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Monday, June 20, 2016


Approaching Little Spring
From the looks of the place, it's hard to imaging a stage coach lurching through the bumpy terrain below the north face of Flagstaff's San Francisco Peaks. Between 1892-1900, the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach line did just that, braving rough back roads to shuttle guests to the South Rim during the summer season.
The stage service is long gone, but portions of its former route live on as footpaths used by hikers, bikers and for ultra running and long distance trekking events. One of the most beautiful segments of the historic trail wanders along the eastern edge of Hart Prairie just outside of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. The hike begins near Little Spring, a popular stop along the stagecoach route that's now part of a national historic landmark. Picking up the trail is a little bit tricky in the beginning. From the parking spot, hike 0.4 mile on an old dirt road to where there’s a split rail fence on the right. Leave the road and hike into the meadow aiming for a pair of fallen logs lying parallel on the ground. There’s a rough 2-track leading to the C. Hart Merriam Base Camp historic marker and the spring. Most of the time, the spring is but a trickling seep full of frogs and No-See-Um flies. The pesky biting insects can inflict irritating (but usually not too serious) stings. Eucalyptus or citronella based botanical repellants help ward off the swarms. To pick up the trail to Bismarck Lake, climb above the washout directly behind the spring then huff and puff your way 500 feet up a steep trail covered in pine needles and mushrooms. At the top of the hill, catch your breath in a sunny, fern-ringed meadow before heading right on paths that lead to the lake.
Little Spring
Bismarck Lake is actually an eroded, water filled volcanic crater that's more puddle than pond. Water levels in the shallow depression vacillate between knee-deep reflecting pool and barely there muddy bog. The soggy basin is surrounded by aspens, basalt boulders and fields of wildflowers in the shadow of Arizona's highest peaks. Although this is a satisfying turnaround point, it's easy to cobble together a longer trek. Just pick up the path on the western edge of the lake and hike 0.2-mile to the Bismarck Lake Trail junction. From here, it's 0.4-mile to the Arizona Trail Passage #34 where you can go right and hike 3.5 miles (8,880' - 9,000') through magnificent aspen forests to Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road or go left for for a 3.7-mile (8,880'-8,280') for a downhill trek through spruce and fir to Forest Road 418.
Bismarck Lake
LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip (spring to lake and back)
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 8,300'-8,800'
Little Spring Trailhead:
From Flagstaff, travel 19 miles north on US 180 to the upper loop of FR 151 (Hart Prairie Road) near milepost 235. Turn right and drive 1.6 miles to FR418, veer right to stay on FR151, set your odometer and continue 2.4 miles to an Forest Road 418B and a sign indicating Little Spring on the right. You can drive it up to 0.25-mile, but it’s narrow and nasty. Find a place to park, before the “road closed” gate.

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