Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Monday, June 17, 2024

Headwaters Trail


A "beach" at West Clear Creek

Of all the hiking routes that descend into West Clear Creek Wilderness—Willow Crossing, Tramway, Maxwell, and the eponymous West Clear Creek Trail---the Headwaters Trail is the most challenging. The 13,600-acre wilderness spans the Red Rock and Mogollon Rim ranger districts of Coconino National Forest.
Sunrise in seen from West Clear Creek

Along its 20-mile length, which is defined by the steep-walled canyon carved by West Clear Creek, the terrain moves through high desert at its lower edge near Camp Verde where it spills into the Verde River to pine-oak woodlands at its headwaters on the Mogollon Rim near Clints Well.
Headwaters Trail is steep and slippery

Steep, scrappy and often obscured by pine needles, the half-mile Headwaters path makes an abrupt plunge into a canyon-bound stretch of the creek.

Dogwood and willows along West Clear Creek

Sometimes called the Point Trail, the short access path is favored by anglers and campers that hang out on the shady rim 600 feet above the perennial waterway. 
Hanging gardens on West Clear Creek

The climb down is convoluted and slippery, ducking among conifers, oaks and moss-encrusted boulders. The primitive trail drops onto a beach where red-osier dogwood and willows sink roots into the debris strewn water course. 
Anglers and hikes in West Clear Creek

Extending the hike beyond the butt-slide descent involves wading and using foot paths that wend around the creek’s edges in the shadow of towering cliffs.  Exploring may be done either up or downstream.
Wading is required to explore along the creek

From the point where the trail lands on the beach, head left to see the famous “hanging gardens”, limestone cliffs draped with drooping green plants that sway over shallow depressions in the rock walls. Or, go right and follow the waterway to a gallery of ancient rock art. 

Wilderness wonders of West Clear Creek

All told, the stunning scenery of this near the headwaters of West Clear Creek makes the difficulty of getting to it worth the effort.  

LENGTH: 1-mile roundtrip (from the rim to the creek)

ELEVATION: 6,600 – 5,950 feet

RATING: insane

GETTING THERE: From Payson, go north on State Route 87 (toward Pine-Strawberry) to State Route 260. Turn left (west) and continue 3.1 miles to Forest Road 144, near milepost 249. Turn right (east) and go 1.8 miles to Forest Road 149, turn left (north) and continue to a 3-way junction at Forest Road 142. Go right onto FR 142 and drive 0.9 miles to Forest Road 142E on the left---this is an easy-to-miss unmarked road—if you reach Forest Road 142F, you’ve gone too far. Follow FR 142E 2.7 miles to a large, unsigned parking area. Roads are rough dirt and gravel. High clearance vehicles required.

INFORMATION: refer to the Coconino National Forest map, USGS map, Calloway Butte



No comments: