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Monday, September 23, 2019


Prescott National Forest
View of Prescott Valley from Smith Ravine Trail
A climb to the top of Prescott’s Spruce Mountain is a standard bucket lister for Arizona hikers. The usual way up is by using the Groom Creek Trail that begins at the busy western base of the mountain off Senator Highway. Although the signature route is a must-do, there’s an alternate, less crowded way to visit the woodsy mountaintop that’s a favorite summer and fall destination.
Smith Ravine Trail No. 297 approaches the mountain from the northeast along ridges and gullies with fantastic views and varying eco-zones. 
A deep woods section of Smith Ravine Trail
The trail hugs the edge of Smith Ravine
Manzanita "little apples" shrubs line the lower trail
The first half-mile of Smith Ravine Trail is open scrubland
The trail ends at FR52A, but you can go on to Spruce Mtn.
Located a couple miles south of the Lynx Lake Recreation Area in Prescott National Forest, the moderate-rated trek begins its ascent on sunny foothills lined with manzanita, scrub oak and yucca. The exposed first half-mile offers views of Prescott Valley and Glassford Hill to the north and the green peaks of the Bradshaw Mountains to the east.
Tall Ponderosa pines shade the trail
Where the trail begins its edgy traverse of the slopes above the deep gorge of water-chiseled Smith Ravine, scrublands gradually merge into shady corridors of Ponderosa pines, Alligator junipers and Gambel oaks.
Hints of fall color on Sept. 22, 2019.
The massive stands of oaks along this trail put on a gorgeous display of fall color in mid-October. Over its 3-mile length, the trail gains more than 900 feet, but the gentle grade makes short work of the uphill trudge.
An artfully-twisted trunk on Smith Ravine Trail
The snafu here, though, is that the constant dips and climbs through gullies and drainages amount to 1,817 feet of accumulated elevation change. As the trails ascends through deep woods, breaks in the tree cover reveal ever-expanding vistas that stretch all the way to Flagstaff.  About halfway through the hike, the trail enters a rich zone of water-loving plants and trees like boxelders, Arizona walnut, berry brambles, Yellow columbine and tangles of wild geranium flowers. This moist, colorful riparian zone is nurtured by Smith Ravine Spring that flows intermittently attracting wildlife, birds and swarms of pollinators. You might encounter the piercing cries of Stellar’s jays and crackling of ravens swooping above as they warn you to move on from this coveted water source.
Oak galls contain insect larva---usually wasps
A huge Alligator juniper clings to the lip of Smith Ravine.
Beyond the spring, the slim trail traces the stone-jumbled head of the ravine before emerging onto a juniper-framed clearing at Forest Road 52A. This is the upper terminus of Trail No. 297 and the turnaround point to a moderate 6-miler. To continue on to Spruce Mountain, pass the gate head left and follow the dirt road 1.4 miles uphill.  The short road hike is fringed with pines, oaks and firs---but no spruce trees. The elegant conifers with blue-green needles that line the mountain’s flanks are actually white firs that were misidentified by early explorers.
Bradshaw Mountains seen from Smith Ravine Trail
Optional road hike leads to Spruce Mountain lookout
Yellow columbine grow near Smith Ravine Spring
The route dips and climbs through several drainage areas
On the summit, picnic tables, restrooms and the Spruce Mountain fire tower provide a convenient rest stop. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 30-foot-high fire tower was constructed in 1936 to keep watch over the Bradshaw Mountains.
The tower is open to visitors when a lookout is on duty, but even if you don’t get to tour inside the tiny cabin, the cliffs at its base showcase equally-impressive panoramic views of surrounding mountain lakes and green valleys.
LENGTH: 6 miles roundtrip or 8.8 miles with Spruce Mountain
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6004 – 6947 feet or 7,693 with Spruce Mountain
From State Route 69 in Prescott, go 5 miles south on Walker Road (toward Lynx Lake) to the trailhead on the right just past mile marker 5.
INFO: Prescott National Forest

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