As of August 2017, the first switchback now has a "TRAIL" sign with a left arrow marking the turn to help hikers avoid missing it and ending up on a faint social trail that peters out soon after.
Length: 4.46 mi
The Silver Peak Trail is accessible from a trailhead with a paved parking area in Cave Creek Canyon on the north side of Forest Road 42, a short distance west of the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Center. The trailhead can also be accessed on foot via the Cave Creek Nature Trail, which connects to all three major campgrounds in Cave Creek Canyon.
From the pedestrian gate at the Silver Peak Parking Lot, take the right fork. The Cave Creek Nature Trail departs to the left. The Silver Peak Trail, initially heading roughly to the north, passes several other forks through this area—you should generally keep to the left. 850 feet past the trailhead, the trail curves to the northwest and begins a segment of steady uphill climbing. Despite the thousands of feet of vertical ascent ahead, this switchback-free stretch is one of the toughest along the trail. Due to the presence of horses in this area, the trail is fragmented into numerous paths here and it is not always clear which is the official route. They all generally merge back together eventually. After two thirds of a mile heading nearly straight northwest, the trail swings to the right and then to the left over a 500 foot stretch, ending up at a pedestrian gate under a tree atop a ridge. This can be a good spot to stop and catch your breath and enjoy a view out over the town of Portal below.
From here, the trail briefly heads roughly west along the edge of a drainage before cutting north past its upper end and beginning to contour along the mountain proper. Roughly four tenths of a mile after passing through the pedestrian gate, you'll be directly below The Fingers, a rock formation which, when viewed from the south, resembles a number of hands and fingers pointing to the sky. Another four tenths of a mile beyond, the trail making a sharp bend as it crosses a drainage along the way, the first switchback is reached. Many hikers have missed this and continued straight instead of turning sharply left. As of August 2017, a "TRAIL" sign with a left arrow has been installed to help guide hikers on the correct path.
After another switchback shortly after, the trail spends the next half mile skirting around the north face of a ridge, curving around it to end up heading south-southwest, where it hits the second of five sets of switchbacks. This set spans 570 feet of trail across six switchbacks in order to ascend above a rock outcrop and an area of steep cliffs before continuing south, crossing a small drainage after 600 feet, and angling to the west in a more significant drainage 500 feet after that.
From the drainage crossing it's 200 feet to the next set of eight switchbacks across a 560 foot stretch, and which pass through a stand of small Gambel oak. 320 feet beyond the upper switchback, a distinctive Alligator Juniper tree grows atop a flat rock protruding out of the cliff. This point is nearly ⅔ the distance to the top and often serves as a break or snack stop—the tree can provide enough shade during hot seasons for this to be appealing.
The trail then contours around to the southwest for 0.12 miles before making a tiny switchback beneath a large rock outcrop—from another angle, further up the trail, this outcrop resembles a human head peering out to the northwest. The forest canopy begins to change around here as you begin passing under a stand of pine for the next 0.13 miles before another set of eight switchbacks. After another 200 feet you will exit the pines again for a short distance and return to oak and chaparral as you contour widely to the north for the next two tenths of a mile.
After returning to pine cover the trail climbs for the next quarter mile to a small set of switchbacks and then 0.17 miles to another much larger one, the trail changing from an westerly course to head southeast and beginning to climb more steeply. After another nearly two tenths of a mile, the final set of switchbacks begins. This consists of ten which are relatively even in length over a third of a mile stretch, followed by a 500 foot stretch climbing steadily to the southeast, then the final switchback to the top of the ridge below the peak. From here, Silver Peak proper actually lies 500 feet to the east-southeast, but the trail continues west to the site of the former fire lookout cabin.
70 feet to the west of the final switchback you'll pass a toolshed structure. 100 feet further, the outhouse lies 50 feet off the left side of the trail. The trail makes a bend to the left and the final 60 feet to the lookout take place across 51 very steep cement steps.
Only the foundation of the lookout remains, the structure having burned down in October 1992 during a thunderstorm. The view from this point is one of the most impressive of the area, from the Portal Peak to the east, Cave Creek Canyon to the southeast, the Cave Creek Basin and the Southwestern Research Station to the south, the Trans-Mountain Road (FR 42) climbing to Onion Saddle to the west, Paradise to the northwest, and San Simon and I-10 to the north.
Last updated August 21, 2017.