Off the Beaten Path: Bulldog Canyon

by jfornara | March 30, 2012 | Comments Off
Photo courtesy of Ted Wendel

Photo courtesy of Ted Wendel


By Ted Wendel


This month, we go truly off the beaten path to an area known as Bulldog Canyon in the Goldfield Mountains north of Apache Junction. You may have seen the entrance to the Bulldog Canyon trail as you head northeast on the Bush Highway before you get to the Blue Point Picnic area. The large padlocked gate is on the south side of the highway and most people think that this access point is restricted for “official” use. The truth is that with the proper passes and lock combinations this entrance leads to an off road experience that is easily accessible for almost everyone in the East Valley.


There are actually several possible entry points to Bulldog Canyon. You can enter off the Bush Highway or Usery Pass Road in Mesa, or via the Apache Trail in Apache Junction. The trails that travel through the Goldfield Mountains are designated as forest roads (FR 10 and FR 3556) that are in varying states of repair. It doesn’t take long to recognize this designation is a bit misleading. There is little here that resembles a forest.


Most of the roads in Bulldog Canyon are suitable for almost any type of off-road vehicle although some areas are rough, making it a little uncomfortable for motorcycles. There are several spots where the roads traverse loose sand and it doesn’t hurt to have four-wheel drive or access to an understanding friend with a wrench and four-wheel drive. This isn’t a trip to tackle with your new luxury car.


But don’t let these minor challenges intimidate you. This is true off-roading and the trip back into the Goldfield Mountains is worth a few rough spots. The trails are well marked and easy to navigate. Most guidebooks rate the skill requirement as suitable for amateurs. But don’t let those ratings fool you – you will find a few tight spots along the trails and should come adequately prepared.


There are over 20 miles of road that meander through this front range of the Superstition Mountains. As you drive through the Goldfield Mountains it is difficult to imagine that they were once part of one of the largest volcanoes on earth. A few million years of wind and rain leaves little to attest to these fiery beginnings. What does remain is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and appreciate a real Sonoran desert experience.


Within a few miles, the landscape varies from the level predictability of the desert floor to very impressive rugged peaks that are the Goldfield Mountains. The scenery changes quickly and taking a camera on the trip is mandatory. You will find yourself stopping frequently just to take pictures of the Saguaro cacti. There is one bluff near the Usery Pass entrance that looks out over several hundred acres of Saguaros. Standing on the bluff at sunset makes it hard to remember that civilization is only a few miles away.


Before heading out to Bulldog Canyon you need to stop at the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station (5140 E. Ingram Street in Mesa). Here you get three very important pieces of paper. First, you need a Tonto National Forest Pass. A daily pass costs $6 for but annual and senior passes may be more economical if you plan several trips into the Forest. The second is a pass to access the Bulldog Canyon Wilderness Area. The pass is free and covers up to five people in a vehicle for a six month period. This pass is actually a set of padlock combinations that opens the entry and exit gates. These combinations change monthly so don’t forget to put the pass somewhere where you can find it when you want to return to the Canyon. The third helpful piece of information at the Ranger Station is a map of the trails. This map gives a very clear picture of the six fire roads that can be used by off-road-vehicles in the Bulldog Canyon area.


Bulldog Canyon is open year round. A trip back into the Canyon in March or April offers the promise of seeing the desert during it most colorful desert bloom season. Finally, remember that the opportunity to venture into and appreciate such a beautiful area is dependent on everyone doing their part to keep the area pristine. If you pack it in, make sure to pack it out.



More information about Bulldog Canyon is available on the Forest Service website at


For information about scheduling a photo tour of Bulldog Canyon, contact

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