Hiking Yavapai

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

January 2021
Oaks and Willow Trail

So when was the last time you saw snow in the Prescott area? During an early December hike on Oaks and Willows Trail in the Juniper Mesa Wilderness, a smattering of snow was left from the small snowfall a couple weeks earlier. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, so there was nature's artful contrast of snow and leaves.

Oaks and Willow Trail is best done in spring or fall, because it can be too hot in summer, cold in winter and it is not an area where you want to be when the snow falls, because it’s pretty remote. The trail starts at about 5,900 feet and tops out at 7,027 feet, so there is more snow as you go up. It’s a good representation of the rest of the Juniper Mesa Wilderness, which rises from 5,650 feet to 7,050. It’s is off the beaten path, offering solitude along with large old-growth junipers. Some of these trees are more than a thousand years old.

Juniper MesaWilderness is worth preserving because of its abundant wildlife, diversity of plant life and unique geology, including exposed limestone, sandstone, granite and basalt. The vegetation includes mountain mahogany, skunkbush and manzanita.

For wildlife there are mule deer, turkeys, elk, javelinas, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, grey foxes and badgers. Bats, raptors and many songbirds are found here, including the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo. Golden eagles are seen here, too.

Snakes are plentiful, most notably the threatened Mexican garter snake.

Juniper MesaWilderness covers 7,566 acres of steep canyons and rolling hills, and was established in 1984. You get a nice workout as the trail climbs about 1,200 feet in the first two miles, then you flatten out for about a mile and a half before dropping 700 feet over the next two miles. And then you start the climb back out.

About a mile into the trail, you’ll pass through George Wood Canyon along a dry stream bed.

This trail is in the northern end of the Prescott National Forest. Pinyon pines, oaks, Utah junipers, alligator junipers and Ponderosa pines are among the trees found along the trail. When you reach the top, a sign relates that if you walk parallel to the trail into the woods, you’ll find a huge juniper.

The views from different points on the trail include Apache Creek Wilderness, Granite Mountain, Woodchute Trail, Sycamore Canyon, Kachina Peak, Kendrick Mountain and Bill Williams. You can get a good sense of wilderness surrounded by all this greenery.

Other trails link into Oaks and Willow Trail, including the Juniper Mesa Trail, intersecting at the highest point on Oaks and Willow. Toward the top there’s also a sign for Happy Camp Trail, but I couldn’t see the path.

Juniper Mesa Trail is six miles one-way, and Juniper Springs Trail is three miles. At the end of the trail there’s another wilderness sign, and you’re not far from Pine Spring. If you want just a little more mileage, go straight ahead.

Arizona Highways counts Oaks and Willow among its 52 best day hikes, rating the 11.5-mile hike as moderate.

Juniper Wilderness is used by hikers, hunters and equestrians. Wildfires have not impacted this area much, leaving Forest Service officials concerned that fire could spread quickly here in the future. There have been 20 fires over the last 26 years. That sounds like a lot, but most have been less than one acre, and most are lightning-caused, which the Forest Service lets burn as long as they don't affect nearby landowners.

Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed. This trip is accessible to all vehicles in good weather. Part of the road to the trail is washboard.

For more information, telephone the Chino Ranger District at 928-777-2200. Directions: From Prescott, drive north onWilliamson Valley Road for 22 miles to where the pavement ends. This is Forest Road 6. Take that for 14 miles to the junction with County Road 125, and continue for 1.5 miles to the Walnut Creek Ranger Station. From there go west on Forest Road 150 for 3.7 miles to the fork in the road, bear right and continue on Forest Road 150 for 2.8 miles to the trailhead.

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