Looking for a trail in the Superstition Mountains that is not as populated as the other well-known hikes? Black Top Mesa is a great alternative hike that will provide you with solitude and one of the best views of Weavers Needle.
This moderate hike leads you along a relatively flat trail into the Superstition Wilderness, across a few washes, then up to Black Top Mesa. This ‘black’ mesa is likely named after the black rock on top which was formed millions of years ago after a volcanic eruption. Over time desert vegetation has grown in-between the rocks, providing a unique visual contrast between the green and black.
In this post I’ll guide you through what to expect while hiking to Black Top Mesa and share tips to help you have a safe adventure! And if you’re into backpacking you’ll have a little surprise at the end where I share coordinates to some good spots.
Hey there! Just so you know the below links contain affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through my links (at no extra cost to you). You can visit my disclosure for more info.
Black Top Mesa Hiking Stats
- Hiking Distance | 11.5 miles
- Difficulty | Moderate
- Elevation Gain | 1,822 feet
- Total Time | 5-6 hours
- Permits/Fees | None
- Trailhead | First Water Trailhead
- Dogs Allowed | Yes
Below is a map of the route to Black Top Mesa.
This trail guide begins at First Water Trailhead and leads you through a series of trails to end at Black Top Mesa. The Superstition Wilderness area has wooden signs at some (but not all) trail junctions. You’ll pass a few along the way, and if you don’t know which ones to connect ahead of time it can get confusing.
I’ll help guide you through which trails to take, but first let’s get to the trailhead!
Getting To First Water Trailhead
There are a few different ways to reach Black Top Mesa, but the shortest and most direct route is from the First Water Trailhead which is at the same location as Dutchman’s Trailhead. This is important to note because First Water isn’t properly labeled on Google Maps and I don’t want to confuse you!
From Phoenix it is about a 60 minute drive to reach the trailhead and parking area. You’ll pass Lost Dutchman State Park and just past their entrance you’ll turn right onto First Water Road.
First Water Road is a very rocky dirt road. It leads you past other great trailheads but dead ends at the one you really want- First Water Trailhead. Typically this road is in good enough condition for sedans (although not recommended), SUV’s, and vans. I say sedans are not recommended because you’ll be driving across several washes and the more clearance you have the better.
The road conditions can change every year and especially after rainfall. If it has recently rained expect there to be mud and some water in the washes. It can quickly become impassable even for trucks and 4×4’s. Always be cautious of flash floods because there are many flash flood areas along this road!
When Is The Best Time To Hike Black Top Mesa?
It is best to experience Black Top Mesa during the months of November- April. These are the best months for hiking in and around the Phoenix valley because of the prime-time hiking temperatures.
Hiking outside of these months will pose many challenges due to the extreme heat, sun exposure, and lack of access to shade and water. Since this trail is long and has almost no shade along the way, the chances are you will overheat and fatigue quickly if hiking during 80+ degrees. Remember, the sun in the desert is much more powerful that other areas across the US- do not underestimate it!
Best Time Of Day
Due to the length of this trail, sun exposure, and parking situations I highly suggest beginning your hike right at sunrise. First Water Trailhead is the starting point for many different hikes which means parking can fill up fast. There is an overflow lot you can use but it will add 1.0 mile overall to your daily mileage.
Even in the middle of winter the sun can make it feel like 85 degrees while beaming down on you. If you start at sunrise you’ll be able to make it to Black Top Mesa before the heat really kicks in. If you wait too late in the day to start you will be hiking during the hottest part of the day which will make this hike feel difficult due to the sun and heat depleting your energy.
Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app like Gaia GPS.
You can download my Black Top Mesa hike and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
How To Hike To Black Top Mesa
Now that we’ve planned when to hike and how to get to the trailhead, it is time to hike! From the parking lot First Water Trailhead stands out like a sore thumb thanks to the informational signs and registry stand. Don’t forget to register your name in the book before you head out.
You’ll begin on Dutchman Trail #104 and within a half mile hike upon the first intersection. This one is easy for you just hang a right to continue along Dutchman Trail.
If you begin at sunrise you’re in for a real treat. Everything will be still, the air will have a crisp chill to it, and as the sun rises it will cast many shadows across the landscape while casting its rays onto other parts. This time of day is peaceful but doesn’t last long so soak it in while you can.
Overall the trail is your typical dirt and rock trail you experience all across the desert. Parts are wide enough for two people while others are more narrow and only allow single file. It will bring you up some rocky parts and back down, but overall the trail is surprisingly level until you reach the base of Black Top Mesa.
There are several washes to traverse along the way. Typically these are dry, but if it has been a wet fall or winter they could be full of water! Usually there are plenty of large rocks jutting out of the water that create a path for you to successfully get across with dry feet.
This trail is frequented by equestrians. Horses always have the right away so step aside if you come across them on the trail. Proper safety etiquette is to step to the down side of the trail if you can rather than the upper. This is because horses know predators sit up on the rocks and attack from above.
Eventually Dutchman Trail #104 intersects with Bull Pass Trail #129. Dutchman hangs a right whereas if you kept straight you’d be on Bull Pass Trail. Keep straight and continue along Bull Pass Trail for half a mile. This is where you’ll begin to climb elevation and feel it in your lungs. I saw two great backpacking sites along the way and made note of them for a future return.
At the next intersection turn right to head up Black Top Mesa Trail. This section is 0.7 miles and gets very scenic. You’ll climb the last bit of elevation during this hike which gives you a great vantage point to see the surrounding mountains and canyons below. This is also where the black rocks begin to reveal themselves.
If all of these intersections are confusing you, screenshot the directions below to take with you on the trail!
QUICK DIRECTIONS: BLACK TOP MESA
- Park at First Water Trailhead
- Begin on Dutchman’s Trail #104
- Keep straight for Bull Pass Trail #129
- Turn right onto Black Top Mesa Trail
- Hike to the end of the trail!
Black Top Mesa
The trail ends at an outcropping of black lava rock which points directly at Weavers Needle in the far distance. Here, you are rewarded with stunning views deep into the Superstition Mountains and on a clear day you can spot the Four Peaks behind you.
The mesa is covered with bright green cacti which creates a nice contrast with the black rock and blue skies. It is worth taking a break on the lava rock to enjoy the views and eat a snack before heading back.
Once you’re ready to return to your car you’ll head back the way you came.
Day Hike Packing List
We’ve covered the fun part in this guide which is hiking to Black Top Mesa. But the other part of preparedness is having the proper gear with you!
Below is the day hike packing list I suggest for a safe hike.
Due to the rocky nature of this hike you’ll want a sturdy and reliable hiking shoe, not tennis shoes. Typically I hike with my Adidas Terrex in the desert, but because it was cold and possibly wet I chose to wear my Salamon X Ultra 4 Mid on this one. Solid choice because they gave me great ankle support and my feet didn’t hurt from the rocks on the trail.
Merino Wool Socks:
Moisture wicking socks are essential to prevent sweaty and blistery feet. They also are very warm comfortable! I use Darn Tough Cushion Socks which are the perfect height to pair with boots and cover the heel, thus preventing blisters.
Hiking Backpack + Water Reservoir:
Any normal backpack will do, but a quality backpack like Osprey Skarab 30 with straps, support, and breathability will feel like luxury during this hike. It also holds a water reservoir which makes it easier to carry water and stay hydrated on the trail without having to stop. I love my backpack because it is the right size for all of the essentials and is very comfortable.
Because I use a GPS app on my phone as well as my phone itself to take pictures and videos, the battery can drain after a half day of hiking. I always carry a Goal Zero Battery Bank with me so I can charge my phone and other devices. It isn’t the lightest thing but holds a charge for days and can re-charge my phone several times.
Base / Insulating Top:
In the desert I religiously hike using either my sports bra or a synthetic crop top as my base layer. For my insulating top I love a good 1/2 zip long sleeve. I have different thicknesses of long sleeves that I wear depending on the weather. My favorite fleece for ultimate warmth is this Columbia 1/2 Zip Grid Fleece. If I want something a thinner I like to wear this Under Armor Tech Twist 1/2 Zip.
The Superstitions can be chilly in the morning and get really cold at night, especially during the months of November-April. Carrying a protective layer like my favorite budget friendly packable down jacket is important. I always have one in my pack just incase the weather takes a turn or I am out later than intended.
This one is extremely important because in the desert the sun is almost always beaming. You should always pack sunscreen with you and apply it before setting out to hike. Coola is an organic sunscreen perfect for the outdoors. A hat, sunglasses, and a lip balm are also important sun protection items to carry.
This part of the Superstitions are rugged and remote which means carrying the 10 Essentials is extremely important! Here are a few I highly suggest not skipping out on:
Don’t forget your furry friend! For a complete dog packing list visit Hiking with dogs- 10 essentials you should pack
Backpacking Spots Near Black Top Mesa
While hiking along the section of Bull Pass Trail #129 I noticed two great backpacking sites worth pin-pointing for a future return trip. If you’re into backpacking then hopefully this helps you! Staying the night here and being on Black Top Mesa for sunrise would be a beautiful experience.
Backpacking Site Coordinates:
- 33.46045, -111.38932
- 33.46038, -11138928
The two sites are almost directly across from each other on either side of the trail. Each were large enough for at least one 2 person tent, but I’m not confident an additional tent would fit comfortably.
Recap On Black Top Mesa
This day was a fun one for me and Monty because we were accompanied by a fellow Arizona hiker and her dog. We had been following each other on Instagram for a while and finally decided to meet up for a hike! Actually, she is my first blogging friend success story because she found me through one of my blog posts on Google!
Her sweet pup and Monty got along great so they were able to hike together while my new friend and I chatted. I was surprised at how easy the Black Top Mesa hike felt. It didn’t feel super long or difficult but more moderate when keeping a steady pace and talking at the same time.
My feet were sore the next day due to the mileage and being a little out of distance shape. But I would hike this one again because the views from the mesa are so rewarding!
More Hikes In The Superstition Mountains:
- Ultimate Guide to Hiking Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail
- Weavers Needle Loop Trail in the Superstition Mountains
- Hike Battleship Mountain via. First Water Trailhead
- Conquering Three Sisters Summit In The Superstition Mountains
- Local Guide To Wave Cave- The Superstitions Hidden Gem
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you hiked Black Top Mesa before, or plan on adding it to your list of hikes? Share in the comments below.