Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
On Willow Trail 347/345 in the Prescott National Forest Recreation Area the flowers are out — and so are the rattlesnakes.
Yellow daisies are the most abundant on Willow Trail right now, in large bright groups that really stand out. The flowers on the cedar bushes are also plentiful, spreading a wonderful aroma. Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers also draw the hiker's attention.
Attention is needed on this trail because it's known for rattlesnakes, and during my day on the trail one rattler was lying right in the middle of it. The warm, active snake rattled at me and quickly moved away into the brush. It's best to stay back, then pass quickly when you can.
Willow Trail, not be confused with Willow Lake, is part of the Granite Mountain trail system. At some points the hike offers great views of the mountain's east flank.
The route offers little shade, and the rattlers like the hot sun beating down on them, so the hiker may prefer to go in the morning or evening to beat the heat. Pine, juniper and brush frame the trail, but not enough for much useful shade.
At the trailhead a sign warns of hidden curves on the trail, asking mountain bikers and horseback riders to slow down. Just ahead of the curves other signs give reminders.
On my Saturday there were few hikers and a good number of mountain bikers and horses. At times it was so quiet you felt you were out in wilderness, but every half mile or so knots of bikers or riders would come by. All I met were courteous and practiced social distancing, and slowed down to let me know they were coming.
This trail has little change in elevation, so the only challenges can be the heat or length of the trail. It's a ten-mile loop; if you want to do less, you have to turn around and go back before the halfway point. For those willing to go the distance, 347/345 also go to Williamson Valley, with the last part of the hike along Mint Wash to Granite Basin Lake. For those who want more mileage, this trail connects with many others.
Willow Trail usually lacks water, so be sure to take enough. About three miles in I reached a spot that's usually pretty dry, but thanks to this year's rainfall it had just about an inch of water trickling through it. This is also where I found the largest cloud of butterflies on the trek.
The route begins in the Cayuse day area off Granite Basin Road, on the south side of the parking lot, where there are signs for Trails 349 and 346. Take 346, following an old vehicle track for four tenths of a mile, which goes up to a saddle overlooking Granite Basin. Go through the metal gate and follow a short fence line to another metal gate. This is the beginning of 347. About six miles into the hike you'll reach Trail 345.
Stan Bindell is always looking for good hikes. If you have one, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org