Welcome to one of the toughest scrambles to be conquered outside of Phoenix! Browns Peak is one of four peaks that make up the Four Peak Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. Located 60 some miles from Phoenix, the peaks stand prominently in the eastern skyline on a clear day.
Brown’s Peak is the tallest of the four peaks as well as all of Maricopa County, sitting at 7,657 feet. From the top you can see a large portion of the state of Arizona and even all the way to Humphrey’s (Arizona’s tallest peak) with clear skies!
Some may think that climbing 1,909 feet of elevation isn’t that much, but you aren’t climbing up to Browns Peak to brag about the gain. The Four Peaks have some of the hardest terrain to traverse, and reaching Browns requires a tough class 4 scramble up a scree chute to some of the best views in the state.
If that sounds fun to you, don’t go anywhere! In this guide I’ll be sharing the best approach to the trailhead, best times to visit, trail details for a safe hike, and coordinates to the best camping spots.
BROWNS PEAK hike STATS
Distance: 5.0 miles
Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 1,814
Location: Tonto National Forest
Dogs Allowed: Yes, but not advised
Trailhead: Browns Trail #133
Note: While dogs are allowed to use this trail, I do not suggest climbing the chute with them all the way to the peak. This is a class 4 scramble and they will need to be hoisted up and in great physical shape. I brought Monty with me and while we made it, if I were to do it again I wouldn’t take him for it was more trouble than it was worth.
HOW TO GET TO BROWNS PEAK TRAILHEAD
If you haven’t been to the Four Peaks Wilderness yet, well, let me tell you it is pretty remote. It also is a large area and the Browns Trail #133 to Browns Peak sits somewhat in the middle of it all. In order to reach the trailhead you’ll have to travel down a long, bumpy dirt road through the mountains.
There are essentially two ways to reach the trailhead and I go over both so you can decide for yourself! No matter which one you choose I would add 30-60 minutes drive time on top of what your GPS says due to road conditions.
It is also important to note that Browns Trailhead and Lone Pine Trailhead are at the same parking lot, however for whatever reason Lone Pine shows up on the maps. Mapping to either works!
APPROACH #1: Highway 87 to FS 143
From Phoenix the most direct route would be to take Highway 87 and turn right onto Forest Service Road 143 (also known as Cline Cabin Rd for a portion), which then turns into Lone Pine Trail (E FR 401), until you take a hairpin turn, to the right, onto Pigeon Spring Rd which then dead ends at the trailhead parking lot.
This route is recommended for 4X4’s only. I haven’t taken it yet myself since I don’t have 4×4 and didn’t want to chance it, so I can’t say much about the quality of the road from personal experience. However, from talking with others and reading reviews, I’m going to take their word for it and avoid this rough road for now.
If you don’t have a 4X4 and aren’t looking for an off-roading adventure, I suggest taking the second approach.
APPROACH #2: Highway 188 to El Oso Rd
A little out of the way if you are coming from Phoenix, but worth it! From Phoenix you’ll head to Roosevelt Lake. Highway 188 runs along the West side of the lake. You’ll want to turn off the highway onto El Oso Rd which sits on the opposite side than Lake Roosevelt.
This dirt road takes you all the way to Pigeon Spring Rd where you’ll turn right and dead end at the trailhead parking lot!
The first time I hiked Browns Peak I drove my 2018 Jeep Cherokee Latitude which did not have 4WD and I made it just fine. El Oso Rd gets very steep at parts and does have hairpin turns, so having a large rig or super low profile car is not recommended.
NOTE: The condition of dirt roads can change year after year or after heavy rain. Always proceed with caution and do not travel right after a rainstorm. The roads do take you through flood zones- never enter if it is raining or has still water.
WHEN TO HIKE BROWNS PEAK
The trail to Browns Peak is open year round, however I find the most comfortable times to hike Browns Peak is late spring, early summer, or fall. May being my favorite!
If you hike in the early spring there is the possibility you’ll have snow and ice remaining from winter. If so, it is not suggested to climb the chute in such conditions. Hence why I didn’t even mention hiking in winter!
Summer is beautiful especially at this elevation where it can be 10 degrees cooler. But, the Four Peaks still get hot and there aren’t any water sources around so it can be dreadful at times. This wilderness area is also at high risk each year during summer wildfire season.
Almost every year it is closed for a portion of the summer due to wildfires. Be sure to check this website for current closures and restrictions!
HIKING BROWNS PEAK VIA BROWNS TRAIL
Now that we covered the first portion of this adventure which is finding the trailhead, we can actually begin the hike. After that drive you’ll probably be eager to get out and stretch your legs anyways.
The hike begins on Browns Trail #133 which is clearly marked at the dirt parking lot. The trail is narrow but groomed well which makes it easy to follow.
Browns Trail immediately begins climbing moderate elevation right away. You’ll begin to feel it after a while and that could be due to the already high elevation you’re at. If you aren’t used to it just proceed slowly, taking breaks and frequent sips of water.
The beginning of the hike to Browns Peak is through forest trees blocking most vista views. But once you near the peak and get above tree lines it begins to open up, providing you views into the mountains.
I had to stop and look behind me at one point to take a picture. Considering where I had started, and the adventure to even reach this wilderness, it was hard to believe I was still in Arizona!
Eventually Browns Trail meets up with the Amethyst Trail #253. The intersection is clearly marked and it is obvious which way you need to go to continue to Browns Peak.
You’ll hike past a few backpacking sites and at this point you have a direct, unobstructed view of Browns Peak and the infamous chute. You can see the dark shadowed crevice in the picture located below on the right.
Yep, that is where you are headed!
From a distance the chute looks much more nerve-wrecking than it really is, so don’t psych yourself out yet. You still have more distance to hike to reach the base of it. And luckily the views along the way are simply breathtaking!
Once you reach the base of the chute you can determine whether you want to turn around or conquer it. If I’m being honest…hiking even just to the base is worth it! I wouldn’t mind returning again to do just that. Feel no shame if you do turn back at this point.
If you do decide to head up the chute I will tell you it is worth every step and such a fun experience.
The first difficult part (pictured above) is a little scramble to the top of piled boulders and rocks. On the other side is a drop down to a very narrow ledge. This ledge is a bit sketchy but if you take it slow and watch your footing you’ll be just fine.
After this point you’ll have a great view of the entire chute you need to climb (pictured below). The first real look I got at it I was like “oh yeah!”. I was so ready to tackle that thing.
It is called a scree chute because there is a ton of loose rock so it is important to watch every step you take. If you are scrambling with a group it would be wise to provide some space between each person just incase of falling rock.
Overall it is easy to understand where you need to go. Since you’re in a large crevice the only way to go is up. You’ll want to stay in the crevice until you come upon an opening at what seams like the top, between a tree and a rock. You won’t be able to go anywhere because it pretty much drops off.
Where you need to go is left to scramble further to the top of Browns Peak. Just remember that the peak is on the left side of the chute!
I had brought my dog, Monty, with me and for the most part he was able to climb on his own. There were about 3 places where I had to hoist him up with rope and his sturdy harness. Most dogs won’t make it up this hike and it is best not to try unless you take them on crazy, difficult adventures often!
If your dog is not a seasoned climber, hiker, or comfortable being lifted, don’t take them up the chute.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of views you’ll head back down the way you came. When climbing down the chute I will caution to go slow and watch every step you take! Leave extra time in your agenda just incase it takes longer than you expected.
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR HIKE
Browns Peak is so remote that it is imperative you pack all the safety essentials with you. The mountains are already about 10 degrees colder than base level which means you need layers and proper survival gear. Not to mention there are black bear and mountain lion in the area!
BROWNS PEAK GEAR LIST
- Sturdy shoes with good grip
You’ll want great grip on your shoes when climbing. Having a quality hiking shoe like the Adidas Terrex makes a difference!
- Reliable hiking backpack
Browns Trail is steep and requires using both hands, so having a good hiking backpack to carry your supplies and keep your hands free is recommended.
- Water and snacks
It is highly suggested that you pack a minimum 2-3 liters per person for this hike. Using a hydration bladder makes it easier to sip water as you’re moving, plus it reduces the amount of water bottles you’ll need to bring along.
Climbing can bring on the appetite so don’t forget your salty and protein filled snacks. Rise Bars are my favorite protein bars to bring along on hikes!
- Extra layers
Weather can be unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances can happen. I highly suggest having the proper layers with you, especially a packable down jacket that helps break the wind.
- 10 Essentials
Since this area is so remote you’ll want the 10 Essentials. These include a lot of items covered above, but also sun protection, first aid kit, fire starter, folding knife, safety whistle, space blanket, and headlamps.
CAMPING NEAR BROWNS PEAK
Since the Four Peaks wilderness is so remote you might as well spend some extra time and camp! There are some beautiful spots you can reach that are just off El Oso Road as well as backpacking sites on the way to Browns Peak off Browns Trail.
Below I’ve listed types of camping that do well for this area along with coordinates to some good spots!
TYPES OF CAMPING
El Oso Road is not built for trailers or large rigs. I highly advise against RV, School Buses, or any type of trailers for camping. Instead, try camping these ways:
- Jeep + rooftop tent
- Truck + rooftop or truck bed tent.
We camped by pitching a tent in the bed of our Dodge Ram. It was easy set up, roomy, and got us up off the desert ground. If you’re looking for a good one, check out our affordable truck tent!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
There are no services or water resources once you turn onto El Oso road and begin driving deep into the Four Peaks Wilderness. You will have to carry in and carry out everything- i.e. water, food, trash, waste, etc.
Camp only on durable surfaces where it is obvious others have already camped.
Campfires are only permitted where previous fires/rock pits have been made.
I did not see anywhere posted that permits were needed. The area is free dispersed camping! Have fun, be respectable, and be safe.
CAMPING SPOTS BY VEHICLE
Below are some locations I pin-pointed as great car camping spots in the area. A couple could be accessed by a sedan, but for most I’d highly suggest a SUV or truck. Be sure to scope the off-road before going too far!
- 33.785038, -111.269406
- 33.782771, -111.272010
- 33.757533, -111.289869
- 33.758899, -111.282519
- 33758323, -111.286058
- 33.750178, -111.310358
- 33.71242, -111.33736
There aren’t too many backpacking sites off Browns Trail, but below are 3 I found worth pin pointing. If expecting high winds it will be very windy in this area! Keep this in mind when planning your trip and gear.
- 33.69829, -111.33547
- 33.68784, -111.32975
- 33.68775, -111.32955
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HIKING BROWNS PEAK
The climb to Brown’s Peak is one of the most rewarding I’ve done in Arizona. The scree chute alone makes this hike exciting, but the views at the top make it even better and happen to be some of my favorites in this state.
Don’t let the scree chute scare you away- even hiking to the bottom of it and turning around is worth the effort. The Four Peaks Wilderness is so remote and quiet that it is worth even driving through to explore.
That being said- don’t underestimate this wilderness and be sure to arrive prepared! It is imperative for a safe and successful adventure.
As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.
More in Arizona:
- How to Hike to Humphrey’s Peak- Arizona’s Tallest Peak
- Ultimate Guide to Hiking Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail
- Hike to Kendrick Peak Lookout in Flagstaff, AZ
- 5 of the best Sedona Caves and how to find them
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