HomeTrailsTonto National Forest ATV Trails Including Bulldog Canyon

Tonto National Forest ATV Trails Including Bulldog Canyon

  • Tonto National Forest ATV Trails: 3,700 miles of roads and motorized trails
  • Skill Level: Varies
  • Usage: Heavy
  • Open: Year round (but ideal riding is October – April)
  • Vehicles Allowed: ATV, SxS, UTV, motorcycles, full size

Located a couple hours NE of Phoenix, the Tonto National Forest ATV trails are a popular ATV riding destination. It’s fairly close proximity to a major metropolis does make it busy, but with 2.9 million acres, it won’t seem as busy as other popular riding areas.

With 39 campgrounds and almost unlimited dispersed camping opportunities, it’s easy to make your escape into the desert wilds.

So, whether you’re looking to escape the city or just enjoy a perfect winter getaway with some off road adventure then Tonto National Forest may be just the ticket.

There are 3 main designated off road areas: Bulldog Canyon, Desert Vista OHV Area and The Rolls OHV Area. But these off roading areas are just a fraction of the Tonto National Forest ATV trails that are available.

ATVs, SxS and 4×4 can ride hundreds of miles on old forest roads and trails that cross throughout the region as long as they stay on designated routes.

Tonto National Forest has 8 designated OHV areas where you can ride off trail, but for most of the forest this is not allowed.

Your best bet for finding new routes to explore is to get a motor vehicle use map (MVUM) at a local forest service office.

Also a couple hours north of Phoenix you can find 11 Awesome Sedona ATV Trails [Video].


Tonto National Forest ATV Trails

Bulldog Canyon

Bulldog Canyon mao
  • Trail Miles: 20 miles
  • Closest Town: Apache Junction AZ
  • Fees/Permits: Required – $6
  • Best Riding Season: November – March
  • Usage: Moderate
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Drive Time: 3 hours
  • Vehicles Allowed: ATV, SxS, UTV, motorcycles, full size

All the trails in Bulldog Canyon are wide enough to accommodate full sized vehicles. The trails used to be on the easier side, but over time have become washed out, rutted and more challenging.

Riders will enjoy rolling dessert hills covered in sage, scrub brush and saguaro cactus surrounded by interesting jagged rock formations and mountains.

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The main route is also the best route: Blue Point, FS 10 to Duchman FS 1356. There are a couple other short trails and spurs, but this main route takes you out and back through spectacular desert scenery.

Bulldog Canyon Permit

This is the only riding area in Tonto National Forest that requires a permit. Every vehicle operator 16+ requires a 6 month permit. Permits are “free”, but require a $6 service charge.  

Buy a Bulldog Canyon permit online from Recreation.gov

All access points are blocked by a gate. Buying the permit gets you the lock combination.

Plenty of dispersed camping is available in the surrounding area, but it’s discouraged at the trailheads to allow for more day use parking. It’s not expressly forbidden, just “not recommended”.

Backcountry dispersed camping is also off the trails as long as you don’t block the trail.

Forest Service: Bulldog Canyon

Bulldog Canyon Rules and Regulations (flyer)


Desert Vista OHV Area

Desert Vista OHV Area map
  • Trail Miles: 100 miles
  • Closest Town: Cave Creek AZ
  • Fees/Permits: None
  • Best Riding Season: October – April
  • Usage: Heavy
  • Difficulty: Varies. Most are moderate/advanced
  • Drive Time: Varies
  • Vehicles Allowed: ATV, SxS, UTV, motorcycles, full size (limited)
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100 miles of trails on 33,500 acres. Located about 1 hour north of Phoenix, this riding area sees a lot of traffic due to it’s easy access from the city.

Come prepared, you’re basically in the middle of no where.

The trails in this region are mostly in the moderate to advanced skill range, but there are some easy trails available.

Ride through the open desert on trails that feature sandy washes, old roads, hills, whoops, banked turns, single track and double track. Excellent riding for dirt bikes!

Trails vary in width. They’re not marked, so full sized vehicles need to use common sense and pick and choose their routes. All trails are open to two way traffic.

One of the best rides is Camp Creek Wash (FR413) which takes you down to the Verde River where adventurous travelers can take a quick dip at Needle Rock Picnic Area and Beach.

Parts of this trail are overgrown with scrub brush, so full sized vehicles may get scratched up.

Keep your expectations low regarding the “beach” – it’s more rock and dirt than sand, but it makes for a good destination when you’re just kicking around.

The river also provides an excellent bird habitat with lots of bald eagles, hawks, and great blue herons in the area.

Forest Service: Desert Vista OHV Area


The Rolls OHV Area

The Rolls OHV Area map
  • Trail Miles: 65 miles
  • Closest Town: Fountain Hills AZ, Mesa AZ
  • Fees/Permits: No
  • Riding Season: October – April
  • Usage: Heavy
  • Difficulty: Varies
  • Drive Time: Varies
  • Vehicles Allowed: ATV, SxS, UTV, motorcycles, full size

Located on 27,000 acres, this riding area has 65 miles open to off roading. A section of the Great Western Trail is located within The Rolls.

Routes vary in width, so drivers in full sized vehicles will have less options than ATV and SxS.

The best route is Four Peaks Road (FS143) which takes you on a dirt road over the Mazantzal Mountain range and down the other side. Full size vehicles can do this route.

You travel from Hwy 87 over the mountain and descend to Hwy 188., just north of Roosevlt Lake. As you head up into the mountains, you’ll be rewarded with endless desert vistas including views of Roosevelt Lake on the descent to Hwy 188.

Four Peaks Road is mostly easy with a few moderate rough and rutted sections. If you do the whole route from Hwy to Hwy, plan on a full days drive – each way will take about 3 hours. For a shorter jaunt, you can just head to the top and turn around.

A big fire burned through this region in 2020, scorching the ground cover and scrubs, but it’s still a lovely area with a lot to offer.

You can access some coves of Saguaro Lake from The Rolls OHV area for a scenic lunch break overlooking the lake. However, the roads that lead to the lake are rough, so be prepared.

If you’re looking for easier riding, stay north of FR13. Most of the ATV trails heading to the lake get steeper and rockier as they descend to the lake.

Forest Service: The Rolls OHV Area

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