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Monday, February 22, 2016

MINT WASH-WEST LAKE LOOP

MINT WASH-WEST LAKE LOOP
Granite Basin Recreation Area, Prescott
View of Granite Basin Lake from Mint Wash Trail

As a perennial bucket-lister, Granite Mountain Trail #261 lives up to its hype with a strenuous 1,400-foot ascent on a hulking mound of billion year old rock. It's one of Prescott's most glorious hikes, serving up a wilderness summit experience with a substantial side of sweat. Once you've got that one out of your system, there's plenty more to explore around the base of the mountain. In the shadow of the massif's intimidating brow, a maze of looping paths in Granite Basin Recreation Area offer more than 33 miles of easy and moderate rated hike alternatives. The site is cradled in a craggy, forested pocket lodged between a wilderness area and suburbia. Built out with creature comforts like restrooms, picnic tables and a tiny lake, the area's trail complex is family-friendly, well-signed and designed for either short strolls or day-long treks. Whichever trail or trails you select, you'll be walking through a bizarre landscape of volcanic rock outcroppings weathered smooth by eons of exposure. Water trickling though drainages nourishes a mash up of wild mint and cacti huddled beneath tall Ponderosa pines. Like sister trail #261, there are plenty of spots where views of the sprawling flatlands of Williamson Valley and the cloud-brushing peaks of Flagstaff are framed by  tunnels of arching oak.
A detailed map available for download on the forest service web site shows how the trails connect. Here's one circuit that includes a swing by Granite Basin Lake, lots of shade and a high saddle vista point. From the Cayuse Trailhead begin on West Lake Trail #351 and hike 1.2 miles then veer right onto Mint Wash Trail #345. This junction is located just before a road crossing and is signed but easy to miss. Hike 0.7 mile on #345 and turn left on Mint Wash Connector Trail #352. Continue 1.1 miles to the Chimbley Water Trail #348, turn left and hike 0.5 mile to Willow Trail #347, turn right and follow it 0.8 mile back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 4.3-mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 5,400' – 5,770'
HOURS: day-use gate hours vary by season but are roughly sunrise to sunset daily
FACILITIES: restroom, picnic tables.
GETTING THERE:
Cayuse Trailhead:
From downtown Prescott, go north on Montezuma St. (turns into Whipple St.) to Iron Springs Road.
Go 3 miles on Iron Springs to Granite Basin Road (Forest Road 374), turn right and continue 2.4 miles to the Cayuse Equestrian Trailhead on the right. Parking is 0.1 mile up the road.
FEE: $5 daily per vehicle (free on Wednesdays). Bring exact change for the self-serve pay station.
INFO & MAPS: Bradshaw Ranger District, Prescott National Forest, 928-443-8000
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