Hiking to Massacre Falls via Massacre Grounds Trail

Massacre Falls

The Superstition Mountains are an enchanting mountain range. They hold some of the toughest climbs in Phoenix and reward hikers with jaw dropping views. But what really makes them come alive is when it rains or snows, and waterfalls such as Massacre Falls appear.

This seasonal waterfall is one of the most popular to visit, but timing it right can pose a challenge. In order to witness Massacre Falls you’re pretty much at the mercy of mother nature and your own spontaneity.

In this trail guide I’ve listed stats, trail information, and tips on the best time to plan your hike to see the waterfall. After reading this post you’ll be fully equipped to hike to Massacre Falls and experience its beauty first-hand!


Distance: 5.6 miles RT
Type: Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Location: Superstition Mountains, AZ
Trailhead: Crosscut/Massacre Grounds Trailhead
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Fees: None

Massacre Falls via Massacre Grounds Trail

The Superstition Mountains are on the far east side of the Phoenix Valley near a small city called Apache Junction. It typically takes 45-60 minutes to drive from downtown Phoenix to the Massacre Grounds trailhead, depending on traffic of course.

You can map your directions here and they’ll take you right to the parking area and trailhead for Massacre Falls.

If you’re familiar with Lost Dutchman State Park, the road to this trailhead is actually just past the turnoff for the park, on the right hand side. It is called N 1st Water Road. It will be a dirt road that is typically well maintained unless a storm came through. There are flood areas to keep a look out for- NEVER enter one when full of water for you may get stuck and will be fined!

Sedans, vans, and other low profile cars usually can travel down N 1st Water Road just fine when in good condition. Still, an SUV, truck, or 4×4 vehicle will always be better, and isn’t required unless in stormy conditions.

Local Tip: The dirt road leading to the trailhead can become very muddy, rutty, and impassable to small sedans and SUV’s after a good rain storm. Be prepared to park further and add extra miles if need be. Typically ends up being 0.5-1 mile one way.

MASSACRE GROUNDS VS. MASSACRE FALLS

Easily mistaken for one another, there actually is a difference between the two. Massacre Grounds is a hike that follows along the Massacre Grounds trail, and loops around the site where a Spanish mining family were allegedly ambushed and massacred by the Apache Tribe.

Massacre Falls, however, follow along the Massacre Ground trail, but veers off to the right to the site of a seasonal waterfall. The two sites share a trail, but are not located in the same place, just near one another.

Typically Massacre Falls is hiked as an Out and Back hike, whereas Massacre Grounds is hiked as a loop. Below is a picture depicting the routes for you.

Red = Massacre Grounds Loop
Purple= off-trail for Massacre Falls


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Now don’t get me wrong- the hike to Massacre Falls, with or without a water flow, is a great hike. While most of us are dying to witness the waterfall, there are pro’s and con’s to each season. I hope to help you plan which is best for you!

BEST SEASONS

First and foremost, hiking in the Superstitions is best done between the months November – March due to milder temperatures. I never suggest hiking this range in the summer due to the heat, exposure to sun, and lack of water resources.

  • Summer hiking can be dreadful in these mountains, but if you insist on doing so you’ll want to start as early as 4:30 a.m. and end by early morning. Of course the waterfall won’t be flowing unless a massive rainstorm came through, and even then it can dry up fast, or still be nonexistent. You just never know with this one!
  • Winter is a great time to hike to the falls if there has recently been rain. It needs to be a heavy amount, though, and you need to time it right because just like in the summer- rain doesn’t always guarantee a waterfall here!

    There is a chance that during the winter the Superstition Mountains get a dusting of snow. This is a gorgeous experience and if I had to choose, it is my favorite for the hike to Massacre Falls. My pictures in this post are from February of 2019, the day after a good rain storm hit the valley.

    If there is snow in the mountains, be prepared for the trail to be muddy and icy.
  • Early Spring is arguably the most popular time to hike to the falls due to the wildflowers blooming. They brighten up the base of the mountains and if you can time it after a heavy rain you just may get the best of both worlds. Be prepared for the trail to be muddy!

BEST TIME OF DAY

Typically I suggest beginning at sunrise or early morning in this area due to parking dilemmas. This road and all of it’s parking lots fill fast because it is a popular area. Weekends are the busiest days of the week, especially when there is good weather.

But, if you’re up for a sunset hike, you can begin just a few hours before sunset and hike back under moonlight. You may have to chance it with parking, but you will most likely find less people on the trail at this time!

Massacre Falls
  • Wear sturdy hiking boots

The Massacre Grounds Trail gets very rocky so you’ll want a sturdy hiking boot for extra support. Also depending on the weather the trail may be icy/snowy or muddy!

If you’re expecting snow in the mountains bring along a pair of crampons with microspikes. These will help give you traction if the trail is icy, which is expected if there is snow.

  • If you have hiking poles, bring them

Sometimes we hike with them, sometimes we hike without them. If you’re one of those people and you find hiking poles helpful, I’d bring them on this trail. It can get very rocky and slippery in inclimant weather!

  • Bring layers

Mornings and evening in Phoenix can be very frigid. I like to always pack my packable down jacket in the colder months to stay warm and break the wind.

  • 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.

Looking for protein bars for the trails? Rise Bars are my favorites to bring along because they’re jam packed with protein, soft, and have whey or vegan options!

Recommended gear:

Recommended gear for dogs:

Your adventure to Massacre Falls will begin with expansive desert views filled with cacti and other desert vegetation. The further you hike back, the better it gets. If you timed it for spring bloom you’ll be amazed at how bright the base of the mountain gets.

The first part of the hike to Massacre Falls is relatively flat. The trail is well groomed and easy to follow so you should have no issues there!

Eventually you’ll begin climbing a gradual increase in elevation and the trail will become more rocky as you continue. This is where having hiking poles come in handy. Watch your footing and be sure not to slip on any ice or mud if hiking after rainfall.

Massacre Falls

For a while you’ll hike through small rolling hills and to your left will be the Massacre Grounds site. Legend has it that back in the 1840’s there was a group of Hispanic Miners that worked for the Peralta Family who was mining for gold in the area.

Everyone knows the Superstition Mountains are rumored to be littered with lost gold and buried treasures, so this comes as no surprise.

But in 1848 the land became Arizona territory which meant the miners would eventually have to stop mining. They began mining other areas in a frenzy to collect as much gold as possible to bring home with them. Knowingly or not, who knows, but they ended up mining on sacred Apache land.

Unwilling to stop when asked by the Apache, the miners were cornered and ambushed at what we now call Massacre Grounds.

If you want to hike the entire loop around the Massacre Grounds, you can do so after you visit the falls! Just continue on the trail until you see a spur trail on your right, veering off towards the mountain cliffs where Massacre Falls is located.

Massacre Falls

As you continue to hike towards the falls you’ll be able to either see the water flowing from a great distance, or see the dark water stain running down the mountainside.

On a clear day you can also see all the way out to the Four Peaks Wilderness. Don’t forget to stop and take a look behind you, because once you’re into the mountains the views behind you are also amazing.

Nearing the waterfall also means the trail becomes steeper, and sorry to disappoint, but the rocky trail stays rocky. The area leading up to and around Massacre Falls is wet and can get very icy so tread carefully.

There isn’t a lot of large, open space around the falls for it is pretty grown in with vegetation. If the destination is busy there may not be a lot of room to sit down and catch a break. Even the pool at the bottom of the falls itself is small.

Massacre Falls

Luckily, if you’re up for a little adventure, you can climb the mountainside to the right of the waterfall and gain a better view of it. You can even walk out as far as behind the fall itself.

Monty and I had no issues scrambling up to and walking along the back ledge. It makes for a great photo!

Once you’ve gotten your fill of Massacre Falls you’ll head back out the way you came. Once back to the Massacre Ground Trail, you can turn left to complete the Out and Back hike, or turn right to make it a loop.


Massacre Falls

Hiking to Massacre Falls in the winter or spring is definitely a bucket-list item for hikers in or around Phoenix. You’re surrounded by stunning views and the deeper you hike into the mountains the better they get.

I’ve hiked to Massacre Falls twice now- once in the spring and once in the winter. My first hike in the spring was nice, but the waterfall was just a trickle. It had dried up so fast and it was at a time where nothing was blooming. The second time was in the winter and I got lucky with snow in the mountains paired with an impressive water flow.

In 2022, my goal is to hike it in the springtime when the flowers are blooming! I love to experience places like Massacre Falls in every season if possible, but regardless, this area holds so much history and is always worth the effort.

Have you hiked to Massacre Falls yet? Or what season interests you most? Share in the comments below!

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