Hiking Yavapai

June 2024
Parsons Spring Trail

On the lower end of the huge Sycamore Canyon Wilderness near Clarkdale, Parsons Spring Trail offers one of the best riparian hikes in the state.

Hikers can see the promised water from the trailhead, up on a hill that gives a view of Sycamore Creek below. You have to descend about 200 feet, then the trail is fairly flat the rest of the way.

About a mile in you’ll come to Summers Spring, and you can even find its headwater as it bubbles up. This is a great place for a snack or lunch in clear water where branches cross the spring. Watercress, which many put in salads, is plentiful here, and later in the hike we found it in bloom.

A little farther down the trail Sycamore Creek becomes more plentiful, and you have to cross the creek three times in each direction. Expect to get a little wet. The amount of water will depend on spring runoff and recent rains. When we were there, toward the end of winter, each crossing meant we would get wet to about our knees.

Great hikes are even better when you go with great people, and this excursion included Prescott naturalist Dave Moll, Skyliner Hiking Club member Chris Jensen, my videographer Zach Kline and his soon-to-be-wife, videographer Sushi.

We were shooting our next video for our YouTube series Preserving Arizona Wilderness, which will be out in June.

Another highlight of this trail is the Blue Hole. No one knows why it’s called that, but it’s an area ringed with cliffs, where the water is deep and courageous souls during the summer use it as for diving. It also has a natural beach where you can either watch the divers or just sun yourself. Swallows use the cliffs for nesting and can be seen flying in and out. Hawks, golden eagles, hummingbirds and other birds are plentiful here, along with ground-based wildlife including mountain lions, badgers and black bears.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is among the oldest and largest wilderness areas in Arizona, designated by Congress in 1972 and covering 55,937 acres. Sycamore Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the state. There are 15 trails in the Wilderness area, including Sycamore Rim Trail just east of Williams.

Parsons Spring Trail is the gem of the lower part of the wilderness area. The 7.4-mile round trip varies in elevation from 3,775 to 3,671 feet. Cottonwoods, sycamores, hackberry and Arizona walnuts are among the tall, shady trees.

The trail is known to flood periodically, and the 2021 Raphael Fire and subsequent abnormal rainfall led to high flooding. You can easily spot those areas for their piles of dead wood.

The towering cliffs are basalt, limestone and red sandstone. It’s easy to gaze up at the cliffs and birds flying above. Parsons Spring is about four miles in, and that’s the turnaround for people who don’t want to bushwhack to see more of the canyon. Just before reaching this you may find a little cave off to the right that’s worth a look.

Parsons Trail is on the Arizona Highways list of its top 52 day hikes. Hikers say that since the article appeared in the magazine it has seen significantly more traffic, but still a lot less than better known hikes.

The water along the trail may not be drinkable, so bring enough for the hike. A high-clearance vehicle is required. Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed. For more information phone the Red Rock Ranger District at 928-282-4119.

Directions: From Cottonwood drive northwest on Main Street and follow the signs toward the turnoff for Tuzigoot National Monument. Turn right onto Tuzigoot Road, continue across the Verde River bridge, and turn left onto Forest Road 131 (Sycamore Canyon Road). From there it’s 11 miles to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

May 2024
Cedar Bench Wilderness

Goat Springs Trail #542 in the Cedar Bench Wilderness is a relatively unknown gem in a remote part of Yavapai County, about ten miles from Camp Verde, but it’s well worth exploring for its solitude and beautiful creeks with cascading water and some small waterfalls.

This hike was with the Skyliners Hiking Club of Cottonwood, and our group was 23 strong, which meant not much solitude, just friendship and fascination with a great hike. But we were the only ones on the trail, and this was on a weekend, so not many make it out here.

One good reason is that you need a high-clearance vehicle, with the last 2.5 miles unpaved and the last mile pretty slow and brutal. A lone fruit tree greets visitors at the parking lot. This moderate hike is about 4.5 miles long, rising 990 feet in elevation. Hike  leader Ron Condon knew that sometimes the brush along this trail, plentiful with catclaw and some cactus, can make its way onto the trail, so he brought clippers and some of the other hikers did too, to help keep the trail clear.

About 1.5 miles in we came to the promised land as we descended into Chasm Creek. This is a great place for snacks or lunch. I started to munch, but was too distracted by the enticement to rock- and boulder-hop my way down to the largest waterfall I could find. I tried to get under it for a photo, but the rock, even though dry, was really slick. I got pretty close, though! As my mind and body rock-hopped, the group was heading for the next destination, so it was time to catch up, without much of a snack. It was only about a half-mile to the first big stop at Goat Springs. This spring the rocks made it easy to cross the stream, making a great place for more photos. With just a brief stop here we were off again.

Less than half a mile on we came to the upper section of Goat Springs, where beautiful clear water made this the perfect place for lunch. One of our hikers found what he believed to be the origin of the spring. Some flowers were just starting to come out, and I can only imagine what this trail would be like after rains.

Cedar Bench Wilderness, part of the Prescott National Forest, was established in 1984 eith the Arizona Wilderness Act. The area protects the large “bench” that divides the Agua Fria and Verde River drainages.

The wilderness area ranges from 4,500 feet to 6,700 feet in elevation, with saguaro at the lower end and Utah juniper and pinyon pine on the heights. It has eight trails covering 32 miles. Two of the other trails are Lower Cedar Bench Trail 540 and Chasm Creek Trail 164.

Not much has been written about the Cedar Bench Wilderness, which is just one more reason you’ll feel you’re in a special place when you visit.

On the way to Goat Springs Trail you’ll pass the new Rockin Ranch State Park on Salt Mine Road, so if you have time that’s another great place to explore.

Directions: From Camp Verde drive east on Hwy 260 to the Oasis Road junction. Turn right, proceed to Salt Mine Road, and turn right again. Follow Salt Mine Road for 7.2 miles before turning slightly right onto a dirt road labeled Forest Road 574. Continue another 1.1 miles and turn right onto FR 9602J. From there drive another 1.7 miles and park in an old mining area along the road. From there we walked up the road about a tenth-mile to the trailhead for Trail 542.

The trail is fairly easy to follow; the only issue is getting there!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

April 2024
Jug Trail, Salome Wilderness

The Jug Trail in the Salome Wilderness offers waterfalls, running creeks, slot canyons and great views of Roosevelt Lake below and Four Peaks above.

Getting to the Jug Trail presents two challenges, however. The first is it’s about a four-hour drive from Prescott, so for us that meant camping out the night before at Roosevelt Lake, which offers its own scenic views.

The second challenge is crossing Tonto Creek near Punkin Center to get to Forest Service Road 60, leading to the trailhead. That can be challenging; snow runoff or heavy rain can turn Tonto Creek into a river, and strand people on one side or the other. This has been a problem for decades, and a bridge is being built for those occasions.

Ron Turner, who works in the Tonto National Forest Supervisor’s office, showed our hiking group where to cross, and several other vehicles were also crossing at this point. High-clearance vehicles are needed, for both crossing the creek and the bumpy Forest Service road.

Turner joined us on the hike, making two Prescott connections for our party — he worked at Prescott National Forest before joining the Tonto team. The second Prescott connection was Carly Taylor, who works at Prescott’s Natural History Institute and was also taken in by the beauty of Jug Trail. The Jug Trail outing was hosted by Wild Arizona, a nonprofit working to protect, maintain and restore Arizona’s 90 wilderness areas. During our hike Four Peaks still had snow on it.

Taylor pointed out that Jug Trail leads to Salome Creek, a perennial stream nestled between red cliffs full of saguaros. “I couldn't believe how lush and green the wilderness was in February after the winter rains, with lots of small herbs and grasses coming up beneath the ocotillos and mesquite. It was a delight to dip my toes in that freezing snowmelt water, surrounded by the wonderful people Wild AZ brought together for the outing. If you can make the treacherous drive through a flood-prone basin and up into the mountains on a dirt road, this hike is well worth doing for the beautiful vegetation and stunning views of the nearby Roosevelt Lake and Four Peaks Wilderness,” Taylor said.

Jug Trail is in the Salome Wilderness, which covers 18,350 acres and was established in 1984, with a low elevation of 2,600 feet and a high of 6,500 feet at the top of Hopkins Mountain.

The higher parts can gather snow and the lower parts can be hotter than 100 degrees. Salome Canyon runs almost the entire length of the Salome Wilderness, which has unique fauna and flora, including the coastal wood fern, usually only found along the west coast.

Jug Trail, about 900 feet higher than Roosevelt Lake, is one of only two trails in Salome Wilderness, the other being Hell’s Hole Trail. The wilderness area is very rugged and prone to flash flooding, which explains its scarcity of trails.

Jug Trail is a moderate seven-mile hike that drops about 800 feet on the way in and climbs that much coming out.

You’ll reach the wilderness sign a bit more than two miles in. After passing through a fence meant to keep cattle in, you’ll see beautiful Salome Creek in the narrow canyon below with its cascading water. After just a few minutes you’ll come to a natural boulder overlook, a perfect spot for lunch, to soak in the sun and tranquility.

From this point on you’re seeing Salome Creek running alongside the trail and figuring how to get down to it. About a mile farther in it’s easy to get down, and most of our party pulled their pant legs up and waded in the cool water. The creek was cold, but enjoyable and relaxing.

This trail is extremely popular among canyoneers, as rappelling is the only way to see the largest waterfall. We didn’t do that as we enjoyed the trek to the creek and back. Salome is also good for fishing, offering brown and rainbow trout, speckled dace, longfin dace, roundtail chub and green sunfish. Thanks go to Wild Arizona volunteer coordinator Nizhoni Baldwin and Wild Arizona conservation associate Sam Baggenstos for leading this beautiful hike.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

March 2024
Barnhardt Trail and Falls

Two main waterfalls, many smaller ones and running streams make the Barnhardt Trail spectacular right now, but don’t wait too long because the water may only be running for little longer, depending on when the snow and rain stops and everything starts drying out.

Up to mid-January it had been so dry that we were hard-pressed to find waterfalls in the Prescott area, so my mission meant traveling two hours south to Camp Creek Falls in Cave Creek one week and to Barnhardt Trail south of Payson the next week.

I’d hiked Barnhardt Trail three or four times previously when it was dry or the waterfall was barely running. But after the moisture came down late in January the trail offered so much water it was incredible.

The creek below is always running, so that wasn’t a surprise, but less than a mile in I began to see small spring-fed puddles, just a hint of what was to come.

Barnhardt Trail starts at 4,200 feet and there was no snow on the trail, but the mountains above rise to well over 6,000, and the snowmelt was causing a gushing runoff.

The farther in we walked on this Prescott Hiking Club-sponsored hike, the more water appeared in the forms of springs, streams, small waterfalls, larger gushing waterfalls, and then the granddaddy, which took a bit of rock-climbing to reach.

The big fall is about 3.5 miles in, making a seven-mile round trip. Those who want to do less can turn around at any point, and for those who want more Barnhardt eventually connects with the Arizona Trail, so you can make it as long as you want.

We hiked about 4.5 miles in, enough to give us a good view of Martian Rock and lead us into Larry Byk’s manzanita forest.

The Barnhardt Trail is in the Mazatzal Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in Arizona, with 205,500 acres spanning parts of Yavapai and Gila counties, ranging in elevation from 2,100 to 7,903 feet at Mazatzal Peak. 

The 240 miles of trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness include the 28-mile Verde River Trail and 29-mile Mazatzal Divide Trail, among 40 trails. The Verde River borders the west side of the Mazatzal Wilderness, with the Barnhardt Trail on the east.

It’s best to hike Barnhardt in March or April, because the lower parts can be too hot during summer and the higher parts too cold in winter, but the absolute best time to hike it is after rain so the waterfall will be running.

Regardless of the time of the year there are great scenic views of the surrounding mountains, with Oak Creek Canyon below. From farther up you can see the Mogollon Rim, and this creek supports sycamores and cottonwoods.

The switchbacks begin at the 1.6-mile mark. You will have climbed about 200 feet to this point, but the trek gets steeper here. Once you reach a natural overlook you’ve climbed 1,920 feet in elevation, to great views of the western Mazatzals.

The hike to Mazatzal Peak is 17 miles round-trip, and it’s generally recommended that you take at least two days. The lower part of Barnhardt Trail includes white and Emory oaks, junipers and century plants. After the 1.5-mile mark you can see velvet ash, Arizona walnuts, sycamores and Ponderosa pines.

After five miles you’ll come to the Sandy Saddle Trail. Barnhardt Saddle and Mazatzal Divide are at 6.2 miles. In another mile you reach 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 old native Mexican word said to mean “land of deer.” The road is a bit rough. Sedans can make it and many do, but a high-clearance vehicle is preferable.

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

Directions: From Payson go south on State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) for 12 miles to Forest Road 419, and look for the trailhead sign on right. Turn right onto FR 419 and continue 5.1 miles to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

February 2024
Organ Pipe

Border Patrol helicopters flying close above, park rangers and signs warning not to go on certain roads or trails, border agents with migrants in custody — this might seem more like the setting for a James Bond movie than a hike. But a pond sacred to the Tohono O’odham with an endangered pupfish, an enticing spring, and indented caves make the trails of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument a fun experience.

If you love cactus, this is the place for you. The monument is home to 32 cactus species, the most compelling being the organ pipe cactus, which springs up like a church organ.

Organ Pipe National Monument is near Ajo, about two and a half hours south of Phoenix thanks to the John Wayne Highway, which cuts through the town of Maricopa 

Several of the film icon’s movies were shot near here.

The monument is also about ten miles from the Lukeville port of entry, which was closed during this Arizona Trailblazers campout hiking weekend. The area felt a little like a ghost town, as driving in meant going through the nearest town, Why.

The first challenge was driving stakes for the group camp into the parking lot’s hard ground. This winter campout would have been fine, with low temperatures of 42 the first night and 38 the second, but cold, hard winds made it feel ten degrees cooler. One camper’s tent blew down, and it was all I could do, with the help of others, to keep my own tent up.

As we set out to the trailhead the next morning, one sign told us about the surrounding rugged mountains and botanically diverse area and its 2,000 plant species, while another cautioned us against smugglers and migrants who might be passing through. We saw none during our stay, but rangers warned that during the hike we should lock up any valuables, including our sleeping bags. I admit I left a cooler with food out, and the thieves that nudged it open to get at my bread and peanut butter were a gang of ravens.

Dripping Springs Trail, not be confused with the one of the same name at the Grand Canyon, is a particularly fun trip. This 1.4-mile trail starts out flat, but soon we were climbing switchbacks in the curve of Puerto Blanco Mountain. As you start up there are some precious cave indentations offering good photo opportunities.

This 382-foot climb results in a gem: the dripping spring. You can walk up to the entry, but deep water greeted us, so we couldn’t get in without getting soaked. A sign at the trailhead warns hikers to wear sunscreen because there isn’t much shade on the trail. The sign also warns to be wary of flash flooding, so we were thankful there was no rain that day. The oasis formed around this rare perennial water source was enough to get everyone smiling.

Our next stop was at Quitobaquito Pond, where the rare Quitobaquito pupfish lives in waters sacred to the Tohono O’odham. The ranger station offers tours with educational sign stations and a small artificial pond for some pupfish. The pond itself is less than a quarter mile from the trailhead, with the border fence just a stone’s throw away.

The 4.5-mile Victoria Mine Trail can also be entertaining for hikers, and there are several others available to hike in the monument.

Our weekend campout and hike drew 24 Arizona Trailblazers to participate. Thanks goes to trail leader Lin Chao for coordinating this challenging, wonderful weekend.

This 330,000-acre monument was set aside in 1937 to preserve a pristine example of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northernmost natural habitat for organ pipe cactus, as well as many amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology and human history. The solitude of the monument is also great for stargazing.

Arizona Highway 85 is the main entrance for the monument.

The park is serene and quiet, especially once out on the drives or trails. The hills surrounding the group sites are literally covered with organ pipe. A short, easy hike along the Desert View Nature Trail along these hills gives an up-close view and information on the plants.

For more information about Organ Pipe National Monument call 520-387-6849.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

January 2024
Badger Springs
Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell

Badger Springs Trail, near the southern tip of Yavapai County, is a different kind of trail because most of the hike is in a streambed.

This isn’t a trail that you’ll want to rush through, because you’ll be either rock- or boulder-hopping. That’s fine because there is plenty to see, which is why Arizona Highways lists it among both its top 52 day hikes and top 13 winter hikes.

The experience of Badger Springs Trail, part of the Agua Fria National Monument, can be quite different depending on how much rain it’s seen recently. When I hiked it with the Arizona Trailblazers it had not rained here for months, leaving the Aqua Fria River mostly dry except for a few water holes.

But that is still just enough to entice wildlife: coyotes, bobcats, pronghorns and 177 bird species frequent the area. During the summer rattlesnakes are plentiful here, so keep your eyes peeled and watch where you put your hands and feet.

One of the main reasons this was established as a monument is its more than 400 archaeological sites related to the Perry Mesa Tradition people from 1250 to 1450ACE.

Petroglyphs and cliff dwellings are among the highlights along Badger Springs Trail. The first mile is flat and leads to the Agua Fria River stream bed, where the hiker can choose whether to go left or right. You can go several miles in either direction. We made it into a just over five-mile hike.

Badger Springs Trail is rated moderate, mostly level, but for those who decide to climb the hills the elevation can go from 3,122 to 4,600 feet.

Just to the left at the junction is a petroglyph worth seeing.

You’ll find cottonwoods, willows and sycamores along the creek. 

Michael Humphrey, trail leader for this hike, said in his preview that the river bed alternates between sandy and rocky terrain, and you pass many little pools of water, some quite colorful. The rocks are polished smooth from the river and consist of mostly granite boulders and slickrock areas, with some occasional lava rocks.

We had lunch where an old aqueduct crosses the river to the Rickenbar mine. Arizona Highways tells me the mining camp was named after well known miner Richard M. Barker. I advise hiking with poles on this trail because of the necessary boulder-hopping. Badger Springs Trail is easily accessible by taking Exit 256 from I-17.

Despite its proximity to the freeway, this is not a heavily traveled trail and provides some solitude for those who seek it. The trail is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and there are toilets on the road to the trailhead.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

December 2023
Chiricahua National Monument

My thirtysomething grandson Scott says that hiking the Heart of Rocks Trail in the Chiricahua National Monument is like being transformed into a hobbit and going to Tibet or stepping onto another planet.

At minimum it doesn’t seem like any other place in Arizona and probably the country, because of its imposing rock formations that swallow the hiker up in the shade. The trail starts at 5,366 feet and goes up to 6,870 feet, making this is a cool fall hike. Arizona Highways rates it as moderate and among the top 52 day hikes in the state.

National monuments are part of the national-park system and there are only three in Arizona: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Chiricahua.

Among Arizona’s 90 designated wilderness areas this is the only name listed twice: Chiricahua National Monument is itself considered a wilderness area, and it borders Chiricahua Wilderness. The monument was established in 1976, covers 25,215 acres and is managed by the National Park Service, while the adjacent wilderness area was established in 1964, covers 87,700 acres and is managed by the National Forest Service. There are more than a dozen trails in this area, so the hiker can find as long or short a walk as desired.

Heart of Rocks is in the monument, but we also connected with the wilderness area at the start of the Bonita Creek Loop, which leads to Bonita Creek Trail. We also drove the scenic eight-mile Bonita Canyon Drive, which tops out at 9,763 feet and gives a great view of the wilderness as well as a short nature trail. Bonita Creek Loop and Massai Trail are short trails that are wheelchair-accessible.

Heart of Rocks Trail is only 1.1 miles, but you have to take other trails to get there, so this becomes a seven-mile hike and links to many other trails. The hike starts with Lower Rhyolite Trail at the monument’s visitor center, where deer and a woodpecker greeted us. The monument is also known as an important area for birdwatching, with resident redtailed hawks, horned larks, loggerhead shrikes, western kingbirds and many other species.

Beginning among Engelmann spruce, ponderosa pine, Apache pine, oak, cypress, sycamore, juniper and Douglas fir, much of the trail is shady among the imposing pinnacles and trees, some still showing off the fall colors when we were there. Not far up the trail the nonprofit Arizona Conservation Corps was doing necessary maintenance on these well kept trails. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the first trail here in 1934.

About 1.5 miles in, Rhyolite Trail connects with Sarah Deming Trail, which leads to Heart of Rocks Trail. The higher you climb, the better the views get of the seemingly never-ending hoodoos. The monument is also designated as an International Dark Sky Park, and I expect it’s amazing on a clear night.

The monument is home to many lizards and reptiles, and during our hike orange-backed mountain spiny lizards were prominent and sometimes posed for us.

The pinnacles took our breath away as we approached. Many of the formations have small descriptive signs. Duck Rock is my favorite, but Kissing Rock is also entertaining. Some of the others are Thor’s Hammer, Punch and Judy and Big Balanced Rock.

Thor's Hammer
Punch and Judy
Balanced Rock

This is Chiricahua Apache land going back hundreds of years. Massai Point was known as Point of Rocks, and the Chiricahua Apaches referred to the pinnacles as ‘standing-up’ rocks. Massai Point is named for a warrior who stole a horse, escaped and was never seen again. Some say he still lives among the standing rocks.

The formations are made of rhyolite, a dense, fine-grained rock of volcanic origin. Fall and spring are the best time for the Heart of Rocks hike. Streambeds parallel much of the early part of the trail, and my only regret about our timing was that due to the recent lack of rain, the streams weren’t running. There are more than 1,200 plant species and varieties of wildlife here, including coatimundi, white-tailed deer and Chiricahua fox squirrel.

The Chiricahua National Monument is 35 miles from Willcox, about two hours southeast of Tucson. From here it’s a long trip, but well worth it. It offers campgrounds and restrooms, and admission is free. For more information, call the visitor center at 520-824-3560.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

November 2023
Kachina Trail

I recently had the opportunity to talk with my friend Don Decker of the Apache nation about what the San Francisco Peaks mean to him and his people. We were doing the interview while hiking the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Trail for the next episode of my video series Preserving Arizona Wilderness, due out November 15 on YouTube.

Listening to Don talk about what the Peaks mean to him and about how the area is sacred to 13 tribes and appreciated by non-Native Americans as well is special.

Don Decker offers a prayer

I have hiked the Kachina Trail at least once a year for more than 20 years because it is such a special place. This hike brought videographer Zach Kline to the trail for the first time, and he was clearly in awe of the natural beauty, stopping often to shoot the beautiful aspens and ferns, the peaks above and the spectacular views of Flagstaff below.

This time we were a little too early for the aspens, but the ferns were in their golden phase, creating fields of gold along the trail.

Don spoke about the significance of the Peaks to the Apache people of the Verde Valley and how the area’s environment plays an important role in his culture. This gave me some pause, thinking about all the hikes I’ve walked on what either had been or remains Native American land, and their importance to our first nations. It’s something to consider whenever we hit the trail in Arizona.

The Kachina Peaks Wilderness, designated by Congress in 1984, covers 18,616 acres. Its six trails include Humphreys Peak, which reaches the highest point in Arizona, Weatherford Trail, Bear Jaw Trail, Abineau Trail and Inner Basin Trail.

The area is named for the katsinas that Hopi tradition tells us live here for part of every year. In midsummer these deities fly from the top of the peaks to the Hopi mesas as clouds, bringing the nourishing rains of the seasonal monsoon.

The Kachina Trail starts at more than 9,350 feet in elevation, and often dips to 8,800 on its many ups and downs. One of the 200-foot climbs coming out in the sun made for a huff and puff. This hike is rated ‘hard’ by Richard and Sherry Mangum in their book Flagstaff Hikes, but the trees provide plenty of shade for breaks, and hikers can turn around at any point.

The trail covers 9.8 miles round-trip, and hooks into trails to Doyle Saddle to the left and Friedlein Prairie Road to the right, so you can make this as long or short as you like. It can be rugged due to its rocky terrain and some scree on parts, but most of the trail is clear.

About three-quarters of a mile into the hike a Kachina Peaks wilderness sign pops up. A bit after that comes the rockiest part of the trail, and shortly after that a small cave appears for another shady break, where the temperature cools by a good 15 degrees.

Most of the flowers are gone by now, but during the summer lupines, firecracker penstemons and other blossoms can be abundant.

The scenic views are incredible. At every break in the trees you can see Flagstaff below and the Doyle and Fremont Peaks above. Even the few areas where the trees have burned over offer great views. Part of the trail had to be reconfigured in the last 18 months because of fire.

I have seen bears, butterflies, horned lizards and many other animals on the trail over the years.

These areas are worth preserving for the beauty they hold, including the landscapes, animals and birds, and I often ponder what might happen to these lands if they were not protected. For me it’s just one more reason to make sure I pack all my trash out and live by the hiker’s creed: leave no trace. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but should be leashed. There are no restrooms at the trailhead.

This is a trail worth spending time on, so bring water and snacks or lunch.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

October 2023
Goldwater Lake Loop and More

Goldwater Lake Loop is a moderate eight-mile hike that offers great views of both Lower and Upper Goldwater Lakes as you walk the shorelines of both.

Both lakes have restrooms and plenty of ramadas for lunching, snacking or just taking a break. Lower Goldwater is much smaller and a lot less crowded, giving those who prefer solitude a good chance at it.

The hike begins at the White Spar Trailhead off White Spar Road. If you go during the weekend you may find the parking lot full and have to park along the road, as many did on my outing. This trailhead, which connects with many other trails, is popular among hikers and groups of mountain bikers, hence the full parking lot.

Much of the hike is wooded, providing shade on hot summer days.

Signs at the trailhead warn that there have been collisions as some take the blind curves too fast. But all the mountain bikers I encountered on the trail were courteous and let us know they were approaching. The trailhead sign says this is also Schoolhouse Gulch Trail 67, connecting with other trails.

The first part that catches the hiker’s eye is the dam below Upper Goldwater, with a long staircase to the top. It would have been fun to go up those stairs, but it’s fenced off.

Views from above and below the dam

The forested area continues, and it’s not long before you come to Lower Goldwater, where a handful of fisherman were enjoying the spot. Flowers can be abundant near the lake.

A nice stream with a couple of small crossovers goes from the lower lake to the dam. More flowers, and then the only hard part of the trail comes on the uphill from Lower to Upper Goldwater. It only climbs about 150 feet, but it’s rocky terrain and you have to watch your footing.

Loop around the entire lake, come back down below the dam and back up this hill a second time before you make your way back to the trailhead sign and the parking lot. The gem is that on the way back you come across a stream in a beautiful little canyon.

Grand Canyon Rim Trail

Another trail to consider is the 14-mile Grand Canyon Rim Trail. This is an especially good walk for those who want to see the Canyon but are not up to going below the rim. There are many access points to the trail, so you can make this as long or as short a hike as you like.

Some parts of the trail are super busy with the millions of tourists who visit the park each year, but on other parts you’ll find next to no one.

Part of the trail goes to the Visitor Center, which offers lots of information about other hikes and the Canyon more generally. The Rim Trail leads to many of the major trails around and into the Canyon.

There is also a free shuttle that lets visitors off at many of the trail’s overlooks and access points, as well as restaurants and artisan buildings.

Big Bang Trail

That’s a great name for a trail, right? This is a new trail off Schultz Creek Road in Flagstaff that connects with many other trails and gives hikers many more options. Mountain bikers love it so pay attention and be ready to move to the side.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

September 2023
East Baldy Trail

Count East Baldy Trail among my favorite hikes. For those willing to make the scenic drive, it’s a slice of heaven.

At 11,409 feet Mount Baldy is the second-highest peak in Arizona, but unlike the tallest, Humphreys Peak (12,637), and third-tallest, Escudilla Peak (10,886), the Baldy Peak trails have water all along them.

East Baldy Trail has the East Fork of the Little Colorado River flowing along the beginning of the trail. The stream is not only beautiful but managed for the endangered Wild Apache trout. Brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout help make this a fisherman’s paradise.

Beaver dams in the East Fork are obvious and abundant, helping create the sounds of the cascading stream.

This is one of the most dense areas in the state for black bear. Mexican gray wolves are in the area as well, along with mountain lions, mule deer, elk and coyote.

Mount Baldy Wilderness is one of 90 wilderness areas in Arizona, and at 7,079 acres it’s among the smallest. There are three hiking trails: East Baldy, West Baldy and the Crossover Trail that connects them.

You cannot get to the top of the trail without a permit because it’s part of the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Please don’t try to do this because this land is sacred and should be respected. If caught you may be fined and your backpack confiscated.

East Baldy climbs from 9,200 to 11,350 feet before you have to turn around, and there are good signs so you know not to trespass on the reservation.

East Baldy Trail begins near a beautiful alpine meadow, but you quickly enter the forest, which includes Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, Colorado spruce and quaking aspen on the upper elevations. Flowers are also plentiful during the summer.

This moderate hike is 14 miles long, but you can turn around at any point. You feel the elevation, but there are plenty of downed logs along the trail that are perfect places for snacks or lunch. The farther you go up the trail the more sandstone formations you find, and you get great views of the surrounding mountains.

This outing was hosted by the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, with some participation by Yavapai County Sierra Club members.

Jenny Cobb, a Prescott resident and active member of Great Old Broads, also served as the gourmet chef for the inexpensive and wonderful-tasting meals the group provided. They made the occasion festive and easier without having to provide our own meals. The drive from Prescott to Mount Baldy is more than five hours, but there are lots of trails, lakes and fun places to stop along the way. Lee Valley Reservoir is just a couple miles from Baldy and offers a serene place to fish, boat or hike.

Mount Baldy is accessible to all vehicles. Dogs are allowed but should be leashed. It’s very beautiful here, so remember to pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

August 2023
Mormon Mountain

The hardest part of the Mormon Mountain Trail is finding the trailhead. The first problem is that the old directions in The Arizona Highways Hiking Guide say to take Forest Road 90 from Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff. I and other hikers couldn’t find Forest Road 90, as apparently it’s been renamed Mormon Mountain Lake Road.

The second problem is that once you’re on Mormon Mountain Lake Road there is no sign on the road for the turnoff to the trailhead. There is a sign for Dairy Springs Campground, however, and that’s where you’ll turn and go six-tenths of a mile to the trailhead.

Mormon Mountain Trail offers a lot of goodies for the hikers who can find it. There are great views of Mormon Lake through the pine forest, and there are aspens and a beautiful meadow toward the top. The trail can have a multitude of flowers at the right time of year, usually in June.

The six- to eight-mile hike rises from 7,233 to 8,449 feet, giving hikers a good workout, especially since the trail is only partly in the shade. This is also not one of Flagstaff’s busier trails, but expect to run into some hikers. Elk and other wildlife also use this area.

Mormon Mountain Trail connects with the Arizona Trail, giving you a 28-mile scamper from here to Flagstaff. Mormon Mountain Trail comes out on Forest Road 648, which leads to the top of Mormon Mountain if you take a right when you come to that junction.

Cool attractions

When it gets too hot in Yavapai County, Flagstaff offers respite on cool-weather trails. Three other trails of varying length that I’ve done this summer are all off Snowbowl Road.

Veit Springs Trail is a 1.6-mile loop to the old Jenks Cabin site. This easy trail has plenty of aspens, and rock art can be found. It also leads to the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area, with a plaque about the naturalist. The elevation at Veit Springs is about 8,500ft.

When I veered off the Veit Springs Trail, along an unnamed trail that follows the power lines, I came on a bear and two cubs. I’d just came down a hill and saw them before they saw me. I blurted out my amazement, and the bears, which had not seen me, scurried away, more afraid of me then I was with them, though they left me with a certain unease. It was an exciting moment.

San Francisco Peaks is a 15-mile round-trip on the Arizona Trail, but it’s in-and-out, so you can turn around whenever you like. This is up at almost 9,000 feet, and while there are a few small ups and downs, there isn’t much elevation change along this trail, one reason it’s my workout trail during the summer — easy to get lots of mileage.

Kachina Peaks Wilderness Trail is one of my favorite trails and I do it at least once year, one of the best trails to do when it’s hot because it’s up at 8,600-9,350ft, and there are plenty of shady spots, including a small cave just off the trail.

Flagstaff Hikes rates this 9.8-mile hike as hard. There are quite a number of ups and downs on this trail. It’s is worth seeing because of the abundance of aspens and ferns that grow more than six feet high during the later parts of the summer.

Unfortunately 4.5-5 miles into the trail last summer’s fire impacted part of this forest. It looks ghastly, and part of the trail has been reconfigured.

Kachina Trail has some wonderful meadows with great views of the mountains above.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

July 2023
Woodchute Wilderness

Each of Arizona’s wilderness areas is beautiful in its own way. The Woodchute Wilderness offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, and the scenery on the trail is amazing — the San Francisco Peaks, Bill Williams Mountain, Kendrick Mountain and Granite Mountain as well as the Mogollon Rim are all on display.

Hiking the Woodchute Trail is different when you’re talking with environmentalist Doug Hulmes. I interviewed him for my video series Preserving Arizona Wilderness.

Doug Hulmes

Wildlife galore

Hulmes is vice chairman of Wild Arizona, an organization that works to preserve and protect Arizona’s 90 wildlife areas, and he played a key role in getting Woodchute established as a wilderness area.

The legislation came through in 1984, not long after Hulmes testified about his 1980 experience with a mountain lion to the House Subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands. Testifying in DC in favor of the Arizona Wilderness Act, he said. “But to gaze into the emerald-green eyes of one of these incredible animals while it was crouching on the limb of a Ponderosa 20 feet above me was a profound experience I will always cherish.” As part of that testimony Hulmes passed to the subcommittee photos of the mountain lion. He had spent 30 minutes watching the 150-pound cat. “It was as great a wilderness experience as any I could ever imagine,” he said.

Beyond lions, Woodchute’s wide array of wildlife includes wild turkeys, which have come within a couple feet of me, and a young coyote came within about ten feet of my car on a recent visit. But the wildlife stories that come from here are mainly about bear, and it’s not unusual to find bear scat along this trail.

I’ve seen bears on other Arizona trails, but not on Woodchute, so I spoke with several who have. One said his dog went up to a bear, which just ignored the dog. Another said that when the bear saw him it hid behind a tree, but still snuck a peek at the hiker.

There are also elk in this area. Horned lizards were plentiful earlier this summer. Golden eagles are known to nest on the rim.

At 5,883 acres the Woodchute is one of the smallest wilderness areas in Arizona. The Woodchute Wilderness Trail is the only one in the area, but it also connects with Martin Canyon. In Martin Canyon the feel of wilderness is obvious, the only sound you’ll hear is the wind. The irony is that Martin Canyon runs along the southern border of the wilderness area, but is not part of it.

Walking on the Forest Service road to the Woodchute Trail is great because you pass the Powerline Tank Wildlife Area, which protects a pond and a beautiful meadow.

Woodchute Trail, part of the Woodchute Wilderness, is a little more than seven miles round-trip. Those looking for more mileage can hook into Rick Tank Trail or Martin Canyon Trail.

Directions: From Prescott Valley, take 89A up Mingus Mountain. At the top turn left onto Forest Road 106, go about half a mile and turn left onto Forest Road 106D. From there it’s about seven-tenths of a mile to the trailhead.

We were filming as part of our Preserving Arizona Wilderness series. There are 90 wilderness areas in Arizona spread out throughout the state. Our first episode was about the Bell Trail in the Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness just outside Sedona. Search for Preserving Arizona Wilderness on YouTube.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

June 2023
Brins Mesa

The Brins Mesa Trail offers great scenery and a nice, moderate workout — for those who can find parking. Parking at the trailhead is indeed the hardest part of this hike. You may be better off just parking down the road or even making the hike a bit longer by walking in downtown Sedona.

The spaces near this popular trailhead fill up quickly, and the narrow road to it has signs all along the right side banning parking. The other side of the road, on the other hand, had no signs, and a few vehicles were parked there, so our Arizona Trailblazers group parked there, as did many other vehicles. But after the hike we were all tagged with bright orange warnings that there was no parking there, either.

Brins Mesa Trail is a six-mile moderate hike that climbs about 700 feet. Some of the climb can be in the sun, making it a bit more challenging in the heat.

We considered making this a seven-mile hike and adding 100 feet of elevation by going up Cibola Pass first, because it can link up with Brins Mesa Trail. But this would have required some bushwhacking, which we decided against as we set out.

From the beginning you’re surrounded by red rocks, and the views of them get better with every step. The red-dirt path, typical of Sedona trails, has natural rock stairs leading hikers to the trail rim.

The views from the top of Brins Mesa are spectacular, and hikers can walk along the rim section of the trail among plenty of boulders that go right up to the edge, creating perfect spots for lunch as well. Just as the trail appears to end, we spotted a cave, and some of us braved the thick brush to enjoy a visit there.

As you near the top of the Brins Mesa Trail there’s a right turn, and on the way back, instead of heading back down, you can extend the hike by going to the right and hiking Soldier Pass and other connecting trails.

Brins Mesa is on an old jeep trail, an open plateau between Mt. Wilson Mountain and Brins Ridge. The trail offers unobstructed views of the Sedona area. It’s is part of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, one of Arizona’s 90 designated wilderness areas.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as an area of undeveloped federal land that appears “to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprints of mans’ work substantially unnoticeable.” Unlike national parks, wildlife refuges and monuments, wilderness designation by Congress provides the highest level of natural-resource protection in the world.

Any portion of a park, refuge, or monument can be designated wilderness. Potential wilderness includes those wild areas that we have yet to crisscross with roads or alter with development. Wilderness is our antidote to the sprawl that consumes our open space.

Hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, photography, rafting, canoeing, bird watching — all traditional uses that rely on non-mechanized access — are allowed in wilderness. Wheelchair access is available where terrain permits.

Activities and facilities such as commercial enterprises, road building, use of motorized vehicles or equipment, power lines and other permanent structures are prohibited in wilderness areas.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

May 2023
Cottonwood Waterfalls

How cool is it to find out about a waterfall that neither you nor most others know about?

It’s not even on the Prescott National Forest map, probably because it hardly ever runs, but it was running like crazy this year thanks to the rain and snowmelt.

A wet winter brings these falls to life.

One group that knows about it is the Verde Valley Skyliners hiking group in Cottonwood. Skyliners refer to it as the Hidden Gem of Cottonwood, or just “the waterfall,” because it doesn’t appear to have a name. So, for this column I’m naming it the Dave Beach Waterfall, because Beach was the hike leader for this trip. The fall is off Black Canyon Trail #114, easily accessed from the end of Ogden Ranch Road. About three miles in you have to go off-trail to get to it. The trek to the fall is considered difficult, but that’s not the case for six of the eight miles. The first three miles in and the last three out are fairly easy to follow, because you’re on clear path switchbacks. At the trailhead the mountains above still had a touch of snow. By the time we reached a gate just a little into the hike, most hikers were starting to switch layers.

Just before you hit the three-mile mark, a nice-sized orange-painted rock appears. Who knows who painted it or why, but it marks a great place to rest before the descent or after the ascent, because the rocks are good to sit on, in the shade of a big juniper.

A painted rock points the way.

The difficult part is the last mile, which drops more than 1,000 feet, with “perilous footing,” in the words of a fellow hiker. Indeed, two of the 13 people in our party fell, fortunately hurting nothing but their pride. I was amazed I didn’t fall myself. Not realizing that there would be tough footing, I didn’t pack my hiking sticks. But another hiker was kind enough to lend me one. Hiking sticks help with perilous footing  and scree on trails. My problem is that I like to carry a camera in one hand and my GPS in the other. As it was I did put my camera in my backpack and dry pack to protect it from damage if I fell.

Once we reached the stream it was clear that the trek was worthwhile, because it was beautiful to behold. Shortly after you rock-hop across the stream, you’ll find the first waterfall. We were in awe.

Then you come across a chain of pools in the canyon, then the second, more impressive waterfall. The beauty of falls, the sight and sound of cascading water, made this a wonderful experience.

Once you leave the switchbacks the trail is not well defined, so you have to both watch your footing and stop periodically to confirm which way the trail is heading.

I would not recommend that you try this trail alone if you’re not a very experienced hiker. On the way out we passed a few people coming in who were not prepared for this kind of hike, not carrying enough water, and some not in shape for the descent. The good news is that these falls are hard enough to reach that practically no one will be going to go there to party. There was no litter.

Black Canyon Trail #114 offers other hiking opportunities as well, with panoramic views of the Verde Valley, the red-rock country above Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks. It makes an elevation gain of over 2,200 feet from the bottom of  the trail to where it meets FR413, making it a good choice for horseback riders and hikers looking for a more challenging route.

The upper portion of the trail enters Gaddes Canyon, where Ponderosa pines grow alongside large walnut and oak trees to create the kind of lush, green canopy not often encountered in this part of Arizona.

Black Canyon Trail #114 connects with several other roads and trails for diverse recreation opportunities across a large area. The trail is 80 miles long, stretching from the boundary of the Prescott National Forest to Carefree Highway.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.

April 2023
Pusch Ridge

Hiking with an Emmy-winning videographer is a different experience. I recently hiked the Sabino Canyon and Palisades trails in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness with Craig Johnson as I was hosting a new installment of Preserving Arizona Wilderness, which is about protecting Arizona’s 90 wilderness areas while illustrating the beauty, natural wonders and recreation available in these places across Arizona.

Pusch Ridge Waterfall

Sabino Canyon is Tucson’s premier recreation area, with trails ranging from short walks to long backpacking trails. We did almost 15 miles that day, while many hikers and runners were doing a 17-mile loop. We stopped at various scenic spots along the way to shoot segments for the video, giving us some views that we otherwise might not have enjoyed. Our destination was the Palisades Trail, where we would find the Wild Arizona work crew. Wild Arizona is a nonprofit, with an office in Prescott, that helps maintain the wilderness areas, and Dexter Kopas’ crew was repairing erosion and clearing debris and overgrowth accumulated since the Bighorn Fire in 2020.

I was pleased to find that the Wild Arizona trail crew included Prescott resident Olivia Weinstein (left).

There is only one spring on the Palisades Trail, so I didn’t expect to see much water, but I got a surprise in that respect.

You have to take the Sabino Canyon Trail to get to the Palisades Trail, and you have to take a shuttle to get to the Sabino Canyon Trail. With the recent rains the creek was overflowing. The shuttle goes over about half a dozen concrete bridges just over Sabino Creek, and the water was gushing in the spillways. Some of these bridges had an inch or two of water over them, but the shuttle and hikers still crossed them safely.

Sabino Creek

Sabino Creek runs along much of the Sabino Canyon Trail, and the rushing water made for many cascading sounds large and small.

Sabino Creek

At 56,933 acres rising from 2,800 to over 9,000 feet in elevation, the Pusch Ridge Wilderness covers a broad range of landscapes, from Sonoran saguaros at the lower end to mountain mahogany, juniper and pinyon pines in the mid-level areas, and Douglas fir and aspens above the 8,000 foot mark. There are 42 trails in the wilderness, with Seven Falls, Pima Canyon and Finger Rock among the most popular. These trails are for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and wildlife viewing.

Pusch Ridge is known for its dry grasslands, deep canyons and dense forests, but perhaps best for its bighorn sheep. On some trails hikers are prohibited from going more than 400 feet off the trail during the lambing season between January 1 and April 30. In 2013 31 adult bighorn were introduced to Pusch Ridge, and the following year two Catalina Mountain bighorns were born, the first in 25 years.

The moderately traveled 10.5-mile Palisade Trail, known for its wildflowers, is considered moderate to difficult. A former wartime internment camp sits next to the trailhead at the northern end, next to Showers Point Group Campground. The Palisade Trail covers part of Palisade Canyon and Pine Canyon. Its only reliable water source is Mud Springs.

Sabino Canyon is a great place to visit now as the flowers will be blooming and the creek will be running for a while, so get down there before it gets too hot!

Craig Johnson pauses for a shot as my grandson Scott looks on.

Our first video in the Preserving Arizona Wilderness series is about Bell Trail in the Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness. Look for Preserving Arizona Wilderness: Wet Beaver Creek on YouTube. We hope to have the video on Pusch Ridge up by April 1.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail.com.