Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
Going to the tippy-top of Granite Mountain is not for sissies.
The Arizona Highways and other hiking guides listing Granite Mountain Trail 261 don't even talk about going to the top. Instead they turn around at the saddle below the top.
Going to the saddle is still a great moderate hike, climbing about 1,600 feet, offering great views and covering 7.6 to 8.2 miles depending on which parking lot you choose. But the trail to the top adds 3.4 miles round-trip. More importantly, after the saddle the trail intermittently disappears, meaning lots of climbing up boulders. This included route-scouting by the group leaders, and involved bushwhacking and rock-scrambling.
It takes as much time or more to do those 3.4 miles as it does to hike to the saddle and back. The last mile also includes a burnout area left by the 2013 Doce Fire.
Maneuvering up these rocks means a chance for injury, so don't do this alone. I was with twelve other members of the Prescott Hiking Club, and several helped me. I also ran low on energy, so make sure you have water, food and B vitamins for this trek. I also had the kind of energy gel that hikers should
carry in case they run low on gas.
But getting to the top is terrifically rewarding, not just for accomplishing what most people on this trail don't, but also for its 360-degree panorama of the many surrounding mountains, including
the San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick Mountain, Bill Williams Mountain, the Bradshaw Mountains and Sycamore Canyon. You can also see Granite Basin Lake and Granite Dells from several points on the trail. The sheer cliffs of Granite Mountain make it popular among rock-climbers, too.
Hikers are often facing the soaring cliffs of the south face during this hike. Granite Mountain is known to be a nesting spot for peregrine falcons, which can dive up to 200 miles per hour. Because of the nest sites, the Forest Service closes off the cliff areas from February to July. The hike to the saddle takes you from 5,600 feet to 7,185. The tippy-top reaches 7,600 feet.
Our hike began at the Granite Basin Playa Trailhead. Granite Basin Lake is just below the parking lot area, and there’s a restroom here. The day-use area closes at 6pm, but this applies to the entrance gate only; you won’t be locked in if you’re late.
The first 1.75 miles go through a forest of oaks and maples that shone with brilliant colors in early November. Going at this time of year meant some paintbrush were still blooming and a small lizard was enjoying the remaining heat. In summer this trail is known for verbena and other
Not far down this stretch you come across a glassed-in wilderness sign and a sign-in sheet. A few feet later you come to the Granite Mountain Wilderness sign. This is one of 90 wilderness areas in Arizona, and at least parts of 19 of them are in Yavapai County. A now dry stream bed also crosses this area and is known to be beautiful after a rainfall.
After the first stretch you come to a sign directing to you to several trails, including Granite Mountain Trail to the right. The Little Granite Trail and White Rock Trail take off from here in other directions.
This is where you start up the switchbacks, including some rock steps that you have to get over. You’ll see pinon pine, alligator juniper, manzanita, oak and ponderosa pine along the trail. Some of the larger alligator junipers are impressive enough to pause for a look. The upper reaches of the trail include some aspen
About 2.5 miles up, you come to a large boulder in the shape of a shoe. As a wilderness area, hiking and horseback riding are allowed, but no bicycles or motorized vehicles.
Directions: From Prescott, drive west on Iron Springs Road for three miles to the turnoff to Granite Basin Recreation Area, then another four miles on paved road to the recreation area. Park in the Granite Basin Playa Trailhead or the Metate Trailhead. This is a fee area. For more information, telephone 928-443-8000.
Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com. Photos by Stan.