Arizona hike: The back way to Tonto Creek is rugged, rewarding

Occupying a few dusty acres between nowhere and Roosevelt Lake, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community of Jake’s Corner is a popular way station for outdoor enthusiasts.

Its ramshackle appearance and come-as-you-are ambiance are big draws for anglers, hunters, boaters, bikers and ATV riders. Sometimes, hikers find the place, too.

Located 22 miles north of the lake along State Route 188 in Gila County, the watering hole is the northern outpost of a string of RV parks, creaky-floor honky-tonks, bait shops and general stores.

The scenic stretch of SR 188 runs through the Tonto Basin, a drainage gorge that separates the wilds of the Mazatzal Wilderness and the Sierra Ancha Mountains. Dozens of creeks and streams flow off the foothills into the major course of Tonto Creek, which feeds Theodore Roosevelt Reservoir.

Other than the state-traversing Arizona Trail, which makes a grueling climb through the mountainous terrain to the west, there aren’t many non-motorized routes nearby unless you go 20 miles north to Payson. But, hiking on shared trails can be just as enjoyable when common courtesy is applied.

Directly across from Jake’s Corner Bar, a maze of forest roads offer miles of boots-on-the-ground exploratory options. Like the adjacent community, the walkabouts here harbor no pretense. They are signed simply and retain a raw, no-nonsense air.

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