Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
This is a story of two hikes that are both about ten miles long, but couldn't be more different in terms of difficulty, elevation and terrain.
The first involves three trails, starting with Homestead Trail #305, hooking up with Seven Mile Gulch Trail #9854, and ending with Ranch Trail #62, making a nice loop ending at right about ten miles, 7.5 miles of the trek fairly easy. The other 2.5 miles is rough, though, because it climbs about 1,300 feet, and we went up during the morning sun on a hot day. This trail tops out at 6,687 feet.
To make matters worse, this uphill climb was covered in scree — small loose rocks that we were constantly scrambling over. It's easy to turn an ankle on this stuff if you're not careful. Many in the hiking party were teasing the leader (not me) about the strenuousness of the trek, which left them huffing and puffing. Leaving aside the workout, there is some great scenery along this trail. Homestead Trail parallels Walker Road and Lynx Lake, beginning on the west side of Walker Road. Mountain bikers love this loop, and there were many of them on the trail, winding through ponderosa pine and oak. At just about the two-mile mark there's a monarch-butterfly study area and a tunnel, and the path hooks into Seven Mile Gulch Trail. This loop is also open to motorcycles and ATVs, but we only ran into mountain bikers, who were reliably courteous as they passed. The Seven Mile Gulch section that we were on is through mostly scrub oak, opening to views of the San Francisco Peaks, Prescott Valley, Lynx Lake and Spruce Mountain.
At the top, after the climb, is the junction with Ranch Trail #62. It was a good opportunity time for a lunch break.
Ranch Trail begins with gentle downward switchbacks, a nice relief after the climb. It meanders through a nice forest, and offers great views of Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain.
This hike, while far from solitary, is not among the area's best known. It's not in The Best of Prescott Trails book, which lists many of the area's top hikes.
Groom Creek loop
Groom Creek Loop Trail #307 comes in at 9.1 miles, but you could do it twice and it wouldn't take as much energy as the Homestead loop. Groom Creek Loop Trail also climbs about 1,300 feet, but much more gradually. Groom Creek Trail, which ends at the top of Spruce Mountain, climbs from 6,396 to 7,693 feet at the fire lookout tower.
This loop is the only Prescott trail listed in the Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, which lists 52 of the state's best hikes. Arizona Highways rates Groom Creek Loop Trail as moderate, but the Best of Prescott Trails rates it as hard.
While its proximity to Prescott is one reason for its popularity, Groom Creek Loop Trail is up in elevation and its forest offers plenty of shade during the hot summer. This trail is also known for its scenery; after about the first mile there's a great view of Granite Mountain. But it gives great views of many other mountains as well, including Mingus, Bradshaw and the Mogollon Rim. From the top hikers can see Crown King, Prescott and the San Francisco Peaks.
The Forest Service has placed picnic tables conveniently at the top, so that's where we ate lunch.
During our hike on Groom Creek Trail the New Mexico locust bushes, many the size of trees, were bursting with flowers. and other wildflowers popped up periodically. Due to the spring rains the forest is lush and green right now. Ponderosa pines are dominant, but there are plenty of alligator junipers and some oaks and firs as well.
It's ironic that Spruce Mountain has no spruces on it. Early settlers mistook its white firs for spruces, and so they named it.
Groom Creek Loop is open to horses and mountain bikers, but on this day we didn't see many of either. Boulders periodically crop up, particularly toward the end of the hike. Dogs are allowed on leash. The trailhead is off Senator Highway, accessible by all vehicles.
Groom Creek Loop is part of Prescott National Forest and managed by the Bradshaw Ranger District. For more information phone 928-443-8000. The Homestead, Seven Mile Gulch and Ranch Trails are also in the Prescott National Forest.
Stan Bindellis always looking for good hikes. If you have one, contact him at email@example.com.