Southeast of Star Valley lies a deep narrow-sided canyon identified on maps as Hole in the Wall Canyon. Although this is a common name for several of the deep canyons found at various locations in this part of Tonto National Forest, this one is unique in that it ends on its west side in what is a hole, true to its name. Located in a remote section of Tonto National Forest, it can only be reached by traveling along a narrow, winding forest service road (FSR371).
This road affords a visitor with an opportunity to explore and view much of the terrain, vegetation and wildlife that abounds in and around the Payson area. Deer, elk and the often-elusive, but ever-present, javelina can be observed in the environs surrounding the road.
Beginning in a grove of ponderosa pines just off Highway 260, the road winds its way through thick stands of Juniper and Manzanita scrub on a bluff above Green Valley Creek and Green Valley Hills on the west and the Lion Springs drainage, Mogollon Rim, Diamond Rim and Diamond Point Lookout on its east side. From there, it begins to follow the valley as it abruptly drops and rises with the natural contours of the land. When finally reaching the location of the hole, visitors will not only be afforded excellent views of it from the ridge above, but will also have a fairly close-up panorama of the east side of Hellgate Wilderness a short distance to the southwest.
The vegetation by the road often obscures the views beyond it, but occasional breaks will allow visitors panoramic vistas of Star Valley and the Rim seldom seen by those who travel the highway. For those who wish to explore the area, the road provides ample opportunities for a visitor to stop and explore the countryside.
In the spring and summer, the open meadows contain an array of wildflowers and blooming cacti.
This road acts as a multiple use access to the canyon. Vehicle travel, however, for most of its length is restricted to high clearance vehicles and ATVs as it is not maintained and contains large ruts, depressions and washed out sections. There are locations, identified later where low clearance vehicles, group outings, and trailers can meet and/or park before traveling on foot.
To get there:
From the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 in Payson, proceed east on 260 through Star Valley, past the Diamond Point Shadows Restaurant, for a total of seven miles. Watch for mile marker sign 259 on the right. Turn right .7 of a mile beyond the sign. The pavement ends a short distance from the highway and the road becomes a wide, well-maintained section of graded base. Continue on this road .2 miles until coming to a fork in the road. Bear to the right at the fork and watch for FSR 371 markers. After another quarter mile, the road passes by the fenced-in Blattner Burn Pit. From this point on, the road is no longer maintained and begins to degrade. Another quarter mile down the road, an additional fork is reached.
Continue to follow the main road and the forest service markers. The road will now contain large depressions and ruts, but can be passed by low clearance vehicles if caution is used. Proceed for another half mile until a large clearing is reached. At this point, it is recommended that vehicles for hiking groups, horse trailers, ATV trailers, and low-clearance vehicles are parked, as the road beyond becomes narrow, steep, and winding.
It soon becomes a true 4-wheel route and there is little room for parking a vehicle.
Whether on foot or in a vehicle, visitors will follow the road for another two miles until they reach a small gully. At the base of this gully, on the left, is an FSR 371 marker indicating that the road continues around a bend to the right. To the left of this gully is a poorly defined road that leads up the side of a hill to the south. Driving up this road should be done, if attempted at all, with extreme caution as it is narrow, unleveled, and almost nonexistent in places. Leave the main road and follow this one for about half a mile until you reach the base of one of those towers. Two of them can be seen to the south as you continue along the road.
At the tower a faint trail about 100 yards long leads to the left. It passes through a small ravine and ends at the ridge that overlooks the "hole in the ground." This is a great spot to break for a meal and to enjoy the view before heading back.
Hole in the Wall Canyon
Average Elevation: 4800 feet (1600 meters)
Maps: Payson (USGS 30/60 minute), Tonto National Forest Service map (North half). Payson South Topographic
Length of hike/drive: 7.8 miles (round trip)