Sunflower Mine Trail
On this trail, take a challenging ride through the Mazatzal Mountains to the Sunflower Mine, an old mercury mine in the middle of the Tonto National Forest. Due to its remote location and lack of an easy access point, not many get the chance to check it out. Along the trail, you’ll cross difficult boulder fields and a bridge before getting to the mine. Read below for trail updates after the Sunflower Fire.
PLEASE NOTE: This area has been affected by the 2012 Sunflower Fire. It was closed for a period of time while the road was somewhat repaired and most of the structures removed from the Sunflower Mill Site. The trail is open however is more difficult than it originally was. The loop, which connects you back to the start of the trail is now extremely difficult and should only be attempted with a group of heavily modified vehicles (winches, big tires, shovels, etc.). The trail to the mine and back is also very difficult with numerous sections through boulder-strewn creeks and large washouts. Turn around if you don’t feel comfortable crossing an obstacle. There is a sign along the beginning of the trail posted by Honeywell 4WD Club that says: “VERY DIFFICULT 4WD ROAD. REQUIRES SKILLED AND EXPERIENCED DRIVERS, AND 4WD VEHICLES WITH HIGH CLEARANCE AND LOCKERS”.
Where to go:
From central Phoenix, head east on I-10. Take exit 147A and merge onto Arizona-202 Loop. Follow Loop 202 for 13 miles. Take exit 13 (Country Club Dr./AZ-87 N.). Turn left at the light and proceed north on AZ-87. Continue north for an additional 45 miles passing through the town of Sunflower. Just after Sunflower, you’ll see a sign that says “Sycamore Creek/Mt. Ord” – turn left here. Follow Forest Road 626 downhill for 1.2 miles. As the road turns left, take a right over a cattle guard onto the dirt road. There are good staging areas on both sides of the main road as well as near the start of the trail.
From the staging area, begin heading northeast uphill on the grated Old Beeline Highway. After 1.2 miles, you’ll cross over a cattle guard and the road will fork. Stay left here – the road is now known as F.S. 25. Going to the right is the return trip via the extremely difficult loop after Sunflower Mine. The trail remains easy and grated as it winds through some beautiful forest and passes some great campsites. The trail remains mostly easy and pleasant for the first few miles before deteriorating ahead. At 3.2 miles, the trail turns right heading in a northerly direction. Stay right at 3.9 miles where F.S. 25 continues to the left. The trail is now referred to as F.S. 25A and this point marks the end of the easy portion. From here on out, the trail will become increasingly difficult as you head towards Sunflower Mine. Stay to the right as you pass a significant washout on the trail at 4.0 miles, than proceed up a rocky hill. Driver’s choice at 4.2 miles, to the left is the easier trail, straight ahead over the hill is a slightly more difficult trail – both end up at the same place just ahead. The moderately difficult trail is now significantly more rocky and narrow and begins to head west at 4.5 miles. At 4.8 miles you’ll pass by a rock ledge on the right of the trail and then the trail will turn right and drop into a boulder-strewn creek.
This point marks the beginning significantly more challenging portion of the trail. Only continue if you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance and have had prior technical off-road driving experience. After passing through the first boulder field, the trail eases momentarily at 4.9 miles, but then immediately enters an even tougher boulder field. This second boulder field is significantly longer and more difficult and will require a slow pace, careful tire placement, and in some cases, rock stacking. As you near 5.0 miles, the trail will ease once again slightly before entering the third boulder field. The third boulder field comes just after the 5.0 mile mark but fortunately, is shorter than the last. At the 5.1 mile mark, you’ll pass over a short, steel bridge. An interesting side note on this bridge is that it was actually destroyed by the Viper Militia Group in the 1990s while they were practicing in the area. The bridge has since been replaced and a sign on the bridge shows that it is the Arizona State Parks OHV Fund that paid to replace it!
Before the fire, the rest of the trail to the mine was borderline easy but in its current state, a large washout greets you after crossing the bridge. Use careful tire placement and don’t be afraid to use a winch. As you head north, the trail follows above a creek. You’ll pass through a couple clearings which offer nice places to stop for a break and mining adits off to the left as you approach Sunflower Mine. At about 5.4 miles, the trail returns to a moderately-easy section until you reach an intersection at 5.6 miles. To get to Sunflower Mine, turn hard left uphill. The very difficult loop continues straight from this intersection – more on that below. From the intersection, follow the narrow shelf road as it heads south to Sunflower Mine at 5.9 miles. The mill site is downhill (second right on this spur trail). There is a good parking and view point from the top of the road before turning off. Unfortunately – not much remains of the structure that was here. Only a large tumbling tube remains. Taking the first right will take you back to more tailings and other mines. There is a difficult hiking trail that heads uphill to some more workings and a nice view. When you are done exploring the area, it is best to head back the way you came. Vehicles have made the longer and difficult loop back to the staging area but some have gotten stuck. Only attempt the loop if you are sure your vehicle can make it. Carry extra supplies and travel in a group.
The Sunflower Mine Loop: This trail is not for the faint-hearted and ultimately, the driver’s best judgment should be used to determine whether his/her vehicle, trail condition, and weather allows for the completion of this trail. To take this loop back to the beginning, turn left at the main junction and reset your trip odometer. Head northeast on the mostly moderate trail. At 0.5 the trail begins to get very difficult as it enters a boulder filled creek. Take a sharp right at 0.9 miles as the trail leaves the creek and begins to head up a very steep and rocky hill. After a significant climb, stay right at 1.4 miles. At 1.75 miles, you’ll arrive at a large clearing, stay straight on the more-traveled road as it begins to head right downhill. The road forks at 2.0 miles as it heads downhill stay to the right for easier way. Use caution on the narrow shelf road as it winds its way slowly downhill. At 3.1 miles, the trail drops into the creek as it takes a hard right. Immediately after this, it takes a sharp as it continues uphill. At 3.8 miles, the trail joins F.S. 201 and becomes easy. Follow F.S. 201 south and arrive back at the cattle guard you started at 6.2 miles. Continue an additional 1.1 mile back to the staging area.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
The trail to Sunflower Mine and back is just under 12 miles. However, it will probably take 4-8 hours to complete the trail because of some of the difficult boulders sections require very careful tire placement. This trail was previously rated an ‘8’ but that has bumped up to a ‘9’. This is because of the fire and erosion that has taken place along the entire trail. To do the full 13 mile loop, allow for a whole day. The whole loop is rated a ‘10’. Despite its difficulty, this is a fun trail that takes you into a little-traveled area of Arizona. It’s unfortunate that most of the historic structures didn’t survive the test of time.