Hiking Yavapai

May 2022
Watson Lake Loop

Watson Lake Loop Trail, which might be called the below-and-above-the-dam trail, is one of the more popular in the Prescott area.

This easy five-mile hike goes up and down some steep, rocky terrain as you scamper over the Granite Dells boulders, with white dots to show you the way. Hikers get to marvel about the rock formations, sometimes as they climb up on them.

The birds and the wildlife add to the allure of this trail. We were treated to an eagle sighting, along with an egret, herons and ducks. Deer and javelina are not uncommon on these trails.

Those who live here may take the spectacular Granite Dells for granted because we can see it every day. Lin Chao, one of the hikers on this day, said Watson Lake is her favorite lake in the state. That’s saying something considering she is president of the Arizona Trailblazers and hikes throughout the state.

I took this hike with the North Mountain Visitors Center hiking group out of Phoenix. Many among them had hiked this before, and loved coming back.

This trail includes parts of four other trails that all have access points to the Watson Lake Loop Trail, but the most common starting point is the North Shore Trail, not far from the park entrance. There is a $3 parking 

fee, offset by plenty of bathrooms and ramadas to relax or eat lunch in.

The elevation change is minimal, starting at 5,075 feet and topping out at 5,237,  though that can be deceptive because there are several small ups and downs.

Starting from the North Shore you quickly view the boulders, including Balancing Rock, where many practice their bouldering skills. In about a half mile you’ll come to a small overlook, and you can see the top of the dam, built in 1900, when the Chino Valley Irrigation District formed.

Soon after you begin the descent. Once you get to the bottom you’re looking up at the dam, among some wonderful streams with cattails and a nice riparian area. A small footbridge helps you get across. A side trail leads from the bridge to just under the dam. Sometimes a lot of water will be gushing from the dam’s spillpipe, but on this trip in late March it was just a small waterfall.

We went downstream just a bit before taking a prolonged snack break, then began the ascent. The Over the Hill Trail takes you back to the Dells, passing spectacular trails along the way.  One side trail leads down to Secret Cove for those who want to add just a little more mileage. You can see Granite Mountain in the distance.

Lakeshore Trail, Peavine Trail, Discovery Trail and Watson Lake Trail all come together to help the hiker complete this loop.

April 2022
West Clear Creek

Tantalizing, cascading, flowing water is the highlight of the West Clear Creek Trail and the West Clear Creek Wilderness.

West Clear Creek Trail near Camp Verde is an eleven-mile round-trip for those who can make it over the four creek crossings. Sometimes the water is too high to pass, and at other times you can just rock-hop across the stream.

The creek winds 40 miles from the Mogollon Rim through the West Clear Creek Wilderness, making it the largest drainage from the Rim. There are nine trails in the wilderness area, but West Clear Creek Trail is the most popular.

Surrounded by soaring cliffs, sycamores, cottonwoods, Arizona walnut, willow and ash trees, the creek entices hikers into occasional shade, although there are portions of this trail that are mostly open. Some of the canyon is 2,000 feet deep.

The water also brings out bear, deer, mountain lion, badger, javelinas and ringtail cats. Birders also like this area for its kingbirds, orioles, tanagers, warblers, wrens, yellow-billed cuckoos, eagles and red-tailed hawks. The hiker will also want to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, scorpions and centipedes.

Less than a mile in you’ll come upon the remnants of an old rock ranch house. Mesquite and prickly pear dot the lower parts of the trail, and you’ll want to be careful on some of the tight parts of the trail to avoid scratches. You may find poison ivy near the creek as well. The drive in requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the trek is well worth it.

Established in 1984 and covering 13,600 acres, the West Clear Creek Wilderness, is a narrow but lengthy expanse that follows the contours of West Clear Creek from its western terminus at Bull Pen Ranch to the headwaters of Willow Creek and Clover Creek to the north and east. It ranges in elevation from 3,700 to 6,800 feet.

Due to the stark variance in elevation and sunlight across canyon walls, the area offers a wide range of vegetation, geology and recreational opportunities, and supports a broad range of wildlife. The three main geologic layers within the canyon are the Supai Formation, Coconino Sandstone, and volcanic deposits. The upper levels of West Clear Creek include Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The middle level has piñon pines and juniper.

Fishing is another pastime at West Clear Creek, which is stocked with trout by Arizona Game and Fish. The water is deep enough that it attracts swimmers when it’s warm enough.

Evidence of Sinagua-culture people, their dwellings and tools from their daily lives can still be found in the West Clear Creek drainage. The Forest Service website warns that hikers should not disturb those areas, allowing for scientific inquiry and so others can also feel and enjoy the presence of history.

Unlike national parks, wildlife refuges, or monuments, wilderness designation from Congress provides the highest level of natural-resource protection available in the world.

Directions: From Camp Verde, drive southeast on State Rt 260 for six miles to Forest Rd 618. Turn left and drive 2.2 miles to Forest Rd 215, and continue three miles to the Bull Pen Ranch Trailhead.

February 2022
Castle Creek Wilderness

The Algonquin Trail to Big Dipper in the Castle Creek Wilderness is a hidden gem, but a challenging 4.4-mile hike.

It’s a hidden gem because there are running creeks, frogs, granite boulders with pools of water, mica, panoramic views, and not many folks on the trail, and because this hike isn’t found in any hiking book I could find. The Algonquin Trail had the most mica I’ve seen on any trail, glistening in the sunlight everywhere.

The hike is challenging as it drops 1,300 feet, with plenty of loose rock and catclaw, which can cut up your legs and make you sorry you wore shorts. Definitely wear pants for this one.

That comes before you get to the creek, where you’re walking on, over and around granite boulders.

Most of the Algonquin Trail is exposed to the sun, so dress appropriately. After the 1,300-foot drop you come to the junction with the Poland Creek bed, and the rock-hopping begins down the creek. After a while it turns into Horsethief Creek.

If you continue along the Algonquin Trail it’s a 10.1-mile round trip, but our party, as many do, decided to follow the creek to Big Dipper, which some refer to as Hell’s Hole.

At this point you have to turn around unless you brought ropes, because that's the only way to get down. The waterfall was dry when we went, but the pond below was substantial, enough for a swim if you’ve come from the other end.

Most online guides rate this trail as moderate; many in our group considered it difficult, and one called it easy. It's is named after a mine.

The drive into Algonquin Trail is entertaining. The trailhead is 22 miles from I-17, mostly on gravel, passing by the old Cordes Station and the bar at Cleator. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle — we saw no sedans on the road.

Algonquin Creek is part of the 25,817-acre Castle Creek Wilderness, established in 1984 at the southern end of the Bradshaw Mountains and managed by the US Forest Service.

The wilderness area ranges from 2,800 to 7,000 feet in altitude. The lower range is home to saguaro, palo verde and mesquite. The higher ranges include chaparral, Ponderosa pine, Arizona white oak and alligator juniper.

The Forest Service names eight trails in the wilderness area, including Castle Creek Trail and Willow Creek Trail.

There is parking, but no restroom, at the Algonquin trailhead. The sign pointing out the trail is on the right, with the trailhead on the left as you come from I-17 at Bloody Basin Road.

Photos by Stan.

January 2022
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

A coati walked five feet in front of us. Unbelievable. Awesome. Inspiring. Moments like these are why some of us hike.

The animal was coming up the banks of the stream. It saw me and hid behind a tree. I thought that was the last I would see of it, but after a moment it passed on the trail right in front of us, stopped for a moment to eat from a plant, posing long enough for photos, then disappeared into the woods.

Bright red and blue-green dragonflies landed on leaves over the creek. Butterflies were plentiful, one landing on a dragonfly. The beauty of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and experiences like this made for a great day.

Three things are most likely for those visiting this area. First, your feet will get wet. Second, you’re likely to see more wildlife than people. Third, if you don’t have hiking sticks, you’ll probably fall in the stream.

Established in 1984, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness covers 19,410 acres, surrounded by private and public lands, including several bed-and-breakfast operations, notably Aravaipa Farm and Orchard Inn.

The canyon is also known for its towering cliffs and multiple side canyons. A 2006 flood devastated the creek, but it has since recuperated. Aravaipa Canyon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which limits visits into the canyon to 50 people a day,30 from the western side and 20 from the east. You’ll need a permit to enter the wilderness area.

Aravaipa also has some history, as prehistoric Salado Indians came through here and Apaches lived in the canyon until white settlers established small farms during the Civil War. In 1871 dozens of Apaches were killed in the Aravaipa Canyon massacre, a tragic story related in the book 100Hikes in Arizona.

We hiked the western side of Aravaipa, between Winkelman and Mammoth. The more remote eastern side is closer to Safford, a four-hour shuttle away. We made it a day hike, but camping is allowed, again with a permit, and no pets.

Flowing year-round, Aravaipa Creek entices plenty of wildlife, including mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, bobcats, deer, desert bighorn sheep, fish, toads, frogs, a hundred types of reptiles and 200species of birds. There are no designated trails in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, so you’ll be spending about half the time walking in the stream, which is usually three to six inches deep. Sometimes you can see a trail next to it where people have walked, but more often than not it quickly ends. It’s more fun walking in the stream anyway.

Most of the creek flows slowly, but there are faster parts that can pulldown a hiker with no hiking sticks. Everyone in our pack of ten Arizona Trailblazers had sticks, and no one regretted it. While nobody fell, we were happy to have dry bags for our cameras and other electronics, because a spill is always a possibility.

At the right time of year you can catch the fall colors in the sycamore, ash, cottonwood and willow trees, but since the elevation is 2,630to 3,060 feet, those colors come a lot later than they do in the mountains.

My thanks to Michael Humphrey of Arizona Trailblazers for leading this hike. For more information and directions, phone 520-357-6185.

December 2021
Wolf Creek Falls

Wolf Creek Falls has been howling at me to visit for years, but I didn’t make it until recently. Now it’s my favorite Prescott hike when the water is running.

Lower Wolf Creek Falls

Under decades of drought conditions, usually the 90-foot cataract isn’t running. But right after snow or rainfall you may catch it if you time it just right. We did. With three other Prescott Hiking Club members I was able to see this spectacular waterfall.

The main fall was actually three waterfalls as the water shoots down from one to the others. It’s so big that you can barely see the top of it, and it’s tough to get it all in a photo because the water course curves around rather than coming straight down.  Hikers can follow a short stream to the top of the fall before reaching it from below. From the top you cannot see the bottom.

A short way from this main waterfall you come to another, then after descending a short, steep path you reach the creek-sized Hassayampa River. This water was also flowing like crazy, creating some small cascades. Frogs the size of a quarter splashed into the water while butterflies flitted about.

There is no named trail going directly to the falls. The hike begins on Senator Highway a short way from where the pavement ends. You can park off to the right, and the hike begins on Trail 384. Just over a mile in you start to find the unnamed side paths that take you down to the falls.

Hassayampa River grotto

The side paths are short but steep in some areas. You have to watch both your footing, to keep from falling, and your hands. There are beautiful flowers here, but the thorns can cut you if you’re not careful. You want to be careful, but this hike is well worth it.

November 2021
Sycamore Rim Loop

Following up on my hike in last month’s column about the upper Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, this month I’ll cover the Sycamore Rim Loop, just east of Williams. I’d last hiked it just before the big Rafael Fire hit the area, so I went back to inspect the fire impact.

The best news is that on this trip the often dry Sycamore Falls was gushing with water, making for great photos, and everyone who saw it was in awe. “Awesome!” “great,” “wonderful,” were just some of the superlatives I heard people saying as they turned the corner and saw the falls.

The trail leads to Sycamore Creek at the top of the waterfall, where many people were posing for photos; the bottom of the falls is harder to access. The waterfall feeds the creek below.

With the recent rains moving water at a quick pace, a couple other smaller waterfalls appeared short distances from this big one.

Fire damage

Most of the trail was not impacted by the Raphael Fire, but some are as were. The worst burn area I saw was about a quarter mile from the Pomeroy Tanks trailhead. A couple trees were down on the trail, so you had to either go below them, literally over them, or climb up slope above them and down. I chose to go carefully down the lower part before coming back to the trail. You can still smell the burn in this area.

Some smaller burned areas on other portions made it hard to find the trail in spots.

There are five trailheads to the Sycamore Canyon Loop, which is in the upper Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Signs at each trailhead warn hikers that there is a burn area ahead with hazardous conditions, including flooding, unstable soils, falling rocks and trees.

Spectacular beauty

The loop is just over 11 miles. The Pomeroy Tanks are clear natural water, filled with water lilies, frogs and fish. Unlike Aztec Peak there is not much climbing on this hike for those who stay on the trail, which rises from 6,700 to only 7,287 feet. However, the huge cliffs by the waterfall make this an even more popular area for rock climbers. I saw one of the climbers gripping the middle of a sheer cliff, evoking a scene out of the movie Cliffhanger.

Like at Aztec Peak, pines dominate the terrain. Alligator juniper and gambel oak are found at the upper reaches of Sycamore Canyon Loop. In the upper reaches, known as KA Hill, you can see the San Francisco Peaks and Garland Prairie.

Directions: From Flagstaff, exit I-40 at Garland Prairie Road (Exit 167), drive nine miles southeast on Forest Road 141, turn right on Forest Road 56 at the sign for the Rim Trail, and drive 1.9 miles to the trailhead.

Sycamore Falls

October 2021
Aztec Peak

Aspen glades and great views add to the allure of hiking Aztec Peak, at the high end of the20,850-acre Sierra Ancha Wilderness,  north of Globe and south of Young on the east side of the state. As with all our wilderness areas, it’s subject to our dynamic weather conditions, and things can change quickly, as we found on a recent hike.

Scarlet cinquefoil

I should mention that “we” are the Arizona Trailblazers, an adventurous group that hikes all over the state, sometimes into other states.

A lush summer walk

Aztec Peak, the highest peak in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, ranking 41sthighest in Arizona, offers a beautiful waterfall, running creeks, and abundant flowers, lizards and butterflies.

The area is just east of Roosevelt Lake, which you’ll pass on the drive in and see among the great views of Four Peaks and the surrounding mountains from the trail. You’ll also drive over an old bridge where the Salt River feeds into the lake, where people often sun and swim on the south side. Just north of the bridge we noticed a saguaro with a top that looks like a water dragon.

This trail is 9.2 miles round-trip to the top, and All Trails rates it as moderate. There was a good amount of shade, for some great resting spots along the way.

About a half-mile into the trek you come to Workman Falls, which on this day was  coming down hard and fast enough to create a spectacular scene, feeding into serene Workman Creek. We saw rock-climbers here, dropping ropes to scale the cliff.

The book Streamside Trails notes that Henry Wertman homesteaded a ranch here, and a mapmaker changed the spelling in naming the creek for him.

The section of the creek above the waterfall is lovely, making the hike even more inviting. About a quarter-mile up from the fall sits a USGS water-monitoring station, offering a close view of the stream and its flowers.

Aztec Peak waterfall

At points sunflowers towered over us. The more than a dozen types of flowers just off the trail include penstemons, daisies, dandelions and my favorite, the scarlet cinquefoil. Aztec Peak is mostly a pine forest, but toward the top there are a decent amounts of aspens and ferns.

Adverse conditions

The bad news is that Abbey’s Way Trail (151) was not practical to hike; the good news is that the Flintstones area is preserved.

Abbey’s Way, named after naturalist Edward Abbey, who worked at the fire tower years ago, is a great trail, but fire and flooding have downed trees and built up overgrown brush, making it virtually impassible, although it is not officially closed.

With the trail in such bad condition we chose to hike up the Forest Service road to the peak, which while closed to vehicles was well maintained, making for an easy trail.

About a mile from the top sits an old cabin, in pretty good shape on the outside, and the door isn’t locked, so you can walk in to see the kitchen and a ladder to a loft above. This is right by the Moody Point trailhead, a good choice for those who want more mileage.

Toward the top there is a section known as the Flintstones Picnic area, because the natural rocks there look like they are right out of the cartoon. The Flintsone furniture is beautiful,  with flat stones and one formation that looks like a perfect table. This area has thankfully been untouched by floods and fire.

Westarted at 6,200 feet. Aztec Peak tops out at about 7,700 feet, withthe fire tower at the top and the Flintstone area not far below.

Much to see

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is known for its box canyons and high cliffs. Other better known sections of the wilderness are Devils Chasm and Coon Creek, both known for their ruins. The Reynolds Creek trail is also popular for running streams.

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the trip to Aztec Peak.

Directions: From Prescott, you’ll have need to go east through Camp Verde and Payson or south through Mesa. From Mesa, take US60 east. Just before Globe, turn left at the light onto Highway 188, to Roosevelt Lake.

Drive14.5 miles and turn right onto Highway 288 to Young. The road is paved for the first 22 miles before becoming gravel and dirt, but it’s usually well graded. About 25.3 miles past the 188/288junction watch for Workman Creek Road (FR 487). First you’ll seethe Workman Creek Recreation Area sign on the right, then a smaller sign for Elks Youth Camp. Turn right here. Continue past the Creekside, Cascade and Workman Creek Falls campgrounds to the trailhead.

September 2021
Dripping Spring Trail

Only about two hours from Prescott, the Grand Canyon National Park gets millions of visitors each year, but sadly some in Arizona never get there, not realizing how close it is to them.

The Grand Canyon has something for every body. For those who don’t want to go below the rim there are paved rim trails, accessible by wheelchair. At the other end of the scale some hardcore hikers do the rim-to-rim trails.

Our hike this time was the Dripping Spring Trail. The book 100 Hikes in Arizona rates as this moderately difficult, but I found the six-mile hike to be strenuous and much harder than many 10-15mile trails.

The hike begins at 6,700 feet and drops to 5,200 feet before you have to climb back out, but with ups and downs we actually climbed a total of 2,700 feet. That’s not the difficult part.

There are three reasons this trail can be hard. First, many of the steps on the trail drop at least a foot, so those with short legs (like me) can find this hard on the knees and feet. This is not as popular a trail as some of the others, so it is not as well maintained. We went on a Saturday and there were only a dozen other hikers on the trail, most of them saying it was tough.

Second, in early August it was hot in the lower reaches of the trail, pushing 90°F.

Third, there is not much shade when you’re climbing out, although we were lucky to get some rolling clouds.

The cool part of the hike was that Prescott resident Nick Huige, 79 years young, kept going at a steady pace to make the hike fun. Some of the younger hikers remarked that they hope they are able to hike what we’re doing at our age.

Between May and September day hikers must park at Grand Canyon Village and take the free shuttle to the trailhead. Buses run at 15-minute intervals from 7:30am to sunset. The shuttle ride takes about40 minutes, because it makes nine stops at the various overlooks, all with great views of the Canyon and a couple with views of the mighty Colorado River. If you like you can get off at each stop, enjoy the sights at the overlook, then pick up the next bus to go on.

Masks are currently required on the shuttle buses, and well as in all the buildings in the National Park, but not on the trails.

The final stop is Hermit’s Rest, and we get to Dripping Springs from there, about a quarter-mile down, past a gift shop with unique architecture. There are also restrooms and a water station here so you can fill up your canteens.

All along the trail there are beautiful views of the Canyon. Yellow flowers in the pinyon juniper forest greet us as we start to descend. The trail goes down quickly and steeply. A sign warns hikers that getting to the bottom is optional, but getting to the top is mandatory. I almost slipped on some loose rocks while laughing at this sign, but it also gives good advice about resting in shade when you need it and drinking plenty of fluids.

After about a mile Hermit Trail connects with Waldon Trail, which goes back up the rim, but you want to keep to the right at this junction. About a mile and a half farther down, take the left-hand turn at the sign for Dripping Springs, with a climb of a few hundred feet to get there.

We came within a half-mile of the springs, but ran into fallen boulders blocking the trail from recent storms. We took a short break on the boulders, but with little shade there we started back, eventually finding a sunny spot for a longer break.

Nick Haige takes a break on the trail

100 Hikes in Arizona notes that Dripping Springs is a small flow that drops from a rock above, and the Park Service recommends treating the water before drinking it. Within a mile of the Dripping Spring-Hermit Trail junction you’ll find the start of Boucher Trail, a much longer hike.

This hike demands plenty of water, and we went through most of our liquids. Camping is not allowed in the area because of its fragile plant life. Neither horses nor dogs are allowed on this trail.

Bonus Hike

Kachina Trail in Flagstaff remains one of this hiker’s favorites because of the large stands of aspen, a dozen different types of summer wildflowers, and marvelous views of the San Francisco Peaks.


This has been an annual hike for me for 20 years, and this time I found one more reason to go. Right by the Kachina Wilderness sign I found a unique moth, called the police-car moth, in black and white. It also has reddish orange eyes, which some might consider its flashers. Next to the sign is a stand of yellow flowers where the Police Car Moths were having fun in the sun with these flowers.

You’ll find Kachina Trail via Snowbowl Road. Take US180 to Snowbowl Road, and the parking lot for Kachina Trail is 7.5 miles up on the right. Dogs are allowed on this trail, and plenty of folks had their dogs with them.

When we hit the trail at 9am it was 65 degrees. The trail takes you up to 9,200feet, so it remains cool.

August 2021
Mazatzal-Barnhardt 15

The Mazatzal Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in Arizona, with 205,500 acres spanning parts ofYavapai and Gila County with a low elevation of 2,100 feet to a high of 7,903 feet at Mazatzal Peak.

There are 240 miles of trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness, including among 40 trails the 28-mile Verde River Trail and the 29-mile Mazatzal Divide Trail. The Verde River sits on the west side of the Mazatzal Wilderness, and Barnhardt Trail south of Payson is on the east side of this wilderness.

The Barnhardt Trail offers a great glimpse of part of the Mazatzal Wilderness, rising from 4,200 feet to 6,200 feet. Hikers can go as far as they like on this trail, but it’s common to do the 6.6-mile trek to the intermittent waterfall.

It is best to hike Barnhardt Trail in March or April, because the lower parts can be too hot during summer and the higher stretches too cold in winter, but the absolute best time to hike Barnhardt is after a rainfall, when the waterfall is running.

During a recent trip the waterfall was dry, but big yellow cactus flowers were blooming and lizards were plentiful. Regardless of the time of year, there are great scenic views of the surrounding mountains and Oak Creek Canyon below. Further up, the Mogollon Rim comes into view.

The Barnhardt Trail sign is just five-tenths of a mile from the parking lot; this is important because three trails start from that lot. One of the other trails here is Y Bar Basin, also part of the Mazatzal Wilderness.

Hikers will find the Mazatzal Wilderness sign three-fourths of a mile in. Not far from here, the deep canyon with a stream can be seen below. Sycamores and cottonwoods guard this creek.

At the 1.6-mile mark, the switchbacks begin. You have climbed about 200 feet to this point, but the trek tuns steeper here. Once you reach a natural overlook, you have climbed 1,920 feet, reaching views of the western Mazatzals.

If you’re going to Mazatzal Peak you will walk 17 miles round-trip, and I recommend you take at least two days to do it. The lower Barnhardt Trail includes white and Emory oaks, junipers and century plants. After the 1.5-mile mark you’ll spot velvet ash, Arizona walnuts, sycamores and Ponderosa pines.

After five miles you come to Sandy Saddle Trail. Barnhardt Saddle and Mazatzal Divide are at 6.2 miles. In another mile you’ll find Chilson Springs, one of a few places along the trail that usually has water. Windsor Spring Saddle comes up at 8.5 miles.

Mazatzal is an ancient native culture in Mexico, the word meaning “land of the deer.” The road in is a bit rough. Sedans can make it and many do, but you’ll prefer to have a high-clearance vehicle. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but should be leashed. Horses are prohibited here.

The Mazatzal Wilderness is part of the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. Barnhardt Trail is managed by the Payson RangerDistrict. For more information call 928-474-9000.

Directions: From Payson go south on State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) for twelve miles to Forest Road419 (look for the trailhead sign on the right). Turn right onto FR419 and continue 5.1 miles to the trailhead.

July 2021
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Sycamore Canyon is the second-largest canyon in Arizona, next to the Grand Canyon. That’s saying something. Sycamore Canyon is 21 miles long and seven wide. Hikers go frequently from North to South Rim of the Grand Canyon and vice versa, but I've never met anyone who hiked the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness from one end to the other. That’s because some of it is dense with trees and brush, and there are no trails in parts of it.

From the scenic overlook of the Sycamore Rim Trail there is a beautiful view of the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. It appears to go on forever. To get away from society, this is a good place to get lost.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is also among the oldest designated wilderness areas in Arizona. Congress gave it that designation in 1972, covering 58,441 acres. It is best known for its colorful cliffs and a unique desert riparian area among the 15 trails that hikers can choose from.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is managed by four ranger districts in three National Forests — Prescott, Kaibab and Coconino. Elevation in the wilderness area ranges from 3,580 feet in the Sedona area to over 7,000 feet near Williams.

Black bears, mountain lions, ringtail cats, javelina, elk, deer and rattlesnakes roam the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Canyon wrens, hermit thrushes, turkey vultures, bluebirds and hummingbirds are among the many birds resident here.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, the highest trail in this wilderness, is near Williams, offering secluded pools and a pine forest. Parsons Trail, on the lower end of Sycamore Canyon, has a riparian area with sycamores and cottonwoods.

The natural Pomeroy water tanks make the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail one of the most beautiful trips in the Arizona wilderness. The water is filled with lily pads and beautiful yellow flowers. Cattails and lush green grass also surround the ponds. The views along the rim are outstanding, the canyon below and the soaring cliffs making this a spectacular hike.

Sycamore Falls come later in the hike, and are known to be great when running, but due to drought they are rarely flowing. Some aspens grow by the waterfall.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is popular, as it has made the Arizona Highways 52 Best Day Hikes guide. It also appears in most Arizona hiking books, yet during a recent weekend only about 20 people were on the trail.

The Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is an 11.1-mile loop. There are five entrances to this trail, but we took the one at Dow Spring. In just .25 of a mile we reached the loop sign and went to the left. At just .15 mile more you see the incline going up about a hundred feet, but as soon as you go up it drops back down and you're at the first lily pond.

Big frogs and several kinds of colorful dragonflies enjoy the ponds. You follow the ponds for about .75 mile before you climb back up a small hill and enter the forest area full of Ponderosa pines and some oaks.

At the 3.5-mile mark there’s a small wilderness sign letting hikers know that no motorized vehicles are allowed past that spot. At the 3.8-mile mark the Rim Trail sign appears, then at 3.9 is the Sycamore Canyon Vista sign. This is where hikers can get a great view of the Sycamore Canyon Trail Wilderness.

Rock-climbers love these cliffs. There are some small fish in the Pomeroy Tanks, and a couple of hikers were preparing to fish there as we were on our way out.

The elevation change on this trail is minimal, going from 6,721 feet to 7,287 feet. Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed. For more information, phone the Williams Ranger District at 928-635-5600.

Directions: From Williams, drive east on I-40 about four miles and take the Garland Prairie Road exit. Drive 8.1 miles on Garland Prairie Road, also known as Forest Road 141, but it's not marked as a forest road. Then take Forest Road131, whichis marked, straight for 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.

NOTE: As we go to press the Rafael Fire continues to burn the area and the Kaibab National Forest is closed. Trails featured here may be inaccessible for some time, or sadly burned over.

June 2021
Verde River and Kendrick Wilderness

The Verde River-Lagoon Loop and Kendrick Wilderness Trail illustrate the wide variety of trails our state has to offer the hiker. The first offers abundant water, the second has none.

Verde River lagoon

The Lagoon Loop is like a walk in the park. Well, it is a walk in the park, namely Deadhorse State Park in Cottonwood. The elevation is about 3,200 feet and hardly changes, making an easy 4.1-mile walk.

Kendrick, on the other hand is in a wilderness area, a high-elevation trail starting at 7,800 feet and topping out at 10,400 for those who make it to the top. This 9.2-mile hike is considered strenuous by the editors of Flagstaff Hikes. Kendrick Mountain is the eighth-highest peak in Arizona, and this trail is a great hike for cooling off in the summer. In winter you’ll probably want to take a pass. These trails have one important aspect in common, and that is little shade.

The water draws plenty of birds and wildlife for viewing from the Lagoon Loop. Aside from a ton of ducks, during our recent outing I saw a number of herons, an egret, grackles and red-wing blackbirds. One time I saw a bright scarlet tanager. This particular circuit revealed lizards most everywhere. I have seen beavers at the lagoons, though not this time, and in winter eagles are common in the park.

Kendrick is better known for its views of surrounding mountains, offering a great view of the San Francisco Peaks, and on this trip hikers could still see snow near the top of the Peaks. Kendrick Wilderness is home to many elk, and some years ago an elk came within ten feet of our hiking party. Kendrick Mountain Wilderness trail is well defined, mostly by switchbacks.

Verde River in Deadhorse Park

The Verde River Lagoon loop is built of several trails with no apparent names. This hiker usually lets readers find their own trail directions, but I came up with this loop to cover the most water in the park.

From the Deadhorse Park entrance, drive about five miles and turn right onto Kingfisher Road. Go the half-mile to the parking lot. Steps down to the Verde River are on the right, but don’t go that way because you’ll be getting there soon enough. 

Go to the left and you will come to the first lagoon and go halfway around it, about half a mile, and you’ll find a trail going directly down to the river. It’s about a tenth of a mile, a great place to stop to take your first photos of the river and soak it in. From there, go left about seven tenths of a mile, where you have an even better view of the flowing Verde. Large branches cross the river at this point and people are usually on the other side, sunning themselves or fishing.

Turn around at this point, go past that first river overlook and continue straight for about a quarter mile. Turn right and walk about 100 feet to a bench and a short walking bridge. This bench is an awesome place to stop, and the bridge overlooks a running creek, offering great photo opportunities in both directions.

Turn right on the other side of the bridge and follow that trail for four-tenths of a mile, climb about ten stairsteps and follow the creek, which at this point is on the left, to your first sighting of beautiful yellow monkey flowers. Turn around again, and when you reach the bottom of the stairs go to the right and straight up. You’ll pass a park road with cabins on it. Continue straight for about two-tenths of a mile. Here the creek is on the right and the monkey flowers are more plentiful. The trail appears to end at a park road, so turn around here.

View of the SF Peaks from Kendrick Mountain

When you get back to the cabins, which have picnic tables, and if no one’s using them, this is a great place to stop for a snack.

Continue back the way you came, but instead of recrossing the walk bridge go straight, and you’re soon back down to the river. Follow this route for about two-tenths of a mile, with the river to your left. There are several nice places to stop and view the river.

Next go back to the bridge and bench, continue to where you entered from the first lagoon, and walk around the other half of the lagoon. From the restrooms at the first lagoon, walk straight up and you will come to the second lagoon. On reaching the second lagoon, you’ll have gone 2.65 miles. The second lagoon leads right to the third, making an obvious loop at this point, and then returning to your vehicle to complete the 4.1 miles.

Before leaving Deadhorse Park behind, visit nearby Tavasci Marsh. From the parking lot on Kingfisher Road make a left as if to leave the park, but keep your eyes peeled on the right for a short road that will take you to the marsh. I’ve argued in the past that Griffith Springs in Flagstaff is the best short hike in the state when the water is running, but Tavasci Marsh has to be considered as well because of the marsh, the wildlife and frogs. Like Griffith Springs, the Tavasci Marsh walk is about two miles round-trip.

Blue Tail Skink

May 2021
Pine Mountain Trail

Perennial creeks, riparian habitat, scenic views, butterflies and sycamore trees make the Pine Mountain Wilderness worth preserving. But don't even think about going if rain or snow is in the forecast. The creek that you pass on the way to the trail can be barely moving when it's dry, but can turn into a river flow that's impassable during wet days.

I’ve hiked this trail a few times, and once was caught on the other side of the creek and had to wait a bit before we could pass. Aside from the water, the road into Pine Mountain is rough and a high-clearance vehicle is needed. But once there, the trek is worthwhile.

Arizona Highways, which counts Pine Mountain Trail among its 52 best day hikes, calls it a good winter hike. Some folks say it should be hiked in the fall because the leaf colors are glorious, but it's also a good summer hike because of the wooded-area shade. Sycamore Creek and Bishop Creek create the riparian areas that entice butterflies and wildlife in the Pine Mountain Wilderness. Flowers are not unusual here, with lupines and Mexican locust among the most prolific.

The wildlife in Pine Mountain Wilderness includes Abert's squirrel, rock squirrel, white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, elk and skunk. The bird life here is also extensive, with dove, quail, golden eagle, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, kestrel, peregrine falcon, great horned owl and hummingbird.

Threatened, endangered and sensitive species include peregrine falcon, lowland leopard frog, southwestern willow flycatcher, large-billed savannah sparrow and California leaf-nosed bat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists the yellow-billed cuckoo, Mexican garter snake, Gila chub, spikedace and Chiricahua leopard frog as threatened and endangered species in this area.

Established in 1972, Pine Mountain Wilderness covers 19,569 acres, with management shared by Prescott National Forest and Tonto National Forest. Sam Steiger, a well known Prescott personality who was in Congress at the time, sponsored the legislation designating this area in 1972.

One of the best parts of hiking during the summer is that a small section of Sycamore Creek runs through it, so it's a good place for hikers to rest or enjoy the cool waters, especially on the way back after working up a sweat.

Arizona Highways rates the Pine Mountain Trail a moderate 9.6-mile hike, climbing about 1,700 feet. The Prescott Hiking Club calls it moderate to strenuous, and in any case you top out at 6,814 feet with spectacular views of Humphreys Peak, the Verde River canyon, Matazal Mountains and Horseshoe Lake. The low point of the hike is 5,110 feet. The trail’s peak is also the high point of the Pine Mountain Wilderness, which reaches down to 4,600.

Pine Mountain Wilderness includes the highest point of the Verde River Rim, and the southern portion slopes down to the Verde River. One section of about 800 feet going up switchbacks in the sun is fairly grueling, but aside from that the hike isn't too hard.

Though the flowers were a little thin on the ground, there were enough of them that butterflies were abundant.

On a hike led by Prescott Hiking Club's Donna Overland, who shot the photos for this article, just when the heat might have become an issue the clouds moved in to cool everyone off. Sycamore Creek was much appreciated on the way out.

Most of the trek is tree-covered, with Arizona Sycamore, Ponderosa pine and alligator juniper. Some of the older Ponderosas are 35 inches in diameter and 120 feet tall. A few parts of the hike are out in the sun, so going up the switchbacks it's good to look for trees and shade for those quick huff-and-puff water breaks.

You must use a high-clearance vehicle to access this trail, and signs warn that it should not be traveled in wet weather. I cannot repeat this warning enough.

To get to Pine Mountain, go to the Dugas turnoff from Interstate 17 and travel 18 miles, mostly on washboard road that will limit your speed to about five miles an hour. On arrival at tree-shaded Salt Flat Campground you’ll know why this is worth the trip. There was no one in sight when we arrived, and when we left about six hours later, only two or three vehicles had come in, including a Forest Service truck.

The hike begins at Nelson Trail, which hooks into Pine Mountain Trail, and a route via Verde Rim Trail and Willow Springs Trail make this a nice loop. Pine Mountain Wilderness has six trails covering 37 miles for hikers, hunters and equestrians. The riparian area offers trout and Gila chub, so don't be surprised to find someone fishing.

Those looking for solitude will come pretty close to it on most days. We didn't see anyone else on the trail, just the handful of campers who entered after we came off.

A fire burned the west side of Pine Mountain in 1989, but much of this area has been reclaimed by Ponderosa pines. The 2001 Pine Mountain Fire removed tons of vegetation, and another fire in the summer of 2020 took more. Forest Service officials tell me these natural fires have kept the forest from overgrowth, and they don’t have to panic when there is a fire in the wilderness.

There’s a touch of Arizona history here as well. Early homesteaders known as the Nelsons lived here, and there are a few remnants of their occupation, mostly rock walls. Dugas is named after rancher Fred Dugas, who established the ranch in 1879. A ranch is still working there, and you’ll see a few homes on the way into Dugas and a little past it.

For more information, call the Verde Ranger District at 928-567-4121 or check www.fs.fed.us/r3/Prescott.

April 2021
Apache Creek Wilderness

Prescott-area hikers may not have to go as far as they think to find water hikes. Watson and Willow Lakes have been losing water due to the drought, but the Apache Creek Wilderness has three natural springs and riparian creeks, including its namesake, Apache Creek, which flows from the headwaters of the Verde River.

This perennial water is in a small, cool area, a beautiful and valuable watershed that deserves protection along with its wildlife. Arizona Game and Fish reports that this area has the highest concentration of mountain lions in the state.

The Apache Creek Wilderness is also home to mule deer, elk, turkey, rabbits, hooded skunks, bobcats, ringtails, gray foxes and bears. Birds are abundant, including blackhawks, red-tailed hawks and jays. This wilderness area is a bit off the beaten path, and can be considered remote.

The only hike in the Apache Creek Wilderness is the 6.7-mile Apache Creek loop. But the last piece of road into the hike, FR95A, is rugged, so, unless you have a high-clearance vehicle, you’ll want to walk the last 1.2 miles in and out, making it a 9.1-mile hike. The trail starts at an elevation of 5,234 feet and tops out at about 5,600, not far from the top of the entire wilderness area, which rises to 6,970 feet.

Established in 1984, the 5,666-acre Apache Creek Wilderness is managed by the Prescott National Forest.

You have to know where you’re going to start this hike, because the trailhead cannot be seen from the road. The trail starts with a “no motorized vehicles” sign. About a third of a mile later, the Apache Creek Wilderness sign appears. There is a sign-in sheet, and the last one to sign in was about a week before us, indicating this is a likely area for solitude.

Manzanita appears almost as soon as you start the trail, and then you’re looking up at Juniper Mesa. Juniper and pinyon pine are plentiful on this trail, along with some cottonwoods. Downed trees along the trail make for some interesting places to take a break. Flowers in the Apache Creek Wilderness include paintbrush, verbena and thistle.

Just a bit over a mile in, you reach the first creek, which for us was running and beautiful. A short way along the creek the trail dips down into a little canyon before opening up to a nice meadow, then you’re in shade under a canopy of trees.

In the meadow, is another wilderness sign, but the word ‘Apache’ had fallen off it. Other Forest Service signs along the trail are lying entirely on the ground.

At about three miles in we reach the second stream. Unlike the first, the one in this little canyon doesn’t get much sun, so it was frozen. More streams appear over the next 1.5 miles, making a picturesque landscape. Fellow hikers said this is a good place to camp in summer.

A bit past four miles the hike tops out at 5,600 feet, with a nice juniper for shade and a good place for lunch. Nearby is a big old wooden crate. On the drive in you’ll pass the Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research, which welcomes visitors. The Apache Creek Wilderness has not been impacted much by fire, although some trees have clearly been burned out by lightning.

Directions: From Prescott, go north on Williamson Valley Road for 35.7 miles to County Road 125 (after 22 miles, the road turns to dirt). Turn left onto CR125 and continue 1.8 miles to Forest Road 95. Turn left onto FR95 and continue 1.2 miles to FR95A. Turn right, continue 1.2 miles to the trailhead for Trail 9904 on the right. There is no established parking area at the trailhead, so it’s recommended that you park at the gate 0.2 miles before the trailhead.

Information: Chino Valley Ranger District: 928-777-2200 or fs.usda.gov/prescott; Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research: 928-445-3831

Note: Forest Service officials contributed to this report.

Photos by Stan.

March 2021
Wet Beaver Creek

Perenially flowing Wet Beaver Creek and its tributaries, scenic canyons and variety of trees make Wet Beaver Wilderness a slice of heaven. 

The best known section of the wilderness is Bell Trail, 7.7 miles round-trip, as most hikers go the 3.5 miles into the hike to get to the natural pool known as The Crack.

Wet Beaver Creek flows at high levels through this area, nourishing a great riparian area, surrounded by rock ledges going down to the creek. Visitors swim, dive, fish and sun themselves at The Crack when it's warm enough. This area is so busy during the summer that it has an overflow parking lot.

A less known gem in the Wet Beaver Wilderness is Weir Trail. Hikers find it 2.7 miles down Bell Trail, where the Wet Beaver Wilderness sign appears. Weir Trail is only 1.5 miles round-trip, but it's well worth the time as it descends to the creek. Just above the creek is a US Geological Survey gauge station that measures stream flow.

There are plenty of trees here, including sycamores, cottonwoods, Arizona black walnut and ash. This riparian area supports canyon grape, blackberries and poison ivy, and trout, bass and native roundtail chub live in the cascading waters. Sitting just above the creek is mesmerizing, and while I met a runner on my way out and someone with a fishing pole on nearby Bell Trail, the spot is usually people-free.

Bell Trail starts at the canyon bottom with juniper and mesquite. A number of unnamed trails branch off down to Wet Beaver Creek, which parallels much of Bell Trail.

After resting at The Crack, hikers can ford the creek, which must be done carefully to not fall in. Then the climb up the trail begins. The top offers wonderful views of Sedona red rock and the San Francisco Peaks. The juniper, prickly pear and catclaw tell us we’re at higher altitude here. 

The canyon offers red sandstone, shale and basalt.

Wet Beaver Wilderness was established in 1984 and covers 6,000 acres, and it holds four main trails: Apache Maid, White Mesa, Bell and Weir. 

Bell Trail is named after Charles Bell, a rancher who constructed the route in 1932. It is among Arizona Highways’ 52 Best Day Hikes, and once you get down to the creek you understand why.

The elevation goes from 3,849 to 4,600, but there is hardly any elevation change until you reach the wilderness sign. Then it starts climbing, and most of the climb occurs after you cross the creek at The Crack, which is where most hikers turn back.

The wildlife of Wet Beaver Creek include elk, deer, brown bear, mountain lion, bobcat, skunk, coyote and javelina, plus a wide array of birds, bullfrogs and reptiles, including the occasional rattlesnake.

Wet Beaver Wilderness is easily accessed in an ordinary car. Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed.

For more information, telephone the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-282-4119.

Directions: Take I-17 North to the Sedona exit 298, then turn right onto Forest Road618. Take FR 218 two miles, turn left and it's a quarter mile to the trailhead parking lot, which has a restroom. Parking at the overflow lot, adds a quarter mile each way.

February 2021
Jacks Canyon

You can’t tell much about Jacks Canyon from the first mile on the trail. The rest is far different from that stretch.

The first mile parallels a housing development so it doesn't give the hiker a sense of wilderness or encourage you to keep going. Except for a good amount of birds, including scrub jays, white-throated swifts and and red-tailed hawks, the terrain is plain.

But for those who keep going the best is yet to come, as you soon dip down and leave the housing division behind for the scenic canyons and panoramic views that highlight Jacks Canyon Trail.

Not far into the hike, a warning sign pops up letting you know that if you plan to do the Hot Loops Trail you had better be prepared. Too many hikers have had to be rescued off that trail. It’s a rugged 20-plus-mile hike that most humans can’t do in one day. It’s rocky, involves route-finding. And hikers report that it's more mileage than any report states.

But this column is just about Jacks Canyon Trail. Arizona Highways calls Jacks Canyon a strenuous 15-mile hike. The book 100 Hikes in Arizona calls it a 13-mile moderate hike. Either way, come prepared. The first mile also shows some remnants of the La Barranca Fire, which scorched 800 acres in 2006, among mostly pinyon pine, juniper and scrub oak.

Once past the first mile you start to get a bit more shade, but it’s not enough until you get to the Munds Mountain Wilderness line. About 2.5 miles in you’ll come to a water tank, which often has water in it, but on this day was dry. Shortly after the tank you dip into a canyon with a worn wire fence, which is where the Munds Mountain Wilderness begins. A small wilderness sign also lets you know that motorized vehicles are not allowed past this point.

From here you’ll parallel Lee Mountain and Munds Mountain.

The next four miles is along dry washes with a lush riparian area for when the rains come. This is also where you get more into Arizona cypress, alligator juniper and manzanita.

The upper reaches of the trail has a Douglas fir forest as well as gambel oaks and ponderosa pine. You will soon start the climb up Munds Mountain. Past the Munds Mountain Wilderness line you're also more likely to see wildlife, including mule deer, javelina, elk, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and rabbits, maybe even an elusive mountain lion. 

In the last 1.5 miles you’ll reach the top of Munds Mountain. From there you can see Wilson Mountain and Secret Mountain, as well as Schnebly Hill Road below.

Directions: Take I-17 to 179, then about ten miles to Jacks Canyon Road. Turn right. Drive nine-tenths mile to where the road curves right. Then go 1.7 miles and make a right onto a dirt road. A small sign on Jacks Canyon Road points to the trail, but it's easy to miss. The trailhead is one-tenth mile down the dirt road. For more information telephone the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-203-2900.