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Hike and Swim Arizona's Salome Jug

I've lived in Flagstaff, AZ, since 2003, where I'm an active member of the Coconino County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team and an avid hiker.

Springs in central Arizona.

Springs in central Arizona.

"The Jug" is a Slot Canyon Along Salome Creek

My friend, Karrin, invited me and Steve to join her and a few others for the five-mile hike -- and wade and swim -- to, through and back from Salome Jug.

The Jug is located in the rugged, mountainous Salome Wilderness of Tonto National Forest, on the northeast side of Roosevelt Lake -- land of saguaros, prickly pear cactus and ocotillo, and, in the summer months, rock almost too hot to touch.

The Rappel and Big Pool Near the End of Salome Jug

This photo was taken on our hike and swim through Salome Jug. It was summertime and extremely hot outside the canyon but very chilly in the heart of it. And the water was downright cold!

Salome Jug

Salome Jug

A Salome Jug Trip Report

It's all about commitment. Letting go, taking the first step.

That's one of my biggest fears, but not so big that I don't eventually take the plunge.

And plunge I did as soon as I left security behind and scooted over into the granite chute, where I immediately slid a dozen feet into the algae-covered pool below.

What I did was, I started squealing before I made the committing move. That helped me stop thinking about what I was about to do and forced my anxiety out my mouth. Worked pretty well, although I learned the hard way to shut my mouth just before I hit the water. The green slime tasted kinda funky.

There were three such slides along the mile-long route through the ravine known as Salome Jug. Looked scary from above, but once I swooshed into the water holes at the bottom, I wished I could sprout suction cups on my palms and scramble back up for another go.

But onward and downward we went, from pool to pool, as the canyon narrowed and the water-carved walls grew higher.

After squealing my way down slick rock, I was quieted by nerves when our party of five came to a ten-foot drop where a large boulder blocks the passage, which at that point is maybe twenty feet wide.

When it was my turn to down-climb, I turned my back to the dilemma, got into position -- not an attractive move, I tell you -- and hugged a small boulder as I took direction from my hiking companions. Put my right hand in that crack and step down with my right foot. Okay. I looked down between my right arm and right side to check out where my right foot was supposed to go, and what there was of a ledge looked awfully smooth and slanted. What if my boot slipped? Oh, okay, that wasn't going to happen, said everybody. So if I wasn't going to fall and break every bone I own at that particular juncture, then what was I supposed to do? Huh? Huh?

Well, with a little help from that mustached man of mine, who was holding my left wrist from above, I did what I'd been told. Then Karrin, who'd climbed down first (unaided, of course), told me to take my right hand out of the crack it was wedged into and ... let go?

Let go? And then what? Huh? Oh, brace myself with my left hand and left foot against that rock wall. Mm-hm. Are you out of your mind! Oh ... well, that wasn't so bad. A couple more easy steps and I was looking up at a measly down-climb that looked an awful lot like a piece of cake from below. Psshhhh, I wasn't scared 'r nothin'.

Yes, my heart pounded several times during the three and three-quarter hours we spent in Salome Jug, but that was part of the fun. In fact, I'd say that was the best day-hike I've ever done!

The two-mile hike in, all but about a half-mile of which is the same old jeep trail as the two-mile hike out, was a scorcher in the mid-day sun. We each cached a few liters of water by a large boulder at the point where we'd rejoin the trail on the way out. Karrin and Big John brought cooler bags to hold our stashed water bottles, which we'd frozen the night before.

We then continued another quarter-mile to the top of Salome Jug and the first, slime-covered pool. Green gunk or no, it was certainly refreshing and a nice partly-shaded spot for a snack.

The surface scum (a/k/a slime, gunk and algae) I've mentioned a few times now is a summer occurrence, when water levels are low. The most popular time to visit Salome Jug is in May and June, when the water is clear and not too cold, and the flow rate is moderate. Even in the middle of summer, though, the trip through the Jug entails almost continual wading and swimming, and the largest, deepest shaded pools are cool and virtually algae-free. This trip is not possible -- or at least not at all advisable -- during the winter, when flow rate is high.

You’ll Be Doing Plenty of This in Salome Jug - And the Water, It’s C-C-Cold!

If there was a highpoint in the adventure for me, it was the 30-foot rappel into Salome Jug's main pool, near the end of the Jug.

And despite the jitters I described above, I was pretty calm and definitely smiling as I walked backwards over the edge, easing myself doooown the rope to the ledge just above the water line. Fun, fun, fun!

Actually, it was the 20-foot traverse along the sloped shelf -- sloped towards the cliff, that is -- at the top of the rappel that made me nervous. Like Karrin, Big John and Johnny did before me, I took off my shoes, which were wet and slick, and walked across the ledge in bare feet. Karrin had set up a rope from a fixed bolt near the start of the traverse over to the rappel bolt, and we each in turn hooked a caribeaner onto the rope. I must have asked five times before taking the first step, "So ... what happens if I slip? How far will I fall? And the rope will hold me? You're sure?" Like the others who'd gone before me and Steve, who came across last, I walked those twenty feet without incident, and Karrin clipped me onto the rappel line before unclipping me from the traverse rope. *Big exhale*

Cliff Jumping in Salome Jug (No Thanks, I'll Rappel!)

At the bottom of the "rap," we enjoyed some swim-time in the 50-yard-long main pool, where bats squeaked from crevices in the vertical walls and, every so often if I were still, little fish tickled my legs.

Steve and Big John did some cliff-jumping, as Johnny took action shots with his waterproof camera. Meanwhile, I floated on my daypack, inside of which were two small dry bags Karrin had lent me. I later found out I hadn't closed one of them carefully enough; my TP was a blob of white mush and my multi-colored trail mix wasn't in much better shape.

After several more deep pools, minor down-climbs and another sliiiiide, we came to the final pool, where the gorge ends and the view opens up towards the wide valley and Roosevelt Lake in the distance. We followed the switchbacks up to the bluff, where we rejoined the Jug Trail and picked up our water cache. All ice had melted, but the bottles were still cool. By the time I reached the parking area, what little water I had left was hot. I strongly recommend bringing at least four liters per person on this hike, and a water filter wouldn't be a bad idea either, especially in the hottest months. And, of course, don't forget your sunblock!

Photo Montage From a Trip Through Salome Jug

Getting to the Salome Jug Trailhead

  1. From the intersection of State Highways 87 and 188 about 60 mi. northeast of Phoenix, head southeast on SR 188 for 19.4 miles, through the hamlet of Punkin Center to milepost 255.
  2. Turn left, following the sign for A+ Cross Road. After about a mile, the dirt road crosses a stream where the water is usually only six inches deep (though it was dry went we went through in August). On the other side of the creek(bed), continue on the dirt road, following the sign for Salome Creek.
  3. At a fork where dirt roads go left, continue straight onto the asphalt. This paved road ends at a boat ramp and campground but, about 1.8 miles before that (2.3 miles from SR188), you turn left onto another dirt road signposted A+ Cross Road. (The small sign will be on your right, at the turn.). This turn is easily missed, so if you arrive at the boat ramp, backtrack 1.8 miles.
  4. The winding dirt road climbs along the southern slopes of Victoria Peak. Soon Dutchwoman Butte comes into view ahead to the east. As you come to the last ridge between you and the butte, you'll find the A+ Cross Trailhead, 10.1 miles from SR188. The parking area is on the left.

Except in winter, the ford and the dirt road are passable in a 2WD vehicle, but a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is recommended. (Although one of my hiking companions drove it in a rental sedan.)

More Information

If you've done a hike (and swim) through Salome Jug, tell us about the experience in the guestbook below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: When did you go to Arizona's Salome jug? How was the water level? We want to go Friday.

Answer: I went years ago, so I don't know what the current water level is. When I went, which was in summer and extremely hot, many of the small pools at the top were algae-filled and very low on water. There was plenty further down.

© 2010 Deb Kingsbury


anonymous on August 05, 2012:

I went august fourth and it was still pretty full. ranger had said it would be flowing, but it was still green and funky when we got there. oh, and the directions we followed said it was a 3.5 mile hike- we neglected to read all the way through, the person that said that only hiked to the entrance and back. all in all, awesome hike and I intend on going back

tnsurge on January 10, 2012:

Have to put this on my "bucket list". Great article

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on October 21, 2011:

Hiking And Swimming Arizona's Salome Jug is something I would enjoy!

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on October 21, 2011:

You sure find some great adventures. Loved reading about and seeing pictures of Salome Jug

justholidays on May 28, 2011:

Ok for swimming... as for hiking, er... ouch! But enjoyed the account and the videos.

Blessed by a passing angel.

myraggededge on April 15, 2010:

What a fabulous adventurer you are. Am I jealous of your excursion into the slime? No. Happy to read about it though!

roadroamer on March 30, 2010:

Beautiful, I'd love to take this trip one day! I've never heard of Salome Jug. That's a very good point about flash floods. I've seen a couple of videos on YouTube of flash floods that have hit slot canyons like these. I wouldn't want to be there when that happens. Great work!