Whether you’re into mountain bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs, Jeeps or 4×4 truck campers, the state of Arizona is a paradise for the off-road enthusiast. A countless network of roads and trails crisscross the state from the lowlands of the Sonoran Desert in the south to the mountains and rim country in the north. One of the more popular off-road trails in central Arizona is Four Peaks Road (FR 143). We’ve driven by Four Peaks countless times on our outings, but had never taken the time to explore this trail, that is not until a couple of weeks ago. The Four Peaks 4×4 road is approximately 28 miles long with elevations of the route varying between 2,600 feet and 6,100 feet. Finding Four Peaks Road is pretty easy. From Mesa take Highway 87 north to just before mile marker 204. The entrance to the road is well-marked. Drive east on FR 143 nearly 1 mile to the main staging area on the right. If this staging area is too crowded, and it often is during weekends, two other staging areas can be found a couple of miles further east at the intersection of two other trails.
The namesake and highlight of the drive is the climb to the base of Four Peaks. Part of the Mazatzal Mountains, Four Peaks is located in the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest national forest in the country. The craggy formation is the highest point in Maricopa County and can been seen from most parts of the Valley of the Sun. The massif generally runs north-south with the northernmost peak, called Brown’s Peak, the tallest at 7,659 feet. The remaining summits are officially unnamed, and from north to south are 7,644 feet, 7,574 feet, and 7,526 feet in elevation. A popular terminus of the drive is a large overlook located about a mile north of Brown’s Peak near the Lone Pine trail head. The distance to this overlook, which lies at an elevation of 5,774 feet, is about 19 miles from Highway 87 and about 11 miles from Highway 188. The views from the overlook are breathtaking and there’s plenty of room here to boondock in your truck camper. From this viewpoint you can gaze upon Roosevelt Lake to the east and the city of Mesa to the west. Neither the trailheads nor the overlook have facilities, not even a portable toilet.
The scenery along Four Peaks Road is pretty impressive. The first five miles of the drive winds through strands of saguaros and rocky outcrops and pull-offs where you can camp and shoot. There’s a nice overlook at 5.2 miles which offers views of the valley below. The road twists and turns and gradually climbs as you drive further east along and through several washes and creeks. This part of the trail also passes through thick vegetation which hides a half-dozen boondocking locations shaded by Cottonwood and Sycamore trees. Some of these campsites are so well hidden you can easily miss them if you’re not looking. At 11.6 miles, you’ll pass over a ridge littered with large boulders. A small turnoff and vista here, on the north side of the road, offers a spectacular view of Four Peaks and the rest of the trail. From this point on, the road narrows and roughens and crosses a series of seasonal creeks. After passing the Mud Springs Trailhead at 15 miles, the trail rises steeply up the side of the mountain. This part of the trail is the toughest as it harbors a few, very tight turns. At 17.8 miles, the road levels out at the top near a junction of trails. Take a sharp right here on FR 648 and continue south on the trail for 2 miles towards the Pigeon and Lone Pine Trailheads. The aforementioned scenic overlook can be found just before you reach the Lone Pine Trailhead.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate this trail a “2.” Overall, this trail is easy, but because of several creek crossings, and a few steep, tight turns as you climb up the mountain, I’ve rated it a little higher. In general, the road is well maintained, but during wet weather it’s common to see washouts and ruts along the sides of the road. When conditions are dry, the trail is suitable for most stock SUVs; otherwise, four-wheel drive is recommended. Short-bed 4×4 truck campers can easily make this drive, but some caution is required, especially during blind turns and the steep climb up the mountain. Because this trail can get busy during the weekends, I recommend exploring it during a weekday. Doing so also ensures you’ll get your choice of the best boondocking spots along the route.
So if you live in or near the valley and you’re looking for a little adventure, I highly recommend exploring the Four Peaks Road. The drive and the scenery along this road makes a terrific day trip, an enjoyable weekend camp out in the mountains, or a full-week of off-roading and hiking opportunities. Because of the elevation and the heat of the desert, the best time of year to explore this road is from late October to early May.