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BULLETEastern Arizona Hiking Guide << page 1
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Sardine Canyon
Sardine Canyon in the high desert north of Clifton delivers something for everyone. But not everyone will take to everything Sardine Canyon offers. Long and thin, like the sliver of a fish it was named for, Sardine Canyon wriggles slightly more than 6 miles through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests to 50-foot Sardine Falls. Along the way, the gorge offers exquisite scenery. Trouble is, you have to work hard to see some of it. Everyone would enjoy the Sardine Canyon Trail's first couple of miles, though. The route drops into the canyon on an old dirt road that rancher Alfred Noah used half a century ago to drive in and out. The road ends in a half-mile at a corral on the canyon floor, where a single-track trail takes off. The trail rock-hops across icy mountain water that starts its flow at about mile 1, and past springtime colonies of monkey flowers clustered along slabs of red-tinged bedrock. In winter, a hiker could encounter snow.

Relatively flat and easy to follow, this section of the trail makes an ideal day hike. By mile 1.8, when the canyon makes a sharp bend north and a side canyon branches to the south, the original trail all but disappears; and the options for continuing to Sardine Falls don't appeal to everyone. The easiest and safest choice is the 6.2-mile trail being re-engineered by the Forest Service that climbs more than 1,000 feet above the canyon floor. An alternate, 3.6-mile route, which clambers over bedrock pocked with pools before barging through thickets, will challenge even experienced hikers.

Trail Guide
Length: 6 miles, one-way

Elevation: 6,000 to 7,000 feet

Difficulty: Strenuous

Directions: From Phoenix, take U.S. Route 60 east through Globe, then continue east on U.S. 70 through Safford. Remain on 70 until about 8 miles east of Safford, then turn north (left) onto U.S. Route 191. Drive 22.4 miles to Three Way, turn north (left) and continue on 191. Drive about 25 miles (past Clifton and Morenci) to an unmarked road east of the highway and make a hairpin right turn onto it. From there, a high-clearance vehicle is required. Drive .8 of a mile and veer right; then drive .6 of a mile to the trailhead.

Information: Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, Clifton Ranger District, 928-687-1301; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails.


Lanphier Trail
The 5.6-mile-long Lanphier Trail in the Blue Range Primitive Area, named for a family who homesteaded their namesake canyon, has it all. Along the trail, the stream-fed trees shade you on a summer hike of moderate difficulty. The trail also offers pools to cool you off, curious geology and mountaintop views. And it boasts some unusually named features. Take, for instance, the Red Rock Pillars at mile 1.5. After the trail climbs out of Largo Canyon, where it gets its start, it crests a ridge, drops into Lanphier Canyon and travels under a canopy of sprawling oaks along Lanphier Creek to an area where the walls narrow and squeeze together. You'd never guess this spot is called the Red Rock Pillars because you'll see no "pillars," and the rock walls look more purple than red, but none of that mars the charm. From the Red Rock Pillars, the trail runs up and down the canyon walls for the next three-quarters of a mile. A half-mile farther, the trail starts an austere climb out of the canyon, leaving the shade behind. For the next mile, the trail rambles in and out of secluded basins filled with Gambel oaks, then drops all the way back down to the floor of Lanphier Canyon along the creek again.

Trail Guide
Length: 5.6 miles, one-way

Elevation: 5,600 to 7,360 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Directions: From Alpine, drive about 3 miles east on U.S. Route 180, and turn right (south) onto Forest Road 281 (Blue River Road); drive about 25 miles to the Blue Administration Site and a trailhead marked "Largo and Foote Creek Trailhead." Walk to the right of the trailhead posterboard through two gates to the Blue River. Cross the river and head to a corral, which marks the beginning of the trail.

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


Indian Springs Trail
Indian Springs Trail, near Big Lake in Eastern Arizona's high country, makes for a scenic, 7.5-mile loop. Designated for mountain biking as well as hiking, much of the well-maintained trail follows an abandoned railroad grade. A short connecting trail from Rainbow Campground provides convenient access from the Big Lake recreational area. After a half-mile, you'll reach the turnoff to the Big Lake lookout tower. This side trip, an easy walk for most of its half-mile length, ends with a short but steep scramble up a granite escarpment to the fire lookout. Back on the main trail, after another half-mile, you'll reach Spillman Spring, where three hollowed-out logs channel water from the spring and serve as water troughs for cattle and wildlife. The trail follows a ribbon of green meadow to Indian Spring. Located at the confluence of two shallow drainages, the spring forms a tiny summer pond. From the spring turn left, and hike a quarter-mile to an old railroad bed. The path leaves the old railroad bed and wanders through woodlands and meadows before crossing Forest Road 249E.

Trail Guide
Length: 7.5 miles, round-trip

Elevation: Elevation of hike is 9,000 feet, but hike is relatively level.

Difficulty: Moderate

Directions: From Phoenix, drive northeast on U.S. Route 60 to Show Low and then head southeast on State Route 260 to State Route 273. Turn right onto State 273 and drive southeast to the junction with State Route 261. Turn right and head south on State 261 toward Big Lake. Passing the turnoff to Big Lake, continue south on graveled Forest Road 249 for .7 mile to Forest Road 249E, which is marked with signs for Buffalo Crossing and Sprucedale. Turn right onto FR 249E and follow for a half-mile to the Indian Springs Trail parking area on the left side of the road.

Warning: Water at the springs must be treated before drinking.

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


Spur Cross Trail
Offering no hint of its wild side to come, East-central Arizona's Spur Cross Trail begins its nearly 6-mile, 1,800-foot descent to the Spur Cross Ranch in Dark Canyon, north of Clifton. The deceptive trail makes an uneventful climb up a ridge through a pine-oak forest for the first half-mile. Then at the top of the ridge, it politely shows off rows of mountains to the north and south. Seasoned Arizona hikers might consider these panoramic views typical, unless they know a bit about what went on in those distant spots. The Spur Cross doesn't show its true personality until it bottoms out on the first descent at mile 1. Breaking free from its evergreen cocoon, the path lands in a bald rock basin where dwarf juniper trees and needle-tipped Parry's agaves appear as if they were a vegetative afterthought. Enormous boulders frame a showy panorama along the trail as it leads to its next surprise – a sudden drop into a series of bluffs. At about mile 4, the trail levels out and stares south into what locals have dubbed Cottonwood Canyon. By mile 5.4, the trail descends into Dark Canyon, where the Spur Cross Ranch stands. Once in Dark Canyon, hikers with enough time (and energy to make the nearly 6-mile climb out) can explore the red rock cliffs farther up.

Trail Guide
Length: 6 miles, one way

Elevation: 4,800 to 6,900 feet

Difficulty: Strenuous

Directions: From Phoenix, take U.S. Route 60 east through Globe, then continue east on U.S. Route 70 to Safford. Take U.S. 70 about 8 miles east of Safford, then turn northeast onto U.S. Route 191. Drive 22.4 miles to Three Way and turn left (north), continuing on U.S. 191. Drive about 27.6 miles through Clifton and Morenci to the trailhead on the west side of the highway, just north of Milepost 170.

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


Bear Wallow Trail
This verdant forest trail drops off a ridge, descending through mixed conifers about 700 feet in roughly 1 mile to the North Fork of Bear Wallow Creek. From this point to its terminus at the boundary of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, the moderately difficult Bear Wallow Trail travels 6.5 miles and drops another 1,300 feet. If you want to go the distance, keep in mind that round-trip from the trailhead is nearly 16 miles. But a couple of shorter day-hike alternatives present themselves along the way.

Trail Guide
Length: 16 miles, round-trip

Elevation: 2,000 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

Directions: To reach the Bear Wallow Trail, drive 5.5 miles south from Hannagan Meadow on U.S. Route 191 to Forest Service Road 25; turn right and drive 3.4 miles to the trailhead parking area.

Travel Advisory: A special-use permit is required to enter the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Trespassers may be fined or have their gear confiscated.

Information: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, 928-687-1301; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails.


Woods Canyon Lake
The 52-acre Woods Canyon Lake rests at 7,500 feet atop the precipitous sandstone brow of the Mogollon Rim, 120 miles northeast of Phoenix. One of the most heavily used areas in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, it offers seven developed campgrounds, which overflow with weary desert-dwellers seeking refuge from the summer heat. But escaping the crowds is easy on any of several hikes around the lake. The flat 5-mile trail around the lake is an ideal family hike. You can begin at the Spillway Campground at the southeast edge of the lake and continue across the dam at the lake's eastern end. For the first 3 miles, the trail meanders through open stands of ponderosas, Gambel oaks and some ghostlike aspen trees. A half-mile from the Rocky Point Picnic Area, the path joins the Nature Trail. This 1-mile hike starts at the picnic area, goes to a limestone sinkhole and returns lakeside. The lake hike ends at the Rocky Point parking lot. From there you can shuttle back to the Spillway parking lot or hike another half-mile to complete the 5-mile trek.

Trail Guide
Length: 5 miles loop

Elevation: 7,500 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: From Payson, drive east on State Route 260 for 32 miles and turn left onto Forest Road 300. Drive 3.5 miles and turn right onto Forest Road105. Drive three-quarters of a mile to the Spillway Campground parking lot. For a shuttle hike, continue 1 mile northwest, past Aspen Campground and the general store, to the Rocky Point Picnic Area parking lot.

Information: Guided nature walks begin at 10 a.m. each Saturday, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Black Mesa Ranger District, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, 928-535-4481; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails. Recreation Resource Management, Canyon Point Campground, 928-535-9233


Escudilla Mountain
At 10,912 feet, Escudilla stands among the highest peaks in Arizona. A 1,200-foot ascent along the 3-mile Lookout Trail, also known as Escudilla Trail, leads to the lofty perch in the sky. After a half-mile or so, the trail rises up into thick, dark stands of fir and spruce trees and fragrant air. Red squirrels might chatter angrily at your approach, until you top out over aptly named Profanity Ridge – the steepest climb of the hike. You'll then descend to a beautiful open meadow known as Toolbox Draw that is decorated with fleabane asters, mountain bluebells and Rocky Mountain irises during the summer months. A three-quarter-mile scramble past immense trees and lichen-covered basalt boulders brings you abruptly to the base of the Escudilla Mountain fire-lookout tower.

Trail Guide
Length: 3 miles, one-way

Elevation: 9,600 to 10,900 feet

Difficulty: Moderate; some portions strenuous

Directions: From Springerville, drive 22.1 miles south on U.S. Route 191 to Forest Service Road 56 and turn east. Drive 4.7 miles to the Trail 308 sign and continue left for .3 of a mile to the trailhead.

Travel Advisory: Weather can be erratic, even in summer, with intense sun, wind, rain or snow. Watch for lightning. The mountain is very densely vegetated with many ridges and ledInformation: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Alpine Ranger District, 928-339-4384; www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/recreation/trails. ges, so do not hike off-trail.

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

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