Fern, aspen and pine groves line the
San Francisco Peaks segment of the
© Robert Stieve
>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.
Editor's Note click to expand
hikes to overnight
To order, call
or click here.
Arizona TrailOf all the routes along the Arizona Trail, segment No. 34 in the San Francisco Peaks is the best bet for summer.
By Robert Stieve
"Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish."
John Muir, the renowned conservationist who wrote those words in January 1896, had strong convictions about the persuasive nature of Mother Nature. Although he never set foot on the San Francisco Peaks segment of the Arizona Trail — it wasn't even conceived until a century after his quote — he would have loved it for its accessibility. After all, the more people you can get into the woods the better, and this trail makes it easy. If you can walk across the street, you can handle this hike. Put it on your list, and when you go, listen to the pine trees. The aspens and the ferns might have something to say, as well.
The San Francisco Peaks segment of the Arizona Trail is segment No. 34 — there are 43 segments in all that make up the 819-mile trail. If you were to hike the entire Peaks segment from Schultz Pass to Cedar Ranch, you'd wrack up 32.3 miles. Every mile is worthwhile, but this month's hike covers only a segment of the segment, from Aspen Corner to Forest Road 418.
The trail begins at Aspen Corner, about three-quarters of the way up Snowbowl Road. For the first 10 or 15 minutes, the trail winds through a lush forest of pines and aspens. That's what the majority of the hike is like, but one of the exceptions comes before you even work up a sweat. About a quarter-mile in, the trail goes from the woods to a vast meadow, beyond which are some classic views of the San Francisco Peaks. On most hikes in Arizona, the mountains take center stage. They're a big part of this trail, too, but it's the greens of the grasses and the ferns and the aspen leaves and Muir's pine trees that stand out most.
Back in the woods, the terrain and the elevation remain constant. And so does the scenic beauty. It goes from gorgeous to gorgeous to gorgeous. Everywhere you look you're going to see something you want in your camera, including a gnarly old ponderosa about halfway in that ranks as one of the oldest and largest pine trees on the trail. If you're going to heed Muir's advice, this is the tree to listen to.
From there, the trail continues to the turnaround point at FR 418. Although this trail is rated easy, it still requires 15 miles of hiking at an elevation of around 9,000 feet. You'll be worn out by the time you get back, but if you were paying attention along the way, you'll have grown more than just tired. On this trail in particular, it seems unlikely that John Muir could have been wrong.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 15 miles round-trip
Elevation: 8,800 to 9,000 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, drive north on U.S. Route 180 for 7 miles to Forest Road 516 (Snowbowl Road), turn right and continue another 7 miles to the parking area.
Vehicle Requirements: Accessible to all vehicles
USGS Map: Humphreys Peak
Information: Peaks Ranger District, 928-526-0866 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino
Leave No Trace Ethics: