The Mazatzal Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in Arizona, with 205,500 acres spanning parts ofYavapai and Gila County with a low elevation of 2,100 feet to a high of 7,903 feet at Mazatzal Peak.
There are 240 miles of trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness, including among 40 trails the 28-mile Verde River Trail and the 29-mile Mazatzal Divide Trail. The Verde River sits on the west side of the Mazatzal Wilderness, and Barnhardt Trail south of Payson is on the east side of this wilderness.
The Barnhardt Trail offers a great glimpse of part of the Mazatzal Wilderness, rising from 4,200 feet to 6,200 feet. Hikers can go as far as they like on this trail, but it’s common to do the 6.6-mile trek to the intermittent waterfall.
It is best to hike Barnhardt Trail in March or April, because the lower parts can be too hot during summer and the higher stretches too cold in winter, but the absolute best time to hike Barnhardt is after a rainfall, when the waterfall is running.
During a recent trip the waterfall was dry, but big yellow cactus flowers were blooming and lizards were plentiful. Regardless of the time of year, there are great scenic views of the surrounding mountains and Oak Creek Canyon below. Further up, the Mogollon Rim comes into view.
The Barnhardt Trail sign is just five-tenths of a mile from the parking lot; this is important because three trails start from that lot. One of the other trails here is Y Bar Basin, also part of the Mazatzal Wilderness.
Hikers will find the Mazatzal Wilderness sign three-fourths of a mile in. Not far from here, the deep canyon with a stream can be seen below. Sycamores and cottonwoods guard this creek.
At the 1.6-mile mark, the switchbacks begin. You have climbed about 200 feet to this point, but the trek tuns steeper here. Once you reach a natural overlook, you have climbed 1,920 feet, reaching views of the western Mazatzals.
If you’re going to Mazatzal Peak you will walk 17 miles round-trip, and I recommend you take at least two days to do it. The lower Barnhardt Trail includes white and Emory oaks, junipers and century plants. After the 1.5-mile mark you’ll spot velvet ash, Arizona walnuts, sycamores and Ponderosa pines.
After five miles you come to Sandy Saddle Trail. Barnhardt Saddle and Mazatzal Divide are at 6.2 miles. In another mile you’ll find Chilson Springs, one of a few places along the trail that usually has water. Windsor Spring Saddle comes up at 8.5 miles.
Mazatzal is an ancient native culture in Mexico, the word meaning “land of the deer.” The road in is a bit rough. Sedans can make it and many do, but you’ll prefer to have a high-clearance vehicle. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but should be leashed. Horses are prohibited here.
The Mazatzal Wilderness is part of the Tonto and Coconino National Forests. Barnhardt Trail is managed by the Payson RangerDistrict. For more information call 928-474-9000.
Directions: From Payson go south on State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) for twelve miles to Forest Road419 (look for the trailhead sign on the right). Turn right onto FR419 and continue 5.1 miles to the trailhead.
Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com