This trail has only been partially surveyed at this time. Length and other trail data may be incorrect or missing. Please consult other resources before planning any trips based on this page.

Pothole Canyon Trail

Important Note

Many maps incorrectly label Pothole Canyon to the west of its actual location. On those maps, the real Pothole Canyon is often labeled North Fork Canyon, a canyon which actually exists to the west of Pothole Canyon. The real North Fork Canyon has a jeep road going up it, FR 685.

The Pothole Canyon Trail is not an official Forest Service trail, and is used by undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers. Because cattle graze in the area, there are many forks in the trail and it can be difficult to find the correct route. Please be cautious if hiking on this trail.

Length: ~1.67 mi

Difficulty: moderate

Condition: bad


The Pothole Canyon Trail is accessible from a turn-off along Horseshoe Canyon Road (FR 314). From Highway 80, turn onto Babin Stravenue (formerly part of Zent Road, and a second unofficial sign here still says "Zent") 2.36 miles south of the AZ/NM border south of the town of Rodeo. (31.78202, -109.06926) After 800 feet, this road turns right and becomes Monsoon Road, then left as Zent Road a tenth of a mile later. Follow Zent Road west 1.47 miles, then turn left and head south on Turtle Run for 420 feet. At a fork, Horseshoe Canyon Road swings off to the right. It's 1.67 miles from here to the National Forest boundary gate between old corrals and adobe building ruins—FR 314 begins here. This is a somewhat rough road with rocky (usually dry) creek crossings and deep gravel in places, so high clearance vehicles are recommended. Follow this road 1.72 miles and you will reach another gate. 320 feet beyond that gate, a clearing and very short road lies to the right, ending at a small cattle water tank in the mouth of Pothole Canyon. The trail begins here. (31.78040, -109.14824) Horseshoe Canyon Road was heavily damaged by Hurricane Odile in September 2014, and high clearance vehicles are needed to reach Pothole Canyon, with 4WD recommended.

Trail Description

From the water tank, head northeast to the edge of the clearing and then gradually angle to the north. It is very rocky here, and the presence of the water tank causes cattle to enter the area from all directions, making it difficult to determine which of the many paths in the area is the official route. In general, most merge back together eventually. Cross the creek and head for the shelf on the opposite bank, where the trail curves to the left and passes along an old roadbed for a while. (31.78203, -109.14801)

The path is very visible for the next tenth of a mile along the roadbed as it heads north in nearly a straight line. You will then angle to the northwest and enter a clearing after 250 feet. A black water tank and disused rusty metal cattle drinker are present to the right side of the trail here. A little over 100 feet later, the trail re-enters the woods and continues north-northwest. There are several parallel paths here, again due to cattle in the area. The correct route is usually visible, and old pieces of flagging tape may be visible on branches occasionally.

After two tenths of a mile, the trail crosses the creek (31.78715, -109.14999) and resumes a northern heading on its left bank for the next 0.18 miles before crossing back to the right again. (31.78958, -109.15036) At this point, you will angle to the northwest for 350 feet and cross yet again. (31.79034, -109.15092) At this crossing, a very faint trail heads up the side drainage a short distance before climbing up its east slope and heading up-canyon, where after a third of a mile a section of of the canyon has an exposed bedrock floor. The Pothole Canyon Trail continues northwest from the crossing.

The canyon makes a gradual S-curve over the next third of a mile, the trail crossing the creek twice more in this distance, then a newly installed Forest Service fence with gate cuts across the canyon. (31.79204, -109.15555)

230 feet beyond the gate, the trail drops back into the creekbed, but while it appears to cross to the other side, there is a far better route to the left, continuing several feet up the canyon bottom itself around a rock outcrop and returning back to the left bank again. (31.79223, -109.15622) You will climb slightly and then drop back to the creek after 0.13 miles for another crossing. (31.79270, -109.15802)

The next two tenths of a mile get somewhat more difficult to follow, but remain on the east side of the creek. Another crossing occurs (31.79507, -109.15909) and after 0.15 miles you will come to a canyon junction. (31.79712, -109.15895) Pothole Canyon continues up the right fork to Pothole Tank (also called Pothole Dam) (31.80243, -109.16009) and eventually Pothole Peak. An unnamed canyon lies along the left fork, eventually ending at a saddle separating it from Sulphur Canyon. The commonly used smuggling route appears to follow the left fork, and that saddle is covered with old trash. The route between has not been surveyed at this time. A faint trail continues up Pothole Canyon, but has not been surveyed either.

Last updated March 29, 2016.