Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


OAK SPRING TRAIL Tonto National Forest Gorgeous Oak Spring Canyon is a hidden gem buried in a rocky gorge beneath the Mogollon Rim. Both the Oak Springs trail #16 and nearby Walnut trail # 251 have been incorporated into the state-traversing Arizona Trail. These two trails combine for a 12-mile segment of shady hiking with great views of the rim as well as a plethora of historical and geological points of interest. From the easy-to-access Pine trailhead north of Payson, the Oak Trail begins in a coniferous woodland that has been thinned as part of forest management efforts. After a half-mile of hiking, the trail crosses Highway 87 and enters a ranch area with overhead power lines. This part of the hike is not very scenic, but hang in there—the best is yet to come. Past the ranch, the trail takes on a moderately steep climb to the high ridgeline above Pine Creek before plunging 250 feet into Oak Spring Canyon. Although the trip downhill is just over a half-mile in length, it drops more than 400 feet via a series of steep switchbacks. Once on the canyon floor, continue hiking through the narrow, wooded gorge, over a dry wash lined with twisted vines and Bigtooth maple trees to the Walnut Trail junction. From here, head left and follow the signs to the spring where there’s an old concrete trough that collects the precious water that percolates to the surface from underground caches. Highlights: Canyon hike to a lush spring-fed woodland with corral ruins. Length: 8 miles round-trip Rating: moderate Elevation range: 5,600’ – 5,180’ Driving distance from Phoenix:115 miles one-way Getting there: From Payson, go north on Highway 87 for about 12 miles to the Pine Trailhead, which is located roughly 2 miles north of “Control Road” and the turn off for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Information: (602) 225-5200 or


KEYHOLE SINK Kaibab National Forest In a peaceful alpine meadow framed by a wispy band of aspen trees, lies a “perfect storm” for hunting. From within the 40-foot-high, crescent-shaped granite fortress of Keyhole Sink, there is no easy escape route for the game animals that come to drink from the pools of water that collect at the base of the knobby cliffs. Ancient hunters played this to their advantage by simply perching on the escarpments above the water and waiting for their “dinner” to arrive. A frenzy of 1,000-year-old etchings on the vertical monolithic walls documents the stalkers’ conquests. Dense and cluttered, the rock art seems to vibrate with laughter and celebration. The ashen, stony walls chatter with images of deer, elk, bears, turtles and birds with a spattering of human forms applauding the triumphs of many very good days. Highlights: Easy trail, hundreds of petroglyphs, interpretive signage. Length: 2 miles round-trip Rating: easy Elevation range: 7,100’ – 7,000’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 180 miles one-way Getting there: From Flagstaff, go west on I-40 to the “Parks” exit (#178). Connect with Historic Route 66 and go west (left) to the Oak Hill Snow Play Area on the left. The trailhead is located across the road from the parking lot at a signed gate. Information: (928) 635-8200 or


WEST CLEAR CREEK TRAIL Coconino National Forest
UPDATE: Bull Pen will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013  for day use (6 a.m. - 10 p.m.) only.
UPDATE: As of May 23, 2013, FR 215 will be closed.  Contact the Red Rock Ranger District for more info at 928-203-7500. Break out the Gore Tex and wading sandals because you’re gonna get wet on this one! Four challenging, thigh-deep creek crossings along this beautiful trail make the going a real delight! Parts of the trail parallel the sycamore and reed-lined, banks of West Clear Creek while other segments climb along desert ridges hundreds of feet above the water. Washouts make finding the trail kind of tricky in places, especially in the first two miles so watch carefully for cairns tucked in the shadows to keep on the path. From its origin on the Mogollon Rim, the creek cuts a deep gorge through some of the most spectacular terrain in Arizona. Entirely canyon bound, the most scenic segments of the trail pass through soaring limestone and russet sandstone cliffs that cast rich reflections onto the deep pools of icy water that flow serenely at their bases. Hiking sticks come in handy for where the path traverses boulder-strewn wash areas and slick river rock. Although there are many hiking options in the area, including hike-swim-backpacking adventures and a grueling 2,000-foot climb to the top of the Rim, many hikers opt to turn back at the 4.5 mile point where the canyon narrows and the water becomes too deep to wade. Length: 9 miles round trip Rating: moderate Elevation change: 500 feet Getting there: From Phoenix, take I-17 north to exit #285, (General Crook Trail). Go right (east) and continue for 2 miles to the Highway 260 junction. Turn right (east) at the junction and proceed for another 6 miles to just past milepost 226 and then turn north (left) onto FR 618. Continue on FR 618 for 2.2 miles to the signed turn off for the Bull Pen area and FR 215. Turn right (east) onto FR 215 and continue for 3 miles to the wooden “Bull Pen” sign. Turn left at the sign and go another two-tenths of a mile to the corralled parking area. The trail starts at the gate near the restroom. The dirt roads are passable by sedan, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Information: (928) 527-3600


Vulture Peak Wickenburg On a good day, the wind funnels through the jagged rock spires of Vulture Peak at a velocity that coaxes music out of the saguaros that cling to the cliffs. Saguaro spines, when stroked by a healthy breeze, sound something like muffled harp strings or, that weird plant that drove Spock nuts in a famous episode of Star Trek. The eerie soundtrack is apropos for the otherworldly appearance of the Vulture Mountains, especially at dawn and dusk, when sunlight washes the rhyolite heaps in a veil of russet alpen-glow. Jutting abruptly out of the Upland Sonoran Desert the 3,658-foot-high behemoth formed during the epoch when saber-tooth cats roamed the land. Teddy Bear and Buckhorn cholla as well as massive saguaros multiply profusely in the water-retaining, porous rock along the trail. Steep in places, but easy to follow, the maintained trail ends at the saddle between saw tooth escarpments and the summit ridge. A 250-foot vertical rock scramble to the summit rewards with views that assure us, that despite the extraterrestrial sights and sounds, Vulture Peak is one of planet earth’s exquisite creations. LENGTH: 4 miles RATING: moderate ELEVATION GAIN: 1200 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, travel west on I-10 to Highway 303 (Cotton Lane). Go north on Highway 303 to US 60 and head west toward Wickenburg. Continue on US 60 through the center of town then turn left onto Vulture Mine Road and go 6.5 miles to the dirt turnoff for the trailhead between mile markers 19 and 20.


VEIT SPRINGS Coconino National Forest Short in length but long on interest the Veit Springs trail is an under-appreciated gem of a hike. An interpretive sign at the trailhead offers insight to the many attractions along the way, including two springs, a pond, several old buildings, a monument to conservationist Lamar Haines and a gallery of Native American petroglyphs. Easy on the feet and well marked, the hike wanders through stands of spruce, fir and aspens with views of the San Francisco Peaks emerging through the canopy in several scenic spots. At 8,600 feet of elevation, this trail also makes a good acclimation hike for the Humphreys Peak or Kachina Trails that are located further up the road. LENGTH: 1.6-mile loop RATING: Easy ELEVATION GAIN: 60 feet GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north for 7.3 miles to the Snow Bowl Road (near MP 223). Turn right onto Snow Bowl Road and continue for 4.5 miles to a parking area on the right. Look for the “Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area” sign that marks the beginning of the hike.

SITE ADMINISTERED BY: Arizona Game & Fish Department


HUCKABY TRAIL Sedona Hugging the scenic red-rock ridges of Bear Wallow Canyon, the Huckaby Trail is a well-maintained, easy-to-follow urban path. The trail’s proximity to town attracts lots of visitors and it’s not unusual to encounter crowds during the first half-mile of the hike. After that, though, the masses thin out and the trail dips into a sandstone canyon, leaving obvious signs of civilization behind. Along the way, agaves and pinion-juniper frame classic “Sedona” views that feature vividly colored soaring cliffs and impossibly blue skies. At about the two-mile point, the trail descends to Oak Creek where strategically-placed stepping-stones make crossing the water a cinch. Once over the creek, the trail continues for another half-mile to the turn-around point for this hike where Midgly Bridge and the pine-studded for slopes of Wilson Mountain hover overhead. LENGTH: 5 miles round-trip RATING: easy ELEVATION GAIN: 300 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take I-17 north to the Highway 179 exit for Sedona. Head left on Highway 179 and continue into Sedona and then turn right onto Schnebly Hill Road. Continue on the good gravel bi-way for just under two miles and then turn left into the “Margs Draw/Huckaby Trailhead” parking lot. A Red Rock Pass is required to park, but the clean restrooms and interpretive signs at the trailhead make the $5 daily fee per vehicle a bargain. The passes are available at self-serve machine in the parking area.


MASSACRE GROUNDS Superstition Wilderness UPDATE: The forest service has closed the access road to the Massacre Ground trailhead (Forest Road 28). Hiking in the area is still possible with access via the Crosscut trailhead. However, route-finding skills are essential. If you could pick a place to be slaughtered this is about as good as it gets, but, there’s not an ounce of gold or scattering of bones to be found along the informal path that leads to the site of a famous ambush in 1848 where a group of Spanish miners met their demise at the hands of a band of irate locals. Gory history not withstanding, the expansive solitude and varied path make this trail a real treat to explore. Climbing gently along a well-worn path, the route winds through the remnants of 35-million-year-old volcanic activity. Contorted lava flows, volcanic necks and rugged washes shaded by desert trees and shrubs complement wide-open views of the surrounding wilderness. Four Peaks Mountain is a constant feature on the horizon. The trail dead-ends at the massacre site where a hoodoo-encrusted ridge shades a deep, narrow canyon below. Views of the rock formations of Lost Dutchman State Park get up close and personal, and there are many informal spur paths to add length to the hike. LENGTH: 3 miles round trip ELEVATION: 2100 – 3200 feet RATING: off trail, route-finding required GETTING THERE: UPDATE: it is now necessary to begin this hike from the Crosscut Trailhead. The road leading to the old Massacre Ground TH (FR 28) has been closed. Hike at your own risk. From Phoenix, head east on Hwy. 60 to Apache Junction and take the Hwy. 88 (Idaho Road) exit. Continue left (north) on Hwy. 88 past the Lost Dutchman State Park to First Water Road where there is a “First Water Trailhead” sign. Turn right onto First Water Road and continue for just under a mile to unmaintained FR 78. There’s a sign at the junction that says, “congested area, no target shooting” and also a “no camping” sign. Turn right onto FR 78 and follow it heading southwest for 0.6-mile to the Crosscut Trailhead on the right.
INFO: Mesa Ranger District, Tonto National Forest, 480-610-3300


GO JOHN TRAIL Cave Creek Regional Park Located just minutes from metro Phoenix, Cave Creek Regional Park offers easy access to pleasant desert hiking. Over 11 miles of well-maintained, shared-use trails criss-cross the park’s varied terrain and on most weekends, hikers can expect to encounter horseback riders, trail runners, dogs on leash and mountain bikers. Trailhead signs warn of snakes, but encounters are rare. The Go John loop twists through ravines, washes and ridges with terrific views of the area’s mesas, buttes, ancient rock formations and desert flora. There is little shade along the way. If you get lost on the trail, you are truly an unworthy hiker because junctions are clearly signed and trails are obvious. Its proximity to town makes the trail quite popular with the locals so it’s essential to arrive early and observe trail etiquette -- hikers must yield to uphill traffic and horses, while bikers, who are supposed to yield to all, rarely do. LENGTH: 5 mile loop RATING: easy ELEVATION GAIN: 800 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, travel north on I-17 to the Carefree Highway exit. Head right onto Carefree Highway and continue to 32nd Street. Turn left onto 32nd Street and follow it to the entrance to Cave Creek Regional Park. Once inside the park, follow Cave Creek Parkway to Tonalite Drive. Turn left onto Tonalite and follow the signs to the Go John trailhead. There’s a $5 daily fee per vehicle. Bring the exact change for the self-serve pay station at the park entrance.


GORDON CREEK FALLS Payson Just minutes from downtown Payson, in a fragrant ponderosa pine forest, Gordon Creek Falls spills over a 25-foot escarpment into a cool swimming hole. This pine-shaded outdoor spa puts on its best show during spring snow melt season and after heavy monsoon rains. SEE MY 2010 ENTRY FOR A VIDEO OF THE BOX CANYON WATERFALL. Best season: March-May Elevation: 6,200’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 125 miles northeast Getting there: From Phoenix, go north on SR 87 to the intersection with SR 260 in Payson. From there, go east (right) on SR 260 for roughly 25 miles to Colcord Road (Forest Road 291) near milepost 277. Turn right and go southeast for 1.3 miles and park in a turnout near a green gate just south of some power lines. To get to the falls, hike down FR291 a few yards to a road that’s blocked with a “road closed” sign. Shimmy under the fence (it's legal) and hike down the dirt road. Pass through a gate and go left at the crossroads. At the second fork, go right. Turn left at the third junction and continue to the creek. From here, go right and follow the creek to the falls. Total one-way hiking distance to the falls is 1.5 miles. Information: Tonto National Forest (928) 474-7900 or


ROCK CROSSING Coconino National Forest Rocky jetties, bizarre crystal-encrusted limestone formations and a shallow cave are just a few of the attractions to be found along the Rock Crossing Trail #18. Divided into three segments, the path traverses the many fingered coves and secluded fishing spots surrounding Blue Ridge Reservoir (recently renamed C.C. Cragin Reservoir). The hike begins with a mild descent along the cliffs that hover above the water. On the way down, a fringe of lithe oak trees sway over a lagoon like an overdressed, out-of-sync chorus line scribbling willy-nilly reflections upon the impossibly blue surface of the water. Where the trail meets the reservoir, a limestone grotto ringed with soft grasses and manic splatters of blue-violet-colored fleabane vie for attention just inches from shore. Here, chunky boulder piers pierce the shoreline inviting sunbathers, anglers and hikers to sit a spell and enjoy the solitude. Highlights: Rocky beaches, crystal-encrusted limestone walls and a shallow cave. Length: 1 mile round-trip Rating: moderate Trail elevation gain: 250 feet Elevation range: 7150’ – 6,900’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 160 miles one-way Getting there: From Payson, go north on Highway 87 to Forest Road 751, which is located 4 miles north of Clints Well just past milepost 295. Turn right on FR 751 and continue for about 3.6 miles (past the Rock Crossing Campground) to the trailhead on the right side of the road. The maintained dirt roads are passable by sedan. Refer to the forest service website for alternate access points. Information:
Coconino National Forest:


LAWS SPRING Kaibab National Forest For thousands of years, the turbid, but reliable waters of Laws Spring have sustained wave upon wave of indigenous peoples and newcomers alike. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this tiny natural wonder, tucked into a volcanic ravine, has played host to a slew of quirky episodes in American history. We know this because archeologists and modern historians have used hundreds of rock etchings on the basalt boulders that line the Laws Spring trail to reconstruct the area’s transition from prehistoric hunting ground and spiritual center into a way station for thirsty Europeans blazing westward trails. The petroglyphs range from prehistoric, wind-scoured scrawls of elk and mysterious spirals to modern etchings pecked into the smoky-black rock veneer to denote the location of the spring. Near the end of the trail, above a muddy pool, a bronze placard mounted to a boulder gives a concise history of the area, which was created in a volcanic cataclysm and steeped in colorful chapters of Americana on the harsh, dusty flatlands of the Kaibab Plateau. HIGHLIGHTS: Ancient rock art, historic marker, muddy spring-fed pool. LENGTH: 0.5-mile round-trip RATING: easy  ELEVATION: 6,900’ – 6,850’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 185 miles one-way GETTING THERE: From Flagstaff, travel west on I-40 to exit 171 (Pittman Valley). Drive north on Forest Road 74 for 7.7 miles to Forest Road 141. Go right on FR-141 and continue for a half-mile the intersection with Forest Road 730. Head left on FR-730 and go 2.25 miles to Forest Road 115. Turn left onto FR-115 and follow it for roughly 2 miles to Forest Road 2030. Follow FR-2030 for just under a mile to the circular parking area and the sign for Laws Spring. Information:


JUNIPER SPRINGS Juniper Mesa Wilderness It’s a long, uphill haul to the springs that nourish a peaceful green meadow beneath the summit of Juniper Mesa. However, spectacular valley views on the way up will buoy your spirits and fuel your determination to get there. As the rocky path gains elevation along an exposed ridgeline of weathered granite megaliths, an expansive landscape of the vibrant green forests and prairies of Williamson Valley roll out below, melting into a horizon of gently rolling blue hills. The Juniper Spring trail # 2 offers the easiest access to this rugged and remote wilderness area. The first mile or so of the trek wanders through a wonderland of mica-encrusted cliffs and ledges, wild roses, alligator juniper and Douglas fir as it climbs to the wilderness boundary at the base of the mesa. From there, the crumbling sandstone trail dodges in-and-out of shady thatches of juniper and pine trees before emerging into a bucolic meadow where ice-cold water trickles into a rustic metal tank and trough. Highlights: Splendid views of pastoral Williamson Valley, granite cliffs, and an old corral near a flowing spring. Length: 8 miles round-trip Rating: moderate Trail elevation gain: 1,000 feet Elevation range: 5,100’ – 6,100’ Driving distance from Phoenix: 155 miles one-way Getting there: From Prescott, take Williamson Valley Road (also signed as Forest Road 6 and County Road 5). Follow this road for 38 miles to the junction with Forest Road 95. Go left (west) on FR 95 (also signed as County Road 125 and Walnut Creek Road), which is located just past a single-lane bridge. Continue west on FR 95 for 1.5 miles to Walnut Creek Station. The trailhead is two-tenths-of-a-mile beyond the station. Information: (928) 777-2200 or

Monday, January 5, 2009


GOWAN TRAIL Tonto Natural Bridge State Park Payson Several short trails within Tonto Natural Bridge Park lead to scenic lookout areas but it’s the Gowan trail that gets you to the really good stuff. A short but steep descent down a well-maintained dirt trail leads into a ravine where the world’s largest natural travertine bridge is tucked into a tiny canyon. Millions of years in the making, the 400-foot-long tunnel’s walls display the errie calcite formations: dripping like stretched hardened taffy/frosting hanging in ozzing layers from the ceiling that’s nearly 200-feet high. Thick spilled paint. Spring water drips from the ceiling and over the rim into Pine creek vivid green mosses and water plants forming ponds and puddles in the echoing sound of dripping water….humid and moist. The passage through the tunnel is marked by tiny brown trail arrows on the boulders. Worn to a slippery sheen by thousands of visitors scrambling over them, the boulders under the bridge create a tricky maze. Sturdy hiking boots with non-slip soles are needed to keep on balance. Park rangers are on duty to answer questions and help hikers negotiate the quirky trail. Signs advise explores in the tunnel to stay out of the water and off the vegetation. The beauty of this natural wonder is no secret and when visiting on the weekends, you can expect to encounter crowds. LENGTH: 1 mile round-trip RATING: moderate ELEVATION GAIN: 200 feet GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, take Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) north for 90 mile sto the town of Payson. From the intersection of Highways 87 and 260, continue on 87 north toward the town of Pine for another 10 miles to the signed turn off for the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Turn left and follow the paved winding byway downhill to the park. There’s a $3 entry fee per person and you’ll find restrooms and a small lodge and gift shop. Roads are paved all the way. The park is open during the summer months from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. INFORMATION: (928) 476-4202