Jan 10, 2013 - downgraded to a 3 due to trail modifications from mining/forestry service activity removing and altering some of the more difficult obstacles.
The Charouleau Gap is one of the best 4WD trips in the Catalinas. This scenic route is for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. The road up and over Samaniego Ridge is rough, rocky and requires good ground clearance as well as excellent traction.
On the western half of the trip there are broad and expansive views as you climb up and back down Charouleau Gap, and the roads aren't quite as bad since they have been graded in the past. For the northern half of the trip, much of your time is spent down around the Canada del Oro wash and is especially rough in places. The toughest single spot by vehicle is known as The Step (N32.53085 W110.78176); because of the incline it is preferable to drive down it from Oracle; however, many manage to climb up it from the Catalina side. Mar, 2013 - The Step has now been bypassed by the forestry service.
The other tough spot is a quarter-mile stretch known as (yep) the Quarter Mile, which if driving from Oracle starts about a mile south of The Step (around N32.51812 W110.78185) and goes down to the bottom of the elbow in the route. One other place of note is a spot known as the Elevator Shaft (N32.56493 W110.78086), a climb that is long and steep, but has a solid surface for vehicles because of past grading. The route also has interesting rock formations, the remains of an old adobe home at a place marked on topo maps as Coronado Camp.
From the Phoenix area, take US-60 East towards Globe. Just after Miami and before Globe, take HWY-188 left towards Roosevelt Lake. Make a right onto well signed HWY 288. About two miles after crossing the Salt River, turn right onto Cherry Creek Road (signed as FR203), a well graded dirt road.
The first part of FR203 is graded and easy driving through desert landscape. After you cross Cherry Creek near Ellison Ranch, the road gets rougher and you need 4WD. This is mainly because the Coon Creek fire has created a lot of flash flooding and rock falls that keep the trail "fun". The trail rating is a 2.5 -- a stock truck could make it with good tires. Most of the road is a shelf road that follows north along the cliffs.