Old Black Canyon Highway
Black Canyon City, Arizona (Maricopa) Technical Rating: 3-5
Last Updated: 10-16-2017
AZCO Mine Road
Black Canyon City
Black Canyon City
Black Canyon OHV Trail, Table Mesa Road - West, Little Pan Mine Road, Black Canyon Creek, Arizona, TMRA 9994, TMRA 9991
BLM / Table Mesa Recreation Area
Old Black Canyon Highway Highlights
The Old Black Canyon Highway is a leftover from before the time of I-17 being built. Originally built in the mid to late 1800's, it was a stagecoach route from Prescott to Phoenix that was known for its rough ride. There is are paved sections that still exist in Prescott and New River, and most of the road through Black Canyon City is also paved, but just before merging onto I-17 at the south end near Rock Springs Cafe, it makes a turn to the right becoming a dirt road. The other remnants to this route would roughly be Bumble Bee Rd up through Highway 69 in Mayer to Prescott, and Old Stagecoach Rd in New River.
Today this dirt trail gives access to private property and the Black Canyon hiking trail, but also leads you south to a very skinny, winding, and hilly off-road trail; not too different from how it's was described in the 1930's. Old maps also show it continued through parts of today's Table Mesa Recreation Area (likely AZCO Mine Road), and a town call Gillett that is now a section of private property in the same area, near the Agua Fria River.
Old Black Canyon Highway is one of the more difficult paths into the Table Mesa Recreation Area with the most challenging part consists of sharp switchbacks on a narrow trail surrounded by cliffs, making it unsuitable for larger trucks and trailers.
Technical rating: (3-5) Easy-Moderate
Rutted and/or rocky road. No shelves. Rocks up to 12" and water crossings up to 12" with possible currents. Passable mud. Moderate grades to 15 degrees. 6" holes. Side hill to 20 degrees. 4WD required. No width problems.
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Directions to Trailhead
From the southern-most Black Canyon City exit, number 242 off I-17, head west from the freeway entrance/exit to Old Black Canyon Highway. Old Black Canyon Hwy is paved throughout Black Canyon City and is the main road through the city. Take this road south until just before it changes from a two-way road into a one-way freeway entrance (just past the famous Rock Springs Cafe). At this point, there will be a dirt road on the right. This dirt road is the continuation of Old Black Canyon Highway and soon turns into Table Mesa Recreation Area trail number 9982.
From Table Mesa Recreation Area, take 9999 to the intersection with 9982. Take 9982 northeast towards Old Black Canyon Highway.
Old Black Canyon Highway is the northern-most part of this off-road trail, and as a basic dirt road is the most uneventful part of the trail. This part of the trail provides access to private property and a trailhead to the Black Canyon Hiking Trails.
However, as you travel further south, you'll enter a deep, dry river bed and eventually up onto some very narrow and winding hills with tight switchbacks. Wide vehicles are not going to fit in the middle section of this trail, and all but the smallest of trailers will likely get damaged. You can also expect to get some natural pinstriping on the sides of any mid-sized rig and more serious scratches are possible as you are forced to drive close to the sides of small cliffs and steep drop-offs. In fact, if two larger ATV's tried to pass each other, they would have difficulty in some spots; especially areas with sharp cliffs on both sides of the trail. A small Jeep or skinnier 4x4 truck can easily make it through, but there are only a few areas where you can get off to the side of the road to let someone else pass. Also being that much of this trail goes through private property, you are strongly encouraged - with threats of fines and a criminal record - to stay on the trail at all times.
1: Old Black Canyon Highway Trailhead (0.0mi)
Old Black Canyon Highway trail goes right alongside Interstate 17 as it heads north to south between Black Canyon City and Table Mesa Recreation Area. This spot is right next to the southbound entrance to I-17 on the south end of Black Canyon City (technically in the minuscule town of Rock Springs) and provides plenty of room for staging. There are also some parking areas to the west of the trail intended for use by hikers.
2: Black Canyon to 9982 (0.4mi)
Turn right (west) at this pole to continue down BLM trail 9982. The original Black Canyon Highway likely continued straight ahead, but It's likely best to stay on the marked BLM trail.
3: Rocky Curve (0.5mi)
Just west of the well-marked turn from Old Black Canyon Highway, onto BLM trail 9982, is a relatively small obstacle. This slight curve has some rocks on it, that any vehicle with decent clearance can easily drive over to give their suspension a little warm up.
4: Hill Washes (0.7mi)
Less than a mile from the Old Black Canyon Highway trailhead, you'll find a section full of small hills and washes. If you have poor approach and departure angles on your rig you may find your bumpers a bit scratched up. Good ground clearance is also helpful.
5: Big Wash North End (1.2mi)
Making up about a third of a mile along the trail, this dry river bed is not difficult to drive through as long as your tires can handle the sand. Avoid this area if there is any heavy rain close by or uphill (north) of this area, as it has the potential to turn into a very lively river.
To the left is likely the original Black Canyon Highway, but the trail may only be suitable for ATV's and leads you into private land.
6: Big Wash South End (1.6mi)
Continuing south on the trail requires taking a sharp left (east) turn into an area of very skinny, winding, steep hills and switchbacks. Passing someone coming from the other direction, turning around, or reversing beyond this point will not be an easy task.
Some maps also show the possibility of heading right (west) - further down the wash - leading you into the Little Squaw Creek to the Agua Fria River along a trail named Twister; which also connects to the western trailhead for Rock Bottom (these are all part of the Table Mesa Recreation Area). This direction is likely also the original Black Canyon Highway route as it would take you to the town of Gillette; a town that now only exists as private property but once serviced the Tip Top silver mine.
7: Narrow Hill Climbs (1.7mi)
There are two hills in this area that are not only narrow but also very steep and slanted, giving some exhilarating off-camber excitement. The peaks are also sharp, making it difficult to see what's ahead as you crest, until dropping sharply down the other side.
8: Tight Switchbacks North End (2.1mi)
This is the northern end of a set of very tight and sharp switchbacks. A wide and/or long wheelbase vehicle could likely find this area very dangerous with the likelihood of falling off the cliffs on the side of the trail, thus the higher trail rating as avoiding this area is not optional. As you can see from the pictures, it's easy to sustain damage through this section as there are tight areas next to rocks and cliffs where a wider vehicle or protruding side-step will get caught up and damaged. Running into the Saguaro cacti is also not advised as they are protected with its blooms being the Arizona State Flower.
9: Private Land to South (2.3mi)
From here south is private land, and the warning signs make it clear they expect you to stay on the trail.
10: Narrow Switchbacks South End (2.4mi)
This is the southern end of the very tight and sharp switchbacks. A wide and/or long wheelbase vehicle could likely find this area very dangerous with the likelihood of falling off the cliffs on the side of the trail.
11: Rock Hill (2.5mi)
This steep hill is covered in rocks, but nothing big or difficult. The most challenging part of this hill is squeezing between the large Saguaro cacti that are prevalent throughout the Black Canyon area. This is also the southern end of the narrow trail section.
12: Rock Bottom Trailhead (2.7mi)
This is the eastern end of the Rock Bottom Trail which follows the Little Squaw Creek to the west.
13: Private Road and Camping to North (3.0mi)
At this intersection, it's easy to keep heading straight ahead (south), but if you are looking for a camping area, make an almost u-turn to the left and head northwest.
From here north is private land, and the warning signs make it clear they expect you to stay on the trail.
14: 9982 & Private Land / Moores Gulch
9982 turns to the left (west) at this intersection. Continuing straight is un-marked, but will take you onto private land and indirectly towards Moores Gulch Rd.
15: Camping Area (3.3mi)
This is one of the many dispersed camping areas within the Table Mesa Recreation Area. It can also be used as a staging area.
Camping and Lodging
There are plenty of primitive camping areas within the Table Mesa Recreation Area. You can find more details on the BLM's webpage here.
Also be sure to stop at the Rock Springs Cafe located just a few hundred feet north of waypoint 1. They are famous for their amazing pies.