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Rose Peak
The Blue Range Primitive Area comes by its name honestly. It's 173,762 acres are managed by the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests, which maintains the natural wilderness as the last Primitive Area in the United States. The rugged mountains and steep ridges and canyons may seem remote, but the area is accessible via a variety of trails. The Rose Peak (No. 345) Trail travels to the top of Rose Peak, named for the wild roses that dot the mountain's northern side. The trail travels through Gambel Oak and ponderosa pine trees along a series of steep switchbacks. Although the trail may not be long – only a half-mile – it challenges in terms of elevation. At the top, a fire lookout tower stands guard over views that take in rolling green foothills that stretch into New Mexico.
Trail Guide
Length: 1 mile round-trip

Elevation: 8,400 to 8,760 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: From Phoenix, drive east on U.S. Route 60 to Globe. Take U.S. Route 70 east 77 miles to U.S. 191, past Safford. Drive northeast on U.S 191 for 34 miles to Clifton, continuing north on 191 for another 53 miles to the Rose Peak (No. 345) trailhead. Parking is on the east side of the road.

Travel Advisory: The best time to hike this trail is in warmer months. Be aware of weather conditions and don't hike during summer storms or rainy weather. Carry plenty of water, snacks, a good map with a GPS device if possible. Never hike alone and always tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, 928-339-4384; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/.

East Fork of the Black River
Set out on a 3.5-mile hike up the aspen-lined canyon of the east fork of the Black River between Diamond Rock Campground and Three Forks. If possible, leave one vehicle near Three Forks, along Forest Road 249, then travel to the Diamond Rock Campground to begin your journey. The hike is an easy stroll on an unmaintained trail for the first mile or so, before it veers into the streambed in mid-canyon, forcing a lot of boulder- and downed log-hopping, with a face-slap of willow pushing sprinkled in. Steep, travertine gray walls line old sheep beds. From there, you can see the meandering stream, home to Apache trout. Although the species remains listed as endangered, hatchery reintroductions and stream protection have now spawned such large populations that you can legally fish for them.

Trail Guide
Length: 3.5 miles

Elevation: 7,890 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Directions: From Phoenix, take State Route 87 northeast to Payson to State Route 260 east through Pinetop-Lakeside. Continue on State 260 through Springerville to its end at U.S. routes 180/191. Turn right (south) and continue toward Alpine approximately 25 miles to Forest Road 249 (2 miles north of Alpine). Turn right (west) onto FR 249 toward Big Lake, approximately 5 miles to a Y-junction with Forest Road 276. Bear left (south) and follow FR 276 for 6 miles to Diamond Rock Campground. The road is well signed.

Travel Advisory: Take a good pair of hiking shoes you don't mind getting wet, and bring sunscreen and bug spray. Watch out for heavy rains and runoff in the late summer monsoon season.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, 928-339-4384; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails.

Painted Bluff Trail
The Painted Bluff Trail travels through some big country. Hidden from the highway by forests and hairpin curves that wrap around rises in the lower spine of Eastern Arizona's White Mountains, this country has views expansive enough to make a hiker stop and stare from the start of its 11-mile journey at U.S. Route 191 all the way down to the end at Eagle Creek. The trail makes a long day for horseback riders and a several-day backpack for hikers. This trip travels 5 miles to Wood Canyon to get a look at Indian petroglyphs, and then heads back to the trailhead. The trail starts a half-mile west of the Chase Creek Overlook along U.S. 191 and leads past an old open-pit mine. The trail follows a miner's road in the beginning, passing a wood-beamed mine opening in the first mile. Prospectors always hoped for gold or silver, but copper is king in this area. Today's treasure hunters might find nuggets of pyrite, also called fool's gold. At about 1.5 miles, the trail crosses a fire-scarred hillside and hikers get a look at the Morenci Mine. One of the world's largest copper mines sprawls a handful of miles south. From there on, the trail turns its back on mining and takes a pleasant shift as the road narrows to a single track and heads for some great sights. At about mile 3, you can stop to gawk at the gorgeous colors and contours of the surrounding mountainous terrain. Further down, the trail offers a last look at Morenci Mine and moves into a pine wilderness, which quickly descends (800 feet in a mile) into Wood Canyon. At 5.5 miles, observant hikers can locate the Indian art etched into the rocks 500 feet above the trail. From there, hikers can return to the trailhead or continue for another 5.5 miles to Eagle Creek.

Trail Guide
Length: 11 miles, round-trip

Elevation: 4, 000 to 6,000 feet

Difficulty: Strenuous

Directions: From Phoenix, drive southeast on Interstate 10 to the U.S. Route 60 exit. Travel east on U.S. 60 about 76 miles, where the road becomes U.S. Route 70. Continue on U.S. 70 about 79 miles to U.S. Route 191. Turn left (northeast) onto U.S 191 and travel 34 miles to Clifton. Continue driving north; after about 19 miles, look for the trailhead sign on the left side of the road just past the Chase Creek Overlook on a sharp switchback. Colored tape marks the trail.

Travel Advisory: Trail access allows horses and mountain bikes.

Information: Additional Information: Apache Sitgreaves National Forests, Clifton Ranger District, 928-687-1301, www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf.

Thompson Trail
Picture a long alpine valley at nearly 9,000 feet of elevation with a blue-ribbon trout stream running its entire length and forested slopes of spruce, fir and yellow-leafed aspen trees ascending to surrounding peaks. Imagine a level trail that meanders with the stream, mostly in sun, sometimes in shadow, never more than a few yards from the stream bank. Add a sunny Arizona fall morning with frost underfoot and a fine mist exhaled from the shallow, fast-moving waters. That's a description of Forest Service Trail 629 (Thompson Trail) in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The trail traces a portion of the West Fork of the Black River near Big Lake in Arizona's White Mountains. The round-trip length of the hike is either 4.8 or 6.5 miles, depending on whether you hike Trail 628A, the shorter loop that begins where the Thompson Trail meets the West Fork Trail, 628 in the trail system. Because it traverses sensitive riparian habitat, the Thompson Trail 629 is for hikers only. Trail 628, a section of which travels along an old railroad grade above and parallel to the Thompson Trail, is open to both hikers and mountain bikers. Either route offers views of some of Arizona's most scenic landscapes.

Trail Guide
Length: 6.5 miles, round-trip

Elevation: 8,600 to 8,840 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: From Springerville, drive south on U.S. Route 180/191 to State Route 260 and turn west. After 3 miles, turn south on State Route 261, which joins Forest Road 113 as it loops around Big Lake and becomes Forest Road 249E. To reach the trailhead from Big Lake, drive northwest on FR 249E until it merges with Forest Road 116, then it's approximately 1.5 miles west to the trailhead at the confluence of Thompson Creek and the West Fork of the Black River at Thompson Ranch. A parking area and information kiosk indicate the trailhead.

Travel Advisory: This hike is best done in late spring, summer and autumn. Be prepared for any type of weather in Arizona's high country.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Springerville Ranger District, 928-333-4372; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails.

Reynolds Creek
Just past the convenient reach of Arizona's cities, but close enough to qualify as a day hike, the Reynolds Creek Trail in the Sierra Ancha Mountains makes a full-day getaway. The remote but well-maintained trail has an untamed feeling as it travels an extraordinarily scenic route in the mountains. The Reynolds Creek Trail takes hikers 3.7 miles up a wooded canyon as it follows the course of Reynolds Creek. The riparian forest along the creek makes a cool cover in the summer and a colorful one in the fall. The path also doubles as a thoroughfare for animals that like to lap the creek water. The trail starts at a sunny section of Reynolds Creek where dozens of species of wildflowers congregate. The path swerves around thickets of long grasses and crosses the creek on troughs dug into bedrock. On the other side of the creek, the trail starts a steady climb up the north canyon wall under a forest of pines. At about mile .6, the trail breaks from the tree cover and takes on a high desert look as it brushes next to the eroded rim of the chiseled canyon wall. After a zig-zag up the rock wall along a section called The Switchbacks, the trail follows the creek southward under a cover of hardwood, fir and pine trees. In autumn, this section becomes a kaleidoscope of color. Velvet ash and Arizona walnut turn yellow, and bigtooth maple trees flare every shade of red. At about mile 2, the trail enters an aspen forest in Knoles Hole. The path meets up with an old road and follows it deeper into the mountains. Directional signs point the way off the road to a path up a ridge, and cairns mark the twisting route down the other side. Hints of civilization appear when the trail skirts the old Murphy Ranch, renamed Haldi Ranch by the current owners. The ranch signals the trail's end. Hikers can continue on the road to the Aztec Peak Lookout Tower or loop back to their vehicles on one of the mountains' network of trails.

Trail Guide
Length: Approximately 8 miles, round-trip

Elevation: 6,200 to 7,200 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: Drive east on U.S. Route 60 toward Globe, and turn north (left) onto State Route 188; drive about 13.6 miles to State Route 288, and turn east (right); drive 27 miles to Forest Service Road 410 and turn east (right); drive 3.7 miles to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required for FR 410.

Travel Advisory: This hike is best done in late spring, summer and autumn. Be prepared for any type of weather in Arizona's high country.

Information: Tonto National Forest, Pleasant Valley Ranger District, 928-462-4300.

Lower Fish Creek Trail
The Lower Fish Creek Trail follows the perennial flow of Fish Creek all the way to the Black River. Cradled in a cozy wooded canyon that opens up several times to accommodate meadows of wildflowers, the path delves into the wilderness. Anglers will enjoy fishing for native Apache trout. The steel-gray walls of the canyon, with their strange spires and hoodoos, add to an untamed feeling. The trail makes a gradual descent to the river. The last mile of the trail rises into a mixed conifer forest just past the cowboy camp. On a cloudy day, the forest gets dark and disquieting. The trail ends at its confluence with the Black River. On a sunny day, the swift-flowing water sparkles like a neon marquee. After a rain, mist swirls around the craggy cliffs so thickly, it hides the river.

Trail Guide
Length: 5.5 miles, one-way

Elevation: 8,400 to 6,800 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: From Hannagan Meadow, drive .1 mile north on U.S. Route 191 to Forest Road 576 and turn left. Drive about 4 miles west to FR 24 and turn right. After about 1 mile, bear left onto 24/83. Drive about 5 miles to 83A and turn left. Travel 1.3 miles and turn left again onto the signed road to the trailhead. Drive .4 mile to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is necessary.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, 928-339-4384; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails.

South Fork Trail
The trailhead at Mexican Hay Lake marks the downhill, or easy, option of the 7-mile South Fork Trail 97, which travels for much of its length along the South Fork of the Little Colorado River up in the alpine zone of Arizona's White Mountains. The more difficult reverse route starts at the primary trailhead in the South Fork Campground, some 7 miles and 1,500 feet down trail. The trail begins on a plateau adjacent to Mexican Hay Lake, so named because pioneer settlers in the region annually drained the lake to harvest and bale the tall grasses growing there. For the first half of the hike, the trail stretches nearly 4 miles across a parklike forest of 300-year-old ponderosa pine trees. Leaving the plateau, the trail drops sharply toward the river.

Trail Guide
Length: 7 miles, one-way

Elevation: 9,000 to 7,500 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: To reach the upper trailhead at Mexican Hay Lake, travel 3 miles west from Eagar on State Route 260; turn south on State Route 261. It's approximately 8 miles to Mexican Hay Lake. A dirt road, which should be avoided in wet weather, leads to the trailhead on the north side of the lake. To reach the lower trailhead at the South Fork Campground, travel 5.5 miles west on Route 260; turn south on Forest Road 560 and drive 2.8 miles to the campground and trailhead on the west side of the stream.

Travel Advisory: This hike is best done in late spring, summer or autumn. Be prepared for any weather in Arizona's high country.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Springerville Ranger District, 928-333-4372.

page 2 >>

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