Stunning views of ponderosa pine forests abound at Rim Lakes Vista and Military Sinkhole Vista along this Mogollon Rim trail.
© Nick Berezenko
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Rim Lakes Vista TrailIn addition to the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, this route offers great views, wildlife and an abundance of ozone.
By Keridwen Cornelius
usually, hiking in cool country requires an either-or decision: the shady shelter of a forest ramble, or the panoramas of a vista hike? For those of us who prefer both to either-or, the Rim Lakes Vista Trail on the Mogollon Rim is the ideal choice.
The easily accessible trail begins at a parking lot just off Forest Road 300 — a scenic byway dotted with a series of overlooks that parallels much of the trail.
Marked by blue diamonds (they'll later be white), the trail meanders through a pine-scented forest of ponderosas, Gambel oaks and aspens. In season, it's freckled with yellow and lavender wildflowers.
After a little less than a mile, a cairn marks the spot where the path doglegs right, tracing the edge of the Mogollon Rim along a sun-rinsed woodland path. Here on what seems like the edge of the world, the wind constantly swoops up the Rim, sounding like a distant river. The landscape is textured with feathery grasses, prickly pines and plants with fluttering, petal-like leaves.
Between glances over your left shoulder to catch Rim views peeking through the trees, keep an eye out for elk and deer. You're practically guaranteed to spy Abert's squirrels (you'll know them by their tufted black ears), which depend almost entirely on ponderosas for food and shelter. Speaking of which, you'll be clambering over several of the fallen orange-barked pines as you hike.
As you do, ponder these bits of trivia: You're in the middle of the largest ponderosa pine forest and the second-most lightning-struck area in the world, as well as one of only three pure air ozone belts on the planet. One would imagine all these facts are linked.
Soon you'll see a sign on your right for the Rim Campground. At this point, you have two options. The trail for the next 50 yards is overgrown, but passable. If you deem it too tangled, or simply want to scout out the campsites, walk to the campground, turn left and take the former logging road (now just a flattened path) behind campsite No. 4 back toward the Rim, where it rejoins the trail. Otherwise, continue straight, past the ponderosa stump, being wary of thorns as you hurdle a few fallen trees.
Either way, you'll soon arrive at FR 300's first overlook, Military Sinkhole Vista — a boulder balcony commanding views of cloud-shadowed, pine-blanketed hills.
At about 2.5 miles, you'll reach the paved (read: wheelchair accessible) section of the trail. Penstemon, thistle and other wildflowers add splashes of color as you stroll to the next scenic overlook — Rim Lakes Vista, with its dare-you-to-step-on-me granite outcroppings.
The trail ends at Woods Canyon Vista. If you have two cars, you can start your hike by parking one at the lot there (3 miles by road from the trailhead), so you can shuttle back. Otherwise, retrace your steps, enjoying the Rim views over your right shoulder. They're so stunning, they're worth a second look.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 6.6 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 7,590 to 7,640 feet
Directions: From Phoenix, take State Route 87 to Payson, and then travel east on State Route 260 to the Woods Canyon Lake sign. Turn left into the parking area; the trailhead is to the left of the parking lot, marked by a sign that reads "Trail."
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