It?
Well, I could have done without the scary growl from the Mountain Lion. I’m not joking when I tell you that I had a dream about it weeks later and heard a replay. That encounter was scary and was a strong warning that we were too close. It was also an important reminder that there are in fact dangers while hiking, even ones you may not even be able to see.
While the hike itself and views were worth it, I don’t think I’ll be back any time soon. The lion scare was enough for me to not want to return. Also, I do think between the overgrown trail and route finding, it was a bit more difficult than needed to be for the reward.
Don’t get me wrong- the views were awesome. But for me they are a one and done.