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Black Canyon Trail: It’s not easy, but it’s a chance to see one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Arizona

Black Canyon Trail is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth the effort one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the state. Photo by Gary Every

Black Canyon Trail is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth the effort one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the state. Photo by Gary Every

Originally Published: May 4, 2021 7:53 a.m.

The Black Canyon Trail begins at the end of Ogden Ranch Road and climbs relentlessly up the slopes of Mingus Mountain. The eye-opener to this hike is the revelation that the mountain range is deeper and more diverse than people expect.  

Those willing to brave the steep slope will be rewarded with wonderful views and some solitude; this trail does not see the traffic many of the others in the Verde Valley experience. 

From the trailhead, hikers cross a deep wash and then almost immediately begin winding up the ridge. The slopes are a mix of grassland and thorny scrub brush, providing wonderful habitat for deer and javelina. 

In late spring, this trail is a delightful blend of wildflowers and a spectacular prickly pear blossom.

In late summer months, rattlesnakes often sun themselves on the trail so be careful.

This steady gain in elevation quickly brings better and better views. One goes from views of Cottonwood to glimpses of red rock in Sedona and it is not too long before one can see the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff. 

Soon the view switches to the other direction as the marvels of the deep steep canyon you are climbing reveals itself.  The mountain keeps climbing showcasing rocky crags as you walk a rocky path. 

As you progress up the trail, the narrower the winding path becomes before finally leveling off somewhat as you reach the pines. 

The trail eventually intersects with Allen Springs FR213 after about seven miles. Allen Springs is a pleasant cool place to sit in the shade and enjoy a long break and rest. 

If you do choose to hike this trail all the way, make sure you bring plenty of water and give yourself plenty of time for lots of breaks. This hike is listed as strenuous in most guidebooks.

There is another option. Unfortunately, this too is strenuous. About halfway up the trail, when the trail is about three-quarters of the way up the slope, one looks down at a black inner gorge at the bottom of the canyon. This is the black canyon that the entire canyon is named after. 

When the canyon is swollen with snowmelt or after heavy monsoons this black rock inner gorge is filled with waterfalls and deep pools. It is important to note that this canyon is dry for much of the year and these waterfalls are dry more often than not. 

Taking this side route bushwhack raises the level of this hike from strenuous to extreme. It will also require some trail-finding skills. There is a faint social trail here and you really don’t want to lose it. These slopes are steep and filled with thorny scrub brushes and cactus needles. 

The social path leaves the main trail at about the middle of the black inner gorge and winds around the hill you are descending before crossing to the upstream side of the inner canyon. 

You will cross a side canyon just before it enters the main gorge and then circle around to one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the state. The slope down to the deep shaded pool is filled with talus and scree and just about everybody traverses some of it on their butt. 

IMPORTANT: This side route should be attempted only by experienced hikers in great shape with lots of extra water.

To reach the Black Canyon trail head, follow 260 through Cottonwood as if you are heading towards Camp Verde.  Turn right on Ogden Ranch Road. 

Ogden Ranch Road is a wide dirt road which goes in a straight line for a few miles to the base of the mountain. It is easily passable by most vehicles except after bad storms.