On this ride, follow the trail as it winds through desert. It then crosses the flowing Agua Fria River and then takes you to a ghost town with extensive ruins! Please make a note that there has been a lot of change in private property recently (as of January 2011) and thus guidebooks path for this trail are not accurate. If you are using Charles Wells’ book ATV Trails Guide Arizona the alternate path is the only way to take now. It is slightly rougher but the trip is well worth it. Below you will find alternate way to get to Tip Top, keeping you from having a boring day because of road closures. Also, please note that you can no longer access the ruins at Gillette. Those are blocked too! However, you can still see the old Indian fort as well as the ghost town of Tip Top.
To get to the start of this trail, you’re going to want to head north on I-17. Exit on Table Mesa Road. Once you are off the freeway, take a left. Then make your first right crossing over a cattle guard. After only 0.6 miles off on the left is the staging area. This has adequate room for unloading but may fill up fast because this is an extremely popular trail. Don’t worry though; there is plenty of parking along the road ahead.
Once you are unloaded, head to the trail and make a left. Stay straight at 0.5 miles where a road leads to a Cemex Plant. At 0.7 miles, you’ll pass over a natural gas pipeline, which is also another good place to park. At the 1 mile mark, the trail forks; stay right. At 1.7 miles the trail forks again; this time stay left. To the right was the old and easier way to get to Tip Top, however there are signs posted saying ‘private property, no trespassing’. Immediately after making that left turn, you’ll see a small shooting range off to the left; this is how you know you are on the right path. At 3.35 miles, you come to a gate. Proceed through it closing it when you are done. Ignore side roads that branch off in every which way as you continue on. Stay to the left at 3.6 miles, as you descend a rocky hill. At the bottom of that hill (3.7 miles) you’ll want to make a right. At 3.8 miles, you’ll drop down a small embankment as you enter the Agua Fria River stay right and head southeast. Cross the river at 3.9 miles. It is usually shallow and there is a small patch of rocks which makes it easier to cross as well. After crossing head straight and turn left. There are a couple of different trails but just make sure you end up at a 4-way junction at 4.1 miles. To the right at this junction is where the old trail would come from however the river depth there was at least 3-4 feet deep (plus there’s also no trespassing signs). Continue straight at the junction. At 5 ¼ miles, turn left if you want to see the old Indian Fort. Then turn right and follow that until you get to the Indian Fort at 5.7 miles. Go ahead and climb up this 1000 year old fort and take in the great sights. When you are done, head back the way you came to the main trail and turn left. If you decide not to take this side trip, subtract about 0.8 miles from the overall mileage. You will come to an old corral at 7.6 miles, turn left here. After a long, winding downhill section, you come to a ‘T’ at 10.2 miles. Turn right here and being to follow Cottonwood Creek, in which conditions can vary depending on recent rains. After crossing the creek many times, you finally arrive at Tip Top at 12.6 miles. Make sure to allow for a lot of time here, there is a lot to see. Foundations of buildings dot the creek and the mines can be reached by taking a short hike up the steep mining trail. Be careful, as always around open mine shafts. Once you are done here, you should head back, unless you want to attempt to reach Packer or Columbia, or even Crown King which are all accessible via the challenging road that continues west.
This trail is 25.2 miles long and will take anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on how often you stop. This trail is mostly easy, but does contain a few rough spots. Hummer and Rhino tours actually come through the area so the trail is manageable for that. Be careful during periods of high rain because both the Agua Fria and Cottonwood Creek could become quickly impassable. Tip Top was once the third largest town in Arizona during its boom days and it definitely is worth the trip out to!