Three Sisters Summit

May 2, 2020

Length: 6.9 miles to 8 miles

Route Type: Out & Back

Elevation Gain: 2,502 ft

Dog Friendly: I would not recommend bringing dogs

Fee: Technically yes

Restrooms at trailhead: No


You start this hike from the same trailhead as Wave Cave, so the directions are the same. From the valley you need to get on the US-60 going East. After leaving Mesa, you’ll enter Apache Junction and Gold Canyon city limits. Take a left on Peralta Road heading north. Take the soon to be dirt road for about 6 miles. The small parking lot will be on the west side of the road. The hike begins at Carney Springs Trailhead. The parking lot is small and fills up really quickly, as this is a popular hike. I would try to get there as early as possible. We got to the trailhead around 7:40am. The small parking lot was already full, so we kept going only about .1 miles and you can see there is a little area you can park at. There isn’t the actual overflow parking, that is a little ways down, but this works, and it is close to the trailhead. You will need a permit to park at this trailhead because it is not on public land. It is on Arizona State Trust Land. You can get an individual permit for $15. Permits are per person and not per vehicle.


We started this hike at 7:50am. We tried to get there as early as we could, because of the rising temperatures. The Arizona heat is not your friend while you are hiking! To start this hike you follow the same trailhead as Wave Cave. The trailhead is Carney Springs. It starts off as Carney Springs Road, and you can tell by how wide it is. It soon narrows as you approach the Tonto National Forest, Superstitions Wilderness Boarder. You go through a fence and continue on the trail. The Carney Springs Trail continues right at a post, as the Wave Cave trail breaks left (see picture below). The Carney Springs trail is not nearly as trafficked and noticeably smaller and overgrown from the split off. I followed it on the All Trails app too. I have the pro version, so I download the map layers before the hike. Take a look at the pictures below.

Start of the trail. There is a sign telling you that you will need a permit because you are entering State Trust Land.
The fence you have to get through to continue on the trail.
This is the point where WAVE CAVE goes left and THREE SISTERS goes right. There isn’t a sign, but there is this wood pole.

As you continue on Carney Springs Trail there is a lot of overgrown vegetation, requiring a lot of bushwhacking. We all wore shorts because of the heat, but there were points on this trail where having long pants would have been nice. I did wish I would have wore longer socks, because there are sharp thorns that get stuck to your shoes/socks and they can hurt.

Overgrown plants.
Even as you start to climb up there is overgrown plants.

This trail can be hard to follow at times. At certain points there are markings with white and red paint to point you in the right direction. There are also rock cairns (stacks of small rocks) from previous hikers to help mark the trail. These cairns helped us a lot. I recommend looking out for them as you hike to make sure you are going the right way. You’ll also notice offshoots tempting you to get off Carney Springs Trail; when in doubt, look for the cairns or painted markings! Additionally, we tried our best to follow the trail on All Trails. Besides the one couple we saw hiking down as we were going up, we did not see any other hikers on the trail and wanted to ensure we were still headed in the right direction.

There are paint markings, but take a look at the rock formation on top of this rock. This is what you want to look out for!

From the start this hike is a really good leg workout. The hike up to Carney Springs Saddle is on a steady incline. Similar to the Wave Cave trial, there is some scattered climbing, but not nearly as intense or as long as Flat Iron. You just have to climb over some boulders and climb up some rocks. It does seem like you go up forever and once you get to the first summit (Carney Springs Saddle), where you join the Ridgeline Trail, you still have a ways to go. The views from this point are incredible as you come across astonishing cacti with many arms, showing their age, and amazing rock formations formed from the last 18 million years of Arizonas climate and weather.

Hiking up to Ridgeline Trail
View from almost the top of where Ridgeline Trail starts

At the Carney Springs Saddle, about 2 miles from the start, you join the start of the Superstitions Ridgeline Trail (or end, coming from the other direction). Some maps have the Superstitions Ridgeline Trail starting at break off from the Wave Cave Trail. Whichever way you see it mapped, you should be close to 2 miles in, and start a short lived descent. After you’ve gone down there is a little bit of flat land to go through, a rare moment on this hike. Shortly after (about 0.5 miles), the trail starts to head up… again. This is when you can start to see Weaver’s Needle. Weaver’s Needle becomes more and more visible as you gain elevation again. This is the part where we really started to get frustrated. It felt like we had hiked so much, but we still had awhile to get to the top. It was beginning to get really hot! I definitely would recommend to do this hike in the cooler months, or start a lot earlier than 7:50am. To our luck, there was often a nice breeze that helped us because the shade is close to nonexistent. A lot of the cacti was in full bloom. It was beautiful to see. Since we followed the trail on All Trails we knew we had to hike up and eventually there would be a sharp left turn to get to the summit. This part felt like it would never end.

We didn’t reach the top of Three Sisters until about 10:40am (based off the first photo I took). At this point all we wanted to do was find a good place to sit and eat our lunch. However, once you get to the summit you still have to hike near the edge of it to get the good views looking south and to see the sisters rock formation. (look at the pictures below). From the top of Three Sisters you can see the entirety of Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks, although the angle looks more like two peaks. The views are breathtaking! We stayed on the summit for awhile. We took some photos, ate our lunch, and relaxed. We couldn’t even think about the journey going down. We stayed on the “sister” closest to the trail, but you can go to the very east “sister”, which is where All Trails will say to go. We decided that our spot was good and also contributing was our exhaustion. I had a 2 Liter bladder for my Camelbak and I ran out of water before we got to the top. Luckily I brought one of those 32 oz stainless steel, double wall vacuum insulated, reusable bottles with me and had it filled with ice water to hold me over. My number one suggestion: bring more water than you think you would need, especially if you are hiking in extreme heat!!

Once we took our photos, ate our lunch, and relaxed we started the journey down. It was getting hotter and hotter as the day went on. I was starting to get really burnt. I reapplied my sunscreen, but still ended up getting really toasty. Going down was definitely faster than going up, but once we were almost to Carney Springs Trail one of our hikers slipped and fell into agave. We stopped to make sure he was okay and to help clean up his wound (always bring a first aid kit with you). Then we continued and just when we couldn’t think this hike could get any worse or longer his shoe broke. The bottom of his hiking shoe literally came off. We kept going, but a little slower so he wouldn’t fall. But then the bottom of his other shoe fell off. With little grip on his shoes now, it made going down very difficult. Once we got back to where the Ridgeline Trail ends and Carney Springs starts I felt relieved, but also looking down it felt like we had so much more to do (and we did). We suffered through it and made it back to the parking lot at 2:05pm. We hiked for 5:30 minutes (not including stops). WOW were we tired! Based off my Apple Watch we hiked 8.2 miles (from the parking lot) and gained 2,696 ft. This hike had incredible views, but it definitely was a tough and long hike. It definitely tested by mental strength, but I have to admit the views from the top were incredible. I would recommend to do this hike when it is cooler out. Be sure to wear sun screen and bring a first aid kit. AND don’t forget to bring MORE water than you think you need. This was the first hike I ran out of water completely, and it was not a good feeling.

Happy hiking!

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