Bradshaw Ranger District, Granite Mountain Wilderness
By Robert Stieve
Granite Mountain. It sounds like the kind of place that Fred and Barney would take Wilma and Betty for a romantic weekend. But Granite Mountain is nowhere near Bedrock City, and time spent there is more about adventure than amore.
That’s not to say you won’t fall in love, because you will. Especially if you’re attracted to wilderness areas that can be reached in a Fiat 500.
There are 15 trails in the Granite Mountain Recreation Area near Prescott, but only two go into the wilderness area, and of those, only one, the Granite Mountain Trail, approaches the summit — the actual peak looms slightly northeast of the trail’s end at an elevation of 7,626 feet. Because peak-bagging is inherent in most hard-core hikers, this route attracts a lot of interest, but it’s rarely congested, and the payoff is worth sharing with like-minded enthusiasts.
The hike begins at the Metate Trailhead, which is located a few hundred yards south of Granite Basin Lake. The first thing you’ll notice as you leave the parking lot is the mountain above. That’s where you’re headed. The next thing you’ll see, right in front of you, are ponderosa pines, alligator junipers, Fremont cottonwoods, willows and other riparian organisms. The trees dominate the first stretch of the hike, which leads to the Granite Mountain Wilderness, a hyper-protected area that comprises 9,700 acres in the Prescott National Forest.
Just beyond the wilderness boundary sign, the trail dips in and out of a wash and passes a pile of the massive granite boulders that give the place its name. The rocks, some of which are 2 billion years old, come in a million sizes, with the largest measuring up to a Burlington Northern boxcar. At this point, the trail is still sheltered by the riparian web, but that’ll change after another 20 minutes, when the canopy disappears and the hike arrives at Blair Pass. There’s a saddle at the pass, which lies between Granite Basin and Long Canyon, and it’s a good place to gear up for the trail’s primary ascent.
From the saddle, the route becomes a series of long, moderate switchbacks, and after about 20 minutes you’ll come to a monstrous alligator juniper. It’s old, and it has too many branches to count — not literally, of course; that’s just a way of saying it has a lot of branches. Other than a few other gators, the vegetation along this stretch is mostly manzanita and mountain mahogany. It’s drier than down below, and the plant life is Exhibit A.
Moving on, about an hour into the hike, you’ll come to the Granite Mountain Saddle, where the trail splits to the right and to the left. Keep right and continue uphill past another super-sized gator. The panorama to the south is expansive and beautiful. From there, the route climbs gradually into a forest of ponderosas and a few scattered aspens, then levels off as it approaches the Granite Mountain Vista, which is well marked. This is the end of the trail, and, as you’d expect, the views are spectacular.
From the lookout, you can see the deep-blue lake below, the Granite Dells northeast of Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains to the south. You might also catch a glimpse of a peregrine falcon. Between February and July, the magnificent raptors use the surrounding cliffs as a mating ground, which suggests that Granite Mountain might be a place for amore after all. If you hear “yabba dabba doo!” out on the trail, you’ll know for sure.
Photo: The Granite Mountain Trail approaches the summit of Granite Mountain, which looms at an elevation of 7,626 feet. | Aaron Burrows
Length: 8.2 miles round-trip
Elevation: 5,634 to 7,082 feet
Trailhead GPS: N 34˚36.934’, W 112˚33.058’
Directions: From downtown Prescott, go north on Montezuma Street, which becomes Whipple Street and then Iron Springs Road, for 4.5 miles to Granite Basin Road (Forest Road 374). Turn right onto Granite Basin Road and drive 3.8 miles to the Metate Trailhead, just past Granite Basin Lake.
Special Consideration: A $5 day pass is required (free on Wednesdays).
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
Horses Allowed: Yes
USGS Map: Iron Springs, Jerome Canyon
Information: Bradshaw Ranger District, 928-443-8000 or www.fs.usda.gov/prescott