San Tan Mountain Regional Park lies south of Queen Creek in the southeast valley. With the opening of the Dynamite Trail
in February of 2012, it has become part of the rotation with Phoenix area cross-country crowd. Previously the access from the northern trailhead at Wagon Wheel and Skyline was via the horrendous hike-a-bike up and over the Goldmine Trail. Once inside the park, a joyous time can be had on the easy flowing cross-country trails.
The northern trailhead is the closest access from the valley cities. Park access from this lot is $2, versus the $6 fee at the main park entrance on the east side. Some people park along the road before the parking lot thinking they are avoiding the park fee, but I spoke with a park ranger handing out tickets, and it is a park entry fee and not a parking fee, so you can still be cited when parking on the road if you dont have a receipt displayed on your dashboard.
A lot of older online trail reviews speak rather disdainfully of trails at San Tan because of all the sand. The key is to avoid the trails that are routed along the wash bottoms. As the park is popular with equestrians, a few trails have sustained sections in the washes. Trail maps are usually available at the trailheads indicating which trails to avoid, specifically Malpais and Rock Peak.
Heading south on Goldmine Trail out of the parking lot, Dynamite Trail
breaks off to the right after less than a quarter mile. Dynamite is a sustained, steady 400-foot climb over the next mile-and-a-half. The trail is wide and mostly smooth, hardpacked dirt with embedded rocks, and most intermediate riders can probably make the whole climb on the middle chain ring. Although the brittle-bush covered hillside in this area of the park is not particularly scenic when not in bloom, as you gain altitude you get a more expansive view back over the east valley.
A little over halfway up, you'll be able to see across the valley to the west to San Tan Mountain, which is actually not part of the park. After cresting the summit, you descend past a set of signed switchbacks. There are some fun twists and turns as you pedal along in and out of some washes and eventually connect with San Tan Trail
. At this intersection you can choose either direction. Taking a left making a clockwise loop makes for a great run down Hedgehog Trail
; taking a right doing the loop counter-clockwise gives the best flow on Stargazer and Moonlight Trail
. I tend go counter-clockwise most often, as it seems to put more of the sandy-bottomed wash crossings on the downhill, allowing my momentum to carry me through the sand.
Taking a right onto San Tan Trail
, the first section is quite wide, as at times it is part of the park service vehicle access road. Once past the intersection with Moonlight Trail
, San Tan Trail
becomes a great flowy singletrack, with several small climbs and descents as you work your way south and the rocky Malpais Hills come into view. The flora becomes a more lush Sonoran desert as picturesque saguaro, mesquite, and creosote forests mingle with cholla, barrel, ocotillo, and hedgehog cacti.
You'll come to an intersection with Malpais Trail
that looks inviting, but dont be tempted, as it will turn into a sandy-bottomed wash. (Apparently there are plans for adding a bike-friendly route along Malpais trail, while keeping the wash for the equestrians.) Continuing on you'll soon come to an intersection with Hedgehog Trail
. Follow the bike tracks as they turn left and start a gentle climb up Hedgehog. There will be some fun twists as the trail follows the contour lines, offering some choice views behind you of Rock Peak, Yellow Peak, and Malpais Hills.
At the top of the hill, you can see down into San Tan Valley and the main park entrance. You can bomb down the rest of Hedgehog Trail
, and then take a left heading north once you meet up with San Tan Trail
You'll only be on San Tan a short distance before you come to the cutoff for Stargazer Trail
on your left. Dont let the sandy wash crossing at the start of Stargazer discourage you, but cross and continue a very gentle climb. The trail will level out and follow the hill contour on a ripping descent down to Moonlight trail. Taking a right and heading east on Moonlight is a very gentle downhill to the main entrance parking lot. Watch out for hikers and horses, particularly on any of the trails coming directly out from the main parking lot.
From the parking lot, take Little Leaf, Goldmine, and San Tan Trail
to complete the loop back to the intersection with Dynamite. This section of trail is a little rockier and takes steeper angles through the washes. Re-trace your path back along the Dynamite Trail
. Once you crest the top of the hill it is smooth sailing back to the Goldmine Trailhead parking lot, just be courteous to the hikers as this is another popular section on weekends.
Goldmine Mountain was home to two reclusive miners, Mansel Carter and Marion Kennedy. They both lived into their 80's, and their graves are in the park near the Goldmine Trail.