The Little Roosevelt Loop

A half-day journey through Four Peaks, Roosevelt Lake, and the Apache Trail

Keywords: Arizona overlanding, Arizona off-roading, Four Peaks Trail, Roosevelt Lake, Apache Trail

The Little Roosevelt Loop is a 100-mile mostly-off-road excursion that you can tackle in about six hours. It's a fun and fast outing featuring beautiful scenery around every curve. It's designed for those busy people who have trouble finding time to get into the dirt because of work, kids, and other responsibilities. If you hit dirt at 6:00 in the morning, you can be back in time for lunch and to help your significant other with the honey-dos.

(It's called the Little Roosevelt Loop because there's a longer variation where you go around the far side of Roosevelt Lake on A-Cross road. The Big Roosevelt Loop is about 140 miles, and probably takes closer to 9-10 hours to complete.)

Download GPS details for this route (GPX file)

Route map for Little Roosevelt Loop by Journey West on plotaroute.com

This route combines three local favorites into one scenic journey: Four Peaks, Roosevelt Lake, and the Apache Trail.

The route starts on Ellsworth Rd / Usery Pass Rd on the south edge of Tonto National Forest. This is a fun stretch of road because of the ups and downs. If you're traveling with kids, be sure to accelerate into the dips so you can enjoy them freaking out as you catch air.

Extra: If you're itching to get into the dirt, you can take a side road into the Bulldog Canyon OHV area. However, you'll need a permit and the accompanying gate code to do this. You won't see the best parts of Bulldog Canyon—it's worth a separate trip just for that)—but it's a fun modification to the route if you've got the permit.

You'll take Usery Pass up to the Bush Highway (turn right at the first major intersection, just before Salt River Tubing), which will take you past the west end of Saguaro Lake. A favorite highlight here is "The Cliff," a little hill which creates the optical illusion that the cars in front of you are dropping off a cliff. It's another good opportunity to scare your kids. Or maybe I'm just a bad parent.

The Bush Highway will drop you off on the Beeline (State Route 87), which will take you just a short jaunt until you hit an exit for Four Peaks Rd. If you miss it, you can also take the later exit for Cline Cabin Rd. It'll take you to the same place. This is where the fun begins.

Extra: If you're feeling adventurous, you can sneak off the Bush Highway early by getting off at the "Pobrecito Waiting Area," a staging area for Rolls OHV. There's a sign for it, but it doesn't have an address so it probably won't show up if you search your map for it. From there, you can then wander through the Rolls' variety of terrains (including dirt, rock, and sandy washes) directly to Four Peaks Rd.

The trip up and down the mountain is delightful, and full of spectacular views. There's nothing particularly complicated, but there are plenty of curves and bumps so expect to get jostled around a bit. 4WD is recommended, but 2WD is possible as long as you've got some clearance. On certain days there may be a few inches of water to pass through, but typically nothing dramatic.

Four Peaks Trail

Four Peaks Trail

Four Peaks Trail

Four Peaks Trail

Once you make it down the far side of the mountain, you'll reconnect with pavement in the form of State Route 188, which runs between Rye in the North and Globe in the South. After the twists and turns of the Four Peaks trail, you'll welcome a little smooth sailing alongside the impressive Roosevelt Lake (Arizona's fourth largest lake). There are a number of great camping and fishing areas nearby if you want to extend your journey.

Roosevelt Lake

Note that there are no restaurants along the way, so you'll probably want to pack a lunch. If you want to stop somewhere, you'll have to go off-route on the 188 north to Tonto Basin or south to Roosevelt (on the far end of the lake).

Before you forge on, be sure to take a moment to pay your respects to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Built between 1903 and 1911 (before Arizona even become a state), this dam played a major role in the development of large-scale irrigation in Central Arizona, which in turn encouraged settlement in the area. It's amazing to think that something the size of Roosevelt Lake is actually a man-made reservoir, built to enable us to control the flow of water across terrain otherwise known for being insufferably dry with occasional bouts of destructive flooding. The dam provided full control over the flow of water, which in turn made everything else possible.

Just after you cross over the bridge next to the dam, you'll turn onto State Route 88, The Apache Trail, which starts there and takes you all the way back to the city. This route was originally built in the mid-1920s, and remarkably—and delightfully—remains largely unpaved today. There are steep cliffs and minimal safety barriers, but if you're paying attention the route is generally comfortable and very safe for normal-sized vehicles.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

The Apache Trail will take you along the Salt River and past Apache Lake and Canyon Lake, as well as some tremendous accompanying views, including a surprising amount of trees. It's particularly scenic in late fall when the leaves are changing colors, as the foliage offers a beautiful juxtaposition to the dusty desert brown of the area.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Overall, this is a great little adventure that fills your eyes and soul with the often-missed delights of the desert southwest. It can be tackled in any relatively nimble vehicle that can tackle bumpy roads, and it'll fit neatly into even a busy weekend. Definitely worth checking out.

Additional resources

Four Peaks Trail

Roosevelt Lake

Apache Trail

James from Journey West

James from Journey West

James is no stranger to road trips, having grown up in a family prone to making epic cross-country voyages. Despite having lived in Arizona for almost three decades, though, he feels like he's barely seen it. With his interest in overlanding rekindled by the purchase of an 2008 4Runner, he's now setting out to really explore the American West. You can reach him at journeywestco@gmail.com