Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
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.
Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at email@example.com
Photos by Stan.