Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff
By Robert Stieve
Even if your idea of heading into the backcountry is going from Park Avenue to Central Park, you can handle this trail. It’s not as easy as walking down the sidewalk, but in terms of “roughing it,” this is about as easy as it gets. What’s more, it’s easy to get to.
From Interstate 17 in Flagstaff, it’s a 10-minute drive out to the Campbell Mesa Trailhead, which is the launch point for a series of five loop trails, including the Campbell Mesa Loop. At 5.7 miles, it’s the longest of the five. It’s also the focus of this month’s Hike of the Month. The shortest route is the Sinagua Loop, which is just over a mile long. In between are the Continental Loop (1.8 miles), the Anasazi Loop (2.7 miles) and the Walnut Meadows Loop (4 miles).
If you have the time, you can easily hike all five in a day. Or, if you just want to hit 10,000 steps on your Fitbit, stick with the Campbell Mesa Loop, which heads east (counterclockwise) from the trailhead on a well-marked path. Before your boots even get dusty, you’ll arrive at an intersection with the Anasazi Loop. Keep left and keep your eyes peeled for mountain bikes. Campbell Mesa is one of those places where the bikers can outnumber the hikers. However, because the forest is open and the trail is wide, you can usually see the bikes coming, which minimizes conflict between the two often disparate groups. You might see horses, too. The mesa is an equal-opportunity stomping ground.
About 25 minutes in, you’ll get a great look at the San Francisco Peaks to the northwest. There are more looks along the way. Then, about five minutes later, you’ll come to the other end of the Anasazi Loop. Again, keep left and enjoy the quiet nature of things. The trees are mostly ponderosas, about 30 feet high, and the wildlife is mostly Steller’s jays and Abert’s squirrels. However, at dawn and dusk, you might see mule deer, too. And pronghorns. The ungulates are drawn to the grassy plateau of Campbell Mesa, which is named for Hugh E. Campbell, a Flagstaff pioneer who established the largest sheep ranch in the Southwest. At its height, the Campbell-Francis Sheep Co.’s landholdings totaled more than 100,000 acres.
Just beyond the second intersection with Anasazi, you’ll cross through a barbed wire fence and come to a nice grouping of ponderosas. Things remain about the same, with gentle ups and downs, until, after about an hour of hiking, the trail arrives at an unmarked steel signpost, from which another trail veers left. Intuitively, you’ll want to go that way. Instead, keep right to stay on the loop, which winds around the northern and eastern perimeter of Campbell Mesa.
In addition to hikers, bikers and ungulates, the mesa has recently drawn the attention of local citizens who are working to protect the area from encroaching development. At press time, most of the mesa was included in the footprint of what proponents hope will become the Walnut Canyon National Conservation Area. If the grass-roots coalition can convince one of the members of Arizona’s congressional delegation to sponsor a bill, and if the bill passes, Walnut Canyon will join San Pedro Riparian, Gila Box Riparian and Las Cienegas as the only national conservation areas in Arizona. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, back on the trail, the Campbell Mesa Loop continues its easy meander through the open forest, past several intersections with the other loops, and eventually back to the trailhead. Although you won’t be out of breath, you should have your 10,000 steps. If not, there are four other loops that will get you there.
Photo: Ponderosa pines line the easy Campbell Mesa Loop near Flagstaff. | Amy Horn
Length: 5.7-mile loop
Elevation: 6,640 to 6,862 feet
Trailhead GPS: N 35˚11.988', W 111˚33.795'
Directions: From Interstate 17 in Flagstaff, go east on Interstate 40 for 5.5 miles to Country Club Drive (Exit 201). Turn right onto Country Club Drive and continue 0.8 miles to Old Walnut Canyon Road. Turn left onto Old Walnut Canyon Road and continue 0.9 miles to the trailhead parking on the left. The last half-mile of Old Walnut Canyon Road is well-graded dirt.
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
Horses Allowed: Yes
USGS Map: Flagstaff East
Information: Flagstaff Ranger District, 928-526-0866 or www.fs.usda.gov/coconino