On this ride, take the exhilarating and rough trail through the Mazatzal Mountains to Sunflower Mine, an old mercury mine in the middle of Tonto National Forest. Due to its remote location and lack of an easy access point is relatively unknown to many. The trail below takes you to this historic gem and for an added challenge, consider taking the full Sunflower Loop, which will put your vehicle to the extreme test as you drive on some of the most rugged trails in Arizona. The out-and-back 12 mile trail to Sunflower Mine and back is rated an 8 due to its numerous “boulder fields”. The full 13 mile loop is rated a 10 because of its extreme difficulty and remoteness – if you attempt this trail, make sure to go in a group and bring extra emergency supplies.
How to get there: From central Phoenix, head east on I-10. Take exit 147A in order to merge onto Arizona-202 Loop. Follow the Loop 202/Red Mountain Freeway for 13 miles. Take exit 13 (Country Club Dr./AZ-87 N.). Turn left at the light and proceed north on Arizona 87. Continue north for an additional 45 miles passing through the town of Sunflower. Just after Sunflower, you’ll see a sign that says “Sycamore Creek/Mt. Ord”; turn left here. Follow F.S. Road 626 downhill for 1.2 miles. As the road turns left, take a right over a cattle guard onto the dirt road. There are good staging areas on both the left and right soon as you turn onto this road.
The trail: From the staging area, begin heading northeast uphill on the grated Beeline Highway. After 1.1 miles, you’ll cross over a cattle guard and the road will fork. Stay left here – the road is now known as F.S. 25.The trail remains easy and grated as it winds through some beautiful forest as well as it passes some great campsites. Don’t let this first impression deceive you and make you think that the entire trail is like this – in fact, it will quickly deteriorate over the next few miles. The trail begins to turn right at 3.0 miles, now heading in a northerly direction. Stay right at 3.8 miles where F.S. 25 continues to the left. The trail is now referred to as F.S. 25A and this point marks the end of the easy portion. From here on out, the trail will become increasingly difficult as you near Sunflower Mine. Stay to the right as you pass a significant washout on the trail at 3.9 miles, than proceed up a rocky hill. Riders choice at 4.0 miles, to the left is an easier section, straight ahead is a slightly more difficult trail – both end up at the same place just ahead. The moderately difficult trail is now significantly more rocky and narrow and begins to head west at 4.4 miles. At 4.7 miles you’ll pass by a rock ledge on the right of the trail and then the trail will turn right into a boulder-strewn creek.
This point marks the beginning of the more challenging portion of the trail. If you struggle with the first boulder field, then turn around when possible because there are two more challenging boulder fields ahead. After passing through the first boulder field, the trail eases momentarily at 4.8 miles, but then immediately enters an even tougher boulder field. This second boulder field is significantly longer and more difficult and will require a slow pace, careful tire placement, and in some cases, rock stacking. As you near 4.9 miles, the trail will ease once again slightly before entering the third boulder field. The third boulder field comes just before the 5.0 mile mark but fortunately, is shorter than the last. Once you are out of the third boulder field, the rest of the trail isn’t too difficult. At the 5.0 mile mark, you’ll pass over a short, steel bridge. An interesting side note on this bridge is that it was actually destroyed by the Viper Militia Group in the 1990s while they were practicing in the area. The bridge has since been replaced and a sign on the bridge shows that it is the Arizona State Parks OHV Fund that paid to replace it! After the bridge, the trail becomes moderate again, which, while some rocks are present, it is nothing like what you have just made it through. Stay straight at a small clearing at 5.2 miles.
The trail once again becomes easy the as you approach Sunflower Mine. At 5.5 miles, you’ll reach another clearing, take a sharp left to reach Sunflower Mine (staying straight is the continued loop which you can take if you want more of a challenge or have more time, if not, you can return the way you came). At 5.75 miles, you’ll reach a nice parking spot where the trail splits. Park here and explore the ruins of the Sunflower Mine which can best be seen by taking the second right. Taking the first right takes you back to some tailings and other interesting mining trails. When you are done at Sunflower Mine (allow for an hour maybe two to explore) head back to the main trail. Consider heading back the way you came at this point, or, if you would like to take a longer and significantly more difficult way back, stay left at the trail when you are exiting.
The Sunflower Mine Loop: Only take this trail if you are traveling in a group with vehicles suited for extreme 4X4 driving; this trail is not for the faint-hearted and ultimately, the driver’s best judgment should be used to determine whether his/her vehicle, trail condition, and weather allows for the completion of this trail. To take this loop back to the beginning, turn left at the main junction and reset your trip odometer. Head northeast on the mostly moderate trail. At 0.5 the trail begins to get very difficult as it enters a boulder filled creek. Take a sharp right at 0.9 miles as the trail leaves the creek and begins to head up a very steep and rocky hill. After a significant climb, stay right at 1.4 miles. At 1.75 miles, you’ll arrive at a large clearing, stay straight on the more-traveled road as it begins to head right downhill. The road forks at 2.0 miles as it heads downhill stay to the right for easier way. Use caution on the narrow shelf road as it winds its way slowly downhill. At 3.1 miles, the trail drops into the creek as it takes a hard right. Immediately after this, it takes a sharp as it continues uphill. At 3.8 miles, the trail joins F.S. 201 and becomes easy. Follow F.S. 201 south and arrive back at the cattle guard you started at 6.2 miles. Continue an additional 1.1 mile back to the staging area.
This trail, no matter which one you take really is a fun trip. If you do the out-and-back trail to Sunflower Mine and back, the total route is just under 12 miles, allow for about 3 to 4 hours. If you take the full loop which includes the trail to Sunflower Mine as well as the more difficult loop it is just over 13 miles, allow for at least 4 to 5 hours. For the most beneficial visit, allow for about 4-6 hours to do the trail to Sunflower and back and have time to explore! For more history on the Sunflower Mine, please visit our history page that will be coming soon! Before taking this trail, make sure to check on weather conditions as the difficulty of this trail can drastically change, even making it impassable.