One of the numerous primitive trails in the Tonto National Forest, this hike to Black Cross Butte (also known as Peak 3351) is a great option for those who want to spend a day enjoying the sights of the Salt River Canyon and surrounding desert. While only minutes away from the crowds at Tortilla Flat or Canyon Lake, hikers up to Black Cross Butte will likely have the entire mountain to themselves.
Finding the trailhead is a little tricky, for the road is not marked; however, it is on maps of the area. If you drive about 4.5 miles past Tortilla Flat on the Apache Trail you should see a dirt road to the left before an incredibly sharp downhill right hairpin turn. Taking that road will lead to the trailhead, which lies at the end of the section open to the public (most of the road is closed because it is an access road for the Horse Mesa Dam).
The trail is somewhat difficult to follow in places, especially at the beginning. Route-finding skills will prove useful on this hike, though it is defined enough that you will notice it slowly climb Black Cross Butte east to west as you hike the first mile. A false summit at the end of this mile will lead to an unmarked T-junction where you will want to go right, continuing up the hill to the summit of Black Cross Butte, which is essentially a flat-top mesa that offers views of the Salt River Canyon and distant mountains. Most of the views of the Salt River itself are obstructed, and you will not able to see Canyon Lake or Apache Lake from the summit.
There are some very primitive routes heading down from the summit back to the parking area on the steep east slope of Black Cross Butte. Most hikers will want to follow the approach route to avoid getting lost in this somewhat dangerous desert environment. Because the trail is tricky to follow closer to where you parked (even though you will see your vehicle from quite a distance), some hikers go off-trail to a well-defined wash to the northwest of the parking area and then walk back a short distance along the road from the wash.