Hiking Yavapai by Stan Bindell
With the road right below and the sound of traffic, the start of the Woodchute Wilderness doesn't seem like wilderness at all, but the farther you go in, the quieter it gets. Once you drop down into Martin Canyon the feel of wilderness is obvious; the only sound you hear is the wind.
It’s a little ironic that Martin Canyon runs along the southern border of the Woodchute Wilderness, but is not part of it.
The Woodchute Trail and Martin Canyon loop are together only about 7.5 miles in length, but it’s a great workout, dropping 1,100 feet going in and climbing about 900 feet back out. The trail takes you up to about 7,300 feet before you come to Rick Tank and the Martin Canyon turnoff.
The Woodchute Trail comes with a history. Timber from Woodchute Mountain fed the copper smelters in Jerome, the logs sliding down by flume.
Today the trail is better known for bear and rattlesnakes. I've never seen the bear, but spoken to a handful of hikers who have. I've never seen a rattlesnake on this trail either, but wild turkey have come right up to me and deer have come within ten feet.
Bear droppings are plentiful along the trail. One hiker told me he was out with his four dogs when he came within 50 feet of a bear. He said the bear saw him and didn’t seem to care, going on about its business. Another hiker said he saw the bear eating berries, and when the bear saw him it hid behind a tree.
If you like spotting wildlife, this is a good choice. I’ve also seen gray foxes nearby and squirrels on the trail, and there are elk in the area regularly. Horned toads were plentiful earlier this summer, and golden eagles are known to nest on the rim.
Where Woodchute Trail offers great vistas, Martin Canyon takes you into shady woodland. The walk on the Forest Service road to Woodchute Trail is great too, passing by Powerline Tank Wildlife Area, which protects a pond and a beautiful meadow for the wildlife.
The hike goes about a third of a mile through a nice Ponderosa pine forest before leading the hiker along a ridge. From there it’s uphill, eventually to a series of switchbacks with a big alligator juniper at the top. Along the way the Ponderosas mix with alligator junipers, gambel oaks and pinion pine.
The views from the Woodchute Trail are amazing, taking in the San Francisco Peaks, Bill Willliams Mountain, Kendrick Mountain and Granite Mountain as well as the Mogollon Rim from different parts of the trail. Sedona, the Verde Valley and Highway 89A can all be seen below the trail.
The Woodchute is one of 90 Arizona wilderness areas, at 5,883 acres one of the smallest. The Arizona Wilderness Coalition defines wilderness as “areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain.” A Forest Service official told me that the Woodchute, unlike many wilderness areas, has not been hit with any large fires. This area is highly vulnerable to fire, so USFS personnel work to keep the brush down and as controlled as possible.
The Woodchute Trail is also part of the Great Western Trail, which allows ATVs and other vehicles to meander off-road through Arizona, Utah, Montana and Idaho.
About 1.5 miles in, you’ll come upon the sign for Rick Tank Trail and Martin Canyon Trail. We took this right turn and passed by a cattle tank (not Rick Tank), where some birds were enjoying the water. From there we soon started the 1,100 foot descent, which is covered with lots of scree, so you have to watch your footing.
At the bottom you come to a jeep road that’s part of the Great Western Trail. There are no signs here. To complete the loop, turn left. Those looking for a little more mileage can find Rick Tank a bit to the right.
The hike gets easier at this point, with plenty of shade, making a great place for a lunch break. Cottonwoods, box elders and Arizona walnuts frame the dry streambeds. This riparian area is supported by subsurface water.
The climb out is not as steep as the descent, with far less scree, but part of it is unshaded, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The water tank you pass on the way out is Hickey Tank, a signal that you still have 1.3 miles to go.
From Prescott Valley, take 89A up Mingus Mountain. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 106, go about half a mile and turn left onto Forest Service Road 106D. It’s about seven-tenths of a mile to the trailhead. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but should be leashed. Horses are also allowed.
Stan Bindell is always looking for good hikes. If you have one, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.