After a good rainstorm, Massacre Falls becomes a true wonder of the desert. Dropping over 30 feet from the cliff above, the falls spill majestically over rocky ledges into a small pool below. During heavy flow, you may be lucky enough to see a second waterfall flowing just to the left of the main waterfall. These waterfalls require a lot of rain to begin running, so it’s best to go within days after a storm, or you may leave disappointed. If there are a lot of cars in the parking lot, you probably picked the right day.
Once when we were out here, there seemed to be dozens of people wandering around trying to find the falls. So, even though I normally don’t describe the whole trail in detail, I’m going to make an exception because the trails out there can be a little confusing.
If you’re following a USGS topographical map, be aware the more modern trail varies significantly toward the end from the trail shown on the map. Don’t worry, just keep to the beaten path.
Massacre Falls Trail
From the Massacre Grounds parking lot, head through the fence and over a concrete slab. The trail will pass through a wash and then go up on a ridge between the washes and follow it toward the mountains for a while. Four Peaks will be visible in the distance and might be covered in snow after a winter storm.
Original Massacre Grounds Trailhead
At a somewhat confusing fork, you’ll turn left into a large wash (don’t go straight!) and cross a couple of large washes before coming to a fence with a space for people to pass through. This was the original Massacre Grounds Trailhead.
From there, continue toward the mountain until you cross back across the wash and then make your way along the flank of a hill and over the saddle. After that, you’ll drop into a drainage that probably has water flowing in it if the waterfall is flowing. You’ll cross that a few times, and then head left out of the wash onto higher ground that is relatively flat.
From here, you should be able to see the falls area to your right, where the dark streak on the lower cliffs is, and it will look like you’re going perpendicular to it instead of toward it. Stay the course! The trail crosses the waterfall’s drainage and gets up on the high ground on the left side. It will eventually turn toward the mountain, and you’ll get right up to the base of it before the trail turns right and takes you to the falls.
Note: You can travel directly up the drainage to the falls, as we saw some people do, but this is not the trail.
You made it! High five!
The falls area is often shady, so if it’s winter time, bring a long sleeve layer to make your stay at the falls more enjoyable.
For such a lovely waterfall, it sure has a morbid name, so how did Massacre Grounds get its name? There is a story about Apache warriors driving Mexican miners against the cliffs of the Superstitions. The miners were believed to be recovering the last of their gold before the international border change after the Mexican American War. Several of the Mexicans escaped, but the last of the Mexicans to die was killed near what is known as Massacre Grounds. Or so the story goes.
The book where I got this information shows the location as being just north of the falls, and my best guess is near this cliff here. Whether there’s any truth to it is up to speculation, but hey, it has a little use trail going up there and might make a good viewpoint anyway.
*From the 1999 book Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart (out of print)
Map & Directions
Location Superstition Wilderness, Apache Junction, Arizona
From US60, go north on Idaho Road to Highway 88. Turn right and continue to First Water Road. Turn right. The parking will be a short distance up the road, on the right, and has a sign for “Massacre Grounds.” The road has potholes and a sign indicating it’s not maintained for passenger vehicles, but we made it just fine in a sedan when the road wasn’t wet.
Trailhead Facilities None
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