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Monday, April 13, 2015


Traversing a rock wall high above Strawberry Canyon

Fitting squarely into the "who knew" category of Rim country hiking trails, Forest Road #608 (a.k.a. Rock Wall Trail ) is a pleasant surprise hiding in clear view of Highway 87 near the hamlet of Strawberry. The unsigned, unadvertised route follows rugged Forest Road #608 as it clings to flaking limestone ledges below the Mogollon Rim. Ascending more than 1000' through the filtered shade of Emery oaks and Ponderosa pines, the red-earth Jeep route hangs in precipitous knots above Strawberry Canyon and is shored up by artfully constructed stone retaining walls where it bends along the choppy contours of the gaping, conifer-fleeced gorge.
In the beginning, the route is not marked, but once you've navigated through the maze of paths at the trailhead, the rest of the way is simple to follow.
From the trailhead, pass the gate, veer right and follow the power line road 500 feet to a fork just before the road heads very steeply uphill. Turn left here (marked by a green metal post at N 34 24.405, W 111 28.891). From this point, ignore the side paths and veer right to stay on the wide road heading uphill. In just under a mile, the first of the eponymous rock walls stabilizes a hairpin turn. Here, additional fortifications are visible high on the cliffs across the canyon. This is your destination. As the trail climbs, views of the Mazatzal Mountains peek through the forest before it swings onto a scenic, exposed ledge where the road is hacked from wildflower-embellished vertical rock faces. The two- miles-long "walls" portion of the hike ends where the road heads inland at the trail's high point. Although this is a popular turnaround spot, you can opt to follow the "608" signs two more miles through fragrant woodlands to reconnect with Highway 87. Unless you parked a shuttle vehicle here, return the way you came.
LENGTH: 4 miles round trip for the "walls" segment or 8 miles round trip for the entire road.
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6000' - 7160'
Strawberry Trailhead:
From the State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go 17 miles north on SR87 to the trailhead at milepost 270 on the right.  There’s parking for about 4 cars, but additional space is at the Trail #15 lot a few yards up the road on the left.
Forest Road 608 Trailhead:
Continue on AZ87 to just past milepost 277 and park near the FR 608 gate on the right.

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