Distance: 23 miles
Water: Water available in the West Fork of Mogollon Creek and Rain Creek
Season: Spring and Fall
Trail Conditions: Good to Unpassable
The intention behind this hike was to complete a loop with the focus of summitting Mogollon Baldy Peak (10,770 feet), but due to the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy Fire, much of this route is no longer passable, so what had started as an ambitious trip became a more relaxed weekend in the forest.
On US-180 a few miles south of Glenwood, turn off onto Forest Road 147 (also known as the Sacaton Road) going East. This road climbs in and out of multiple drainages for 11.5 miles until a small, faded road appears on the left, dead-ending a few hundred yards to the north at the trailhead for the Rain Creek Trail – Trail #189.
From the trailhead for the Rain Creek Trail – Trail #189, the hike starts by descending down toward Rain Creek. This section of trail is in good condition and quickly enters the Gila Wilderness just a short ways beyond the trailhead.
After 1.3 miles, it crosses Rain Creek. If it’s hot consider filling up some water here even though you have just started. There’s no water for the next 5.6 miles and shade is limited as well.
After crossing the creek, the trail follows it upstream for a short ways before switchbacking out of the shaded canyon. After about 1 mile of climbing, the trail flattens out as it reaches the top of the large flat ridge. Enjoy the final views of the Rain Creek drainage before entering forest burned in the 2012 fire.
The next few miles are fairly uneventful and much easier despite their being little shade. This area burned severely, but the trail is in fairly good condition nevertheless. At a couple points, the fire has destabilized the soil structure and the trail is loose with downed trees. Here, the walking can be challenging, but the trail remains easy to follow.
Eventually, the trail enters the drainage of the West Fork Mogollon Creek. There are views upstream along the creek as well as of Mogollon Baldy Peak, which also burned significantly in 2012.
Once the trail starts to descend to the creek, there will be parts that have become overgrown with gambel oak that has come back since the fire. Again, while this regrowth can be annoying to push through, the underlying tread is well-defined and hard to miss.
As the trail nears the creek it reenters unburned ponderosa forest that will provide welcomed respite from the hot sun.
At the junction with the West Fork Mogollon Creek Trail – Trail #224, the Rain Creek Trail crosses the West Fork and immediately starts to climb again.
NOTE: This is where the loop around Mogollon Baldy Peak would begin. However, Trail #224 was non-existent as of 2016 due to the Whitewater-Baldy Fire. Attempting the loop is not recommended especially in a clockwise direction.
From the West Fork of Mogollon Creek to the the main fork of Mogollon Creek is 2 miles. This section of trail starts by climbing steeply up to a small divide separating the two forks. This climb is roughly a mile. After enjoying the cool cover the ponderosa forest, the trail reenters a burn area was again and overs little cover.
Close to the top of this small divide, the trail becomes slightly difficult to follow due to the fire, but once atop the ridge, the trail picks up again as it descends toward Mogollon Creek.
At this point, Sullivan started to get blisters so while we had intended to make a few more miles up Mogollon Creek, we decided to return to the junction with Trail #224 and spent the night there. But since we had plenty of time, I dropped my backpack and followed the trail down to the creek, which flows through a small box canyon where the trail crosses. It was quite beautiful and there was significantly more water than in the West Fork.
Although I was still considering completing the loop, Sullivan’s feet were not cooperating, so instead, we decided to leave our camp set up and do a day hike following Trail #224 upstream.
The trail begins on the west side of the creek through old-growth forest. But even before it entered the burn area, the trail began to fade. After about 1 mile, it entered area that had burned and then flooded following the fire sending huge amounts of debris downstream, completely wiping out the trail. For the most part, we could not detect any remnants of the trail.
But, the creek was running low enough that we were able to continue upstream even though we had given up the idea of following the trail as it climbs out of the canyon and up toward Mogollon Baldy.
After about 3.5 miles we came upon a large pool with as many as 30-40 Gila trout taking cover from the hot sun. While most of this stream contained no more than an inch of water at anyone point, this pool was at least a few feet deep and provided ideal refuge for imperiled fish that had persisted following the fire.
We stopped here before turning around and returning to camp.
After enjoying a leisurely morning, we packed camp and followed Rain Creek Trail back to our car.