Hike | Box Canyon Trail | Tonto National Forest
Just past the charming towns of Strawberry, Pine, and Payson, Arizona, is a short but difficult hike down to Christopher Creek. Its steep, rocky terrain rewards you at the bottom with a view of beautiful rock walls and an actual, old-fashioned swimming hole.
- Length: .9 miles
- Trail Type: Out and back
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 170 ft.
- Difficulty: Moderately Difficult
- Kid Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Dogs permitted with a leash
- Accessibility: Parking is off the side of SR260.
- Fee/Permit: None
- Hours: N/A
Once you’re able to park on the side of the highway (see directions below), look up at the embankment. Most trails begin with a well-marked trailhead; however, this trail is all about subverting expectations. You’ll see two paths carved into the hill about 20 feet from each other. The path on the left is a bit easier to negotiate. Once you make it to the top, you’ll continue on a lightly trafficked trail through pines until you reach a deer fence (see photograph.)
Climb under the fence and proceed through the wooded area. About a quarter of a mile in, it will seem as if the trail leads left into a clearing. Don’t follow the worn path. Straight ahead will be more pines. The trail actually continues on through that line of pine trees. Once you’ve passed them, you’ll trade those tall, skinny trees for junipers and you’ll be at the top of the canyon. The views here are stunning and the mix of black and brown rock is beautiful.
The remaining half-mile of the trail is through desert brush on the left-hand side and a steep descent to the creek bottom. It does seem as if you can scramble over the rocks close to the cliff edge, but I recommend taking the dirt path through the brush instead. Once at the creek bottom, enjoy the cool water and go for a swim. The trail is only lightly trafficked so you may have the place to yourself.
From Phoenix, take I-10 East to AZ Loop-202 East. Take Exit 13 to AZ-87 North. Proceed for 74 miles until you reach AZ-260 East. Travel approximately 18 miles. Just about 3 miles after passing Kohl’s Ranch on the right-hand side, you’ll see the soft shoulder next to an embankment with tall pines. (See photograph.) This will be where one guardrail ends and right before another begins. This is the start of the trail. Hopefully, a few other cars will line the shoulder, which makes it much easier to find. If you pass it, there is a U-turn opportunity less than a mile ahead.
- The trail is without any facilities or amenities. Make sure to pack plenty of water appropriate to your needs and exercise “leave no trace” ethics.
- Good tread on shoes or boots are necessary as the rocky canyon floor is slippery.
- Pack your swimsuit to take advantage of the swimming hole during warm weather.
- I recommend hiking the trail in the spring and early summer. Avoid the trail during inclement weather as the risk for injury is high.
This blog was thoughtfully written by Jia Oak Baker. You can find her on Instagram at @violetsky29.
* Please remember to hike at your own risk. To learn more please refer to our Hiking Disclaimer.