A great introductory hike to the Superstition Mountains is the historical Hieroglyphic Trail. Easy for some, and moderate for others, this short hike is perfect for families and dogs looking to get a taste of wilderness and see some ancient petroglyphs.
The Hieroglyphic Trail leads you through a field of cactus and up into the Hieroglyphic Canyon where you typically can enjoy a small waterfall with pools of water below. Don’t forget to pack your water shoes because if the water is clear you may find yourself wanting to wade in to cool off!
In this trail guide I share with you all you’ll need to know for a safe adventure to view the petroglyphs and maybe, just maybe dip your feet in some cool mountain water.
Quick Hieroglyphic Trail Stats
Distance: 3.1 miles RT
Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 537 feet
Location: Gold Canyon, Arizona
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Trailhead: Hieroglyphic Trailhead
How to get to the Trailhead
The trailhead parking is easy to find yet feels like a long detour around neighborhoods. You can follow the directions below, but it would be much easier to map them here!
Beginning from Phoenix, you’ll want to get onto the 60 West, headed towards Gold Canyon. This is a small town located right near the Superstition Mountains with access to some of the best views and trails.
The 60 West turns into the Superstition Freeway, taking you right through Gold Canyon. You’ll turn left onto S Kings Ranch Road and follow it through a few different neighborhoods.
Once you reach E Baseline Ave, turn right. This will turn left into S Mohican Road. Continue along this road a short ways and then turn left onto E Valley View Drive. This road ends up turning into South White Tail, I know, confusing, but keep driving.
You’ll then reach a T in the road and turn right onto East Cloudview Ave. Finally, this street dead ends into the trailhead parking lot!
Plan on arriving early on weekends for the parking lot can fill up fast. Do not park on the side of the road if the lot is full- you may get towed!
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When to hike the Hieroglyphic Trail
Hiking in the Superstition Mountains is best enjoyed during the months of November – May. You’ll find that the temperatures during this time are more comfortable and typically less than 100 degrees.
Depending on the time of day you begin your hike there may be 0 shade. If you begin early enough in the day it is possible you’ll have shade once you get into the canyon. Keep this in mind when planning your hike!
Sunset in this area is gorgeous, so if you’re not afraid to hike back in the dark I highly suggest visiting for sunset.
If you choose to hike during the summer, you’ll want to begin at sunrise and end by no later than 10:30 a.m. to beat the heat. The summer is too hot for dogs to be out hiking, so leave your furry friends at home.
Why is it called Hieroglyphic Trail when what you actually see are Petroglyphs?
The word “hieroglyphic” refers to the ancient Egyptian formal writing system, one believed to be the oldest writing system dating back to 3300 B.C.
At times this term was easily mistaken for just about any writings, or pictures that were found. And this was the case when it came time to naming the Hieroglyphic Trail. So, yes, it is misnamed in a sense!
The Hohokam Indians inhabited this region up to 1,500 years ago, and the ancient petroglyphs carved into the walls are evidence of their settlement. Petroglyphs translate to “rock carvings” and are different than pictographs, which are paintings.
Hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail
Once you’ve found your way through the confusing neighborhoods in Gold Canyon and parked in the large parking lot, you’ll see the Trailhead sign at the entrance. This sign says Lost Goldmine Trail which can get confusing, but don’t worry, you are in the right place.
Both trails begin from the same spot but break off from one another shortly after. It isn’t too far from the trailhead that you’ll reach the first intersection. Turn left here to begin hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail!
There are two gates along this trail that you’ll have to go through. Be sure to keep the gate closed behind you! This helps keep the cattle from escaping the area.
Once through the gates the trail tests you with a couple switchbacks but quickly evens out as you hike through the large cactus field. Overall the Hieroglyphic Trail is easy to follow, but you’ll want to be careful of your footing on the all the loose rock.
Once you hike past the cactus field you’ll begin hiking into the Hieroglyphic Canyon. Depending on where the sun is, the tall walls surrounding you may provide some shade the rest of the way.
When you’re in the canyon you’ll notice the views become very impressive. If this is your first time hiking in the Superstition Mountains be sure to take some time to pause and look around you in all directions. This wilderness is one of the most scenic areas in the valley!
The Hieroglyphic Trail doesn’t gain much elevation overall, but you will need to do some minor scrambling at roughly 1.5 miles in, which is where you’ll begin to notice petroglyphs carved into the rocks around you.
1.55 miles from the trailhead is where the pools of water typically are. If you cross them to reach the wall to the left of the canyon, you can see in carvings depicting humans, animals, and geometric shapes all over.
From here you can continue further up the trail to check out the small waterfall. If you’re lucky it will be flowing and you can wade in!
Tips on hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail
- Visit after a heavy rain
If you want to enjoy the pools of water and mini waterfall on the Hieroglyphic Trail, you’ll want to time it after some heavy rain or a monsoon has passed in the area. Usually the water flow is strong and clear for weeks afterwards.
- Consider a sunset or sunrise hike
During the hotter months a sunrise or sunset hike is a better option. Hiking in extreme heat paired with direct sun exposure is never a good idea. Since this trail is relatively easy and short, hiking it with a trusty headlamp is do-able!
- Bring the appropriate hiking backpack
The Hieroglyphic Trail is short in distance but still rocky, so having a good hiking backpack to carry your supplies and keep your hands free is recommended.
- Pack plenty of water
This is still the desert, so it is highly suggested that you pack 1-2 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.
- You’ll want sturdy shoes!
This trail is your typical rocky, dry, and dusty desert trail. You’ll also be climbing around some slick rock if you make it to the petroglyphs. If you have weak ankles, consider giving them some more support by wearing a midrise hiking boot. If your ankles don’t need much support, a low profile hiking shoe with good grip will work just as great.
- Remember to Leave No Trace
Part of responsibly recreating in the outdoors is knowing and following the Leave No Trace Principals. It is imperative we all follow the principals so we can continue to visit these destinations and keep the environment in tact for future generations to enjoy.
We are fortunate that we’re able to hike right up to the petroglyphs to view them. In order to preserve them, never touch, carve, or paint over them.
Learn more about Leave No Trace.
Final thoughts on the Hieroglyphic Trail
The Hieroglyphic Trail is a trail that I always recommend to family and visitors who ask for good local hike ideas. It is a little further out of the Metro Phoenix area, but that also is part of the allure.
I love the fact you’re able to walk right up and view the petroglyphs. It helps us become immersed in the area’s history and adds a little more appreciation to this hike.
Hopefully you’re able to visit when the pools of water are full and the waterfall is flowing. Even though you don’t hike deep into the Superstition Mountains on this trail, you still get amazing views, and it is a great introduction into the wilderness.
More Superstition Mountain Hikes:
- Wave Cave | Superstition Mountains, Arizona
- How to find Broadway Cave in the Superstition Mountains, AZ
- Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle: Arizona Hiking Guide
- Hike Siphon Draw to Flat Iron- Superstition Wilderness
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