Chitty Falls Loop
Length: 18.25 miles roundtrip
Managing Agency: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Directions to Trailhead:
From Alpine drive south on US191 for 33 miles to the Strayhorse campground. Park on the east side of US191 in the parking lot. The trailhead is on the west side in the campground by the closed road.
This trail is extremely under used and therefore route finding was difficult.
First off, the trail head is not where the topo map says it is. The trail begins at a closed road in the Strayhorse campground. Follow the road about .2 miles to the single track. From here, the Highline Trail #47 begins climbing and dropping in and out of drainages. The tread is visible but obviously not used often. Approximately 1 mile in is Crabtree Park. Just over the next ridge you will find the signed junction with the Crabtree Trail #22. Although the junction is signed it is not obvious which way the Crabtree trail goes. Continue straight for the Highline Trail.
The Highline trail then begins a steep climb along a drainage before switch backing up to high point of the hike (7800 feet). After a mile or so up high, the Highline trail switchbacks steeply down before reaching Salt House and a side canyon to Salt House Creek (3.4 miles from the trailhead). At 3.6 miles you reach the signed junction with the Salthouse Trail #18. Continue straight on the Highline trail, which is also the Salthouse Trail for the next .4 miles. At 4.0 miles from the trailhead, the Highline trail turns right while the Salthouse Trail continues straight ahead. Again here the topo map is wrong. The junction is not before the drainage as shown on the map, it is actually at the corral about a tenth of a mile further down trail.
From the junction, the Highline trail climbs aggressively and switchbacks a couple of times. Then it drops steeply, then climbs, then drops. This continues for several miles through several drainages until at 6.4 miles in it drops precipitously into Chitty Creek. I can overstate this drop. It reminded me of the final drop into Hellsgate.
Once you get to the bottom, Chitty Creek is beautiful. A perennial creek, it is the first real water in the entire hike. .3 mile after you reach the Chitty Creek, the Highline trail again heads off to the west. Stay on the Chitty Trail #37 for this adventure. Within a few feet of the junction with the highline trail is Chitty falls-- a very nice 25 foot water fall. I camped a half mile down stream. There was no camping immediately near the falls.
Now, the hike gets interesting. I mentioned that there was very little tread on the Highline trail in places. Well, the Chitty Trail is worse. I spent a lot of time trying to find the trail and/or stay on the trail. At one point a game trail led me so far astray that I was 200 feet above the creek. The trick here was to stay close enough to the creek that you can hear it. The canyon is narrow and densely populated with oak and walnut trees. The overgrown trail crosses the creek several times and there are no cairns or other directions. An occasional blaze was all that I was able to find, but they were often old or otherwise wrong.
I never did find the junction to Salthouse Trail #18 . Suddenly I was on it according to the topo and my GPS. The creek has gone underground and so no water is available. Salthouse canyon is wider and more open than Chitty canyon. About a mile below the junction with the Chitty trail, you will encounter an old corral. This is the unsigned junction with East Eagle Creek Trail #33. Just to the left of the first corral entrance is a very faint trail. This is it. It is very easy to miss. If you do miss it and continue down stream another quarter mile you will encounter some old farm buildings shown here.
Back at the junction, about 50 feet in you will see Eagle Tank to your right. The trail follows the creek and in a few hundred yards reaches a fork. To the right is Hot Air Canyon. To the left is the East Eagle Creek trail. Again, no signage here so use your topos and GPS to identify this junction. Cross the dry creek and continue on the East Eagle Creek Trail.
When I did this hike in September of 2003, East Eagle Creek was bone dry. The East Eagle Creek trail is not as overgrown as the Chitty Trail was but the tread is faint and tall grasses and wild flowers make route finding a little difficult. The canyon itself is wide and populated with pine, oak and walnut trees.
Twelve miles from the trailhead, you will reach the unsigned junction with the Crabtree Trail #22. The trail heads off to the left. This trail, also, is overgrown and under used. Crabtree Creek was dry on the bottom 3 miles. The first water I encountered was at Walnut Tank, but if you have ever tried to filter stock water you will discover it is like filtering gravy. I burned up a relatively new filter getting less than a gallon from the tank. Much to my chagrin, there is water in the creek .5 miles past Walnut Tank.
Crabtree canyon opens up near the top and is a beautiful meadow near Crabtree spring. This spring had water. The last .5 mile of the canyon is a bit steeper than the rest but still not too bad. The trail ends at the Highline Trail # 47. turn right and it is 1.4 miles back to the trailhead at Strayhorse campground.
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