Dogie TrailThis trail comes by its name honestly. Dogie is cowboy slang for a motherless calf, alluding to the area's ranching history. Cowboys once herded cattle along this route through Sycamore Canyon and the evidence remains in the form of stock tanks that sit along the path. Hikers who take this 10.8-mile round-trip hike in the Verde Valley wilderness, will follow the trail past crimson-and-cream-colored bluffs topped with junipers and piñon pines. As the route descends into the canyon, the path is covered with ankle-twisting rocks although the trail isn't steep. You may find pools that linger from recent rains and are shaded by cottonwood and willow trees, but most of the year, water is scarce here, so be sure to take plenty along. The hike ends at the junction with the Sycamore Basin Trail in the Coconino National Forest.
Trail GuideLength: 5.4 miles, one-way
Elevation: 5,600 to 6,600 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Directions: From Sedona, drive southwest 5 miles on State Route 89A. Turn north onto Forest Road 525 and follow the signs to Sycamore Pass. Turn west onto Forest Road 525C and continue for 9 miles to the parking area. The last half-mile might require a high-clearance vehicle.
Travel Advisory: Spring and autumn are the best times to hike; the canyon floor can be very hot in the summer months. Always carry plenty of water, at least 1 gallon per person, per day. No motorized or mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) are allowed in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness.
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-282-4119; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.
Trailhead Two-SixtyWhen is a trail not a trail? When it's a trailhead – at least that's the case with Two-Sixty, which isn't a trail, but a trailhead that leads to several other hiking trails on the Mogollon Rim. From Trailhead Two-Sixty, the main route is the Highland Trail, which runs 51 miles along the base of the Rim, where several side trails like Drew, See Canyon and Promontory lead into the Tonto National Forest. The area was once the stomping grounds of novelist Zane Grey who trekked there in the early 1900s. Another great way to head out from Two-Sixty is to follow the Military Sinkhole Trail 179, a slick, red-rock and gray limestone route that leads through oak, manzanita and ponderosa pine forest for 2.5 miles. At the end of the trail, hikers should take in the Mogollon Rim views of the Tonto Basin that stretches to the south.
Trail GuideLength: (Military Sinkhole Trail 179) Approximately 2.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Elevation: 6,650 to 7,500 feet
Directions: Drive 27 miles east of Payson on State Route 260 past Christopher Creek. Just beyond the sign for Trailhead Two-Sixty, turn left from the highway into the trailhead parking lot.
Travel Advisory: Use extreme caution when turning off the highway into the trailhead parking lot. There is no turn lane, and traffic moves very fast in both directions. Signal your intention to turn as soon as you see the sign. Avoid this hike during winter months or in lightning storms or heavy rain. Don't hike alone.
Information: Payson Ranger District, 928-474-7900; www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto
Cathedral RockSedona is known for its famous hikes through red rock canyons and along scenic Oak Creek, but to tackle one of Sedona's most iconic rock formations, hikers should take a test first: Stand beneath the giant walls of Cathedral Rock and look up — if it looks daunting, that's because it is. Yet for those who can handle this moderately difficult trek, the trail offers vistas of Sedona that would awe even the most casual observer. The first few hundred yards of the trail are relatively flat, dropping into a wash and then climbing onto rock steps that lead to Cathedral Rock. From there, the trail requires serious wiggling, crawling, climbing and searching for handholds and toeholds to make it up the rock face. The saddle between the two spires offers spectacular views, but even if you don't make it that far, there's still plenty of beauty to go around.
Trail GuideLength: 1.4 miles, round-trip
Trailhead Elevation: 4,072 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Directions: From the junction of State routes 89A and 179 in Sedona, drive 3.5 miles south on SR 179 to Back O'Beyond Road and turn right. From there, go .6 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
Travel Advisory: A $5 Red Rock Pass is required to park. The machine in the parking lot accepts credit cards.
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-282-4119; www.redrockcountry.org.
Kinder CrossingThe Mogollon Rim is known for its sweeping views of the Tonto Basin, and hikers usually appreciate the splendid scenery from a rock outcropping at a high elevation. But not all trails lead to the cliff's edge and acrophobic hikers who want to explore Rim Country will appreciate the gentle descent of Kinder Crossing Trail as it follows East Clear Creek. Stellar's jays, hawks, deer and elk are among a variety of wildlife that call the area home. The trail is lined with pines, firs and oaks and skips over limestone and sandstone steps that offer hikers footholds along a series of switchbacks that play hide-and-seek with the creek. Cool pools of water tempt hikers to take time to picnic and swim – a good idea in warm weather. The most popular pool sits at three-quarters of a mile along the trail. After lunch and a dip in East Clear Creek's cool water, hikers can turn around and head back or continue to the trail's end at 1.5 miles.
Trail GuideLength: .75 miles or 1.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 6,977 to 7,000 feet
Directions: From Payson, drive 50 miles north on State Route 87 to the Blue Ridge Ranger Station. Just past the ranger station, take the first right onto Forest Road 95 and drive 4.1 miles to Forest Road 95T, turn left and follow the road for .6 miles to the Kinder Crossing Trail sign at a fork in the road. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can continue for another .1 miles to the
Information: 928-477-2255 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/Coconino.
Badger Springs Wash TrailIf you like solitude, high-desert landscapes and canyon walls filled with ancient petroglyphs, this is the place for you. On the other hand, if quicksand, snakebites, or flash floods make you nervous, this may not be your kind of hike. But for adventurous trekkers, Badger Springs Wash Trail leads into the heart of the 71,000-acre Agua Fria National Monument – primitive country, where ancestral Puebloan Indians once roamed river banks. The hike begins along the wash as the trail leads to the Agua Fria River, about a mile in. Smooth granite boulders clog the riverbed, while boulders scratched with images of deer, elk and geometric patterns can be seen along the banks and on the mesas above. From there, the hike becomes difficult and the trail unrecognizable, so expect to get wet and to do some boulder hopping for as long as you want to follow the river. For those who want an easier route, turnaround and follow the wash back to the trailhead.
Trail GuideLength: Approximately 2 miles one way
Elevation: 3,820 to 4,100 feet
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Directions: From Phoenix, drive north on Interstate 17 for 40 miles to Badger Spring Exit 256. Turn right and follow this dirt road (Badger Spring Road) for 1 mile to the trailhead parking lot.
Information: 623-580-5500; www.blm.gov/az/aguafria/pmesa.htm.
View Point TrailFrom the Mingus Mountain Campground, this trail descends at a sharp angle. Designated Trail 106 in Forest Service trail guides, its top allows visitors an eagle's look at the breadth of the Verde Valley. The view includes the blossoming town of Cottonwood, the famous red cliffs of Sedona to the east, the San Francisco Peaks on the north, and far out amid the mist, a grand panorama that probably encompasses 30 miles of mountainous Arizona. Descending from the trailhead and feeling the embrace of the cliffs, the Verde Valley still looks vague and unfathomable, hardly a place of booming growth. Don't try enjoying these sights while walking. The narrowness of the trail won't permit it, and neither will the tight switchbacks, which paperclip off the mountain's east side in quick succession. The View Point Trail offers a number of boulders on which to sit and let the day pass, a nice respite. But if you're like me, and have wobbly legs, this isn't optional. The trail's down-slope, at 1.9 miles, is moderately challenging, at least in comparison to the return hike, which can be downright painful. The Forest Service warns that the View Point Trail descends sharply for the first three-quarters of a mile. At 1.35 miles, the trail intersects with Trail 105A. After this, Trail 106 descends more gradually and ends on Forest Road 413. Hikers interested in looping back to the Mingus Mountain Campground area can do so along Trail 105A or Trail 105.
Trail GuideLength: 1.9 miles, one-way
Elevation: 7,620 to 6,500 feet
Directions: Drive north from Phoenix on Interstate 17 to Camp Verde, then take State Route 260 northwest to Cottonwood, a total of 106 miles. From Cottonwood, take State Route 89A west up the side of Mingus Mountain to Jerome and follow it through town. This paved, winding road peaks at 7,023 feet. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 104 and drive 2.5 miles on this climbing dirt road to a four-way stop at the Mingus Mountain Campground. This intersection is .2 of a mile past the entrance to the Mingus Mountain United Methodist Camp. The View Point trailhead is located off the parking lot straight ahead.
Information: Prescott National Forest, Camp Verde District, 928-567-4121; www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott.
Cottonwood CreekThis trail, north of Lake Pleasant and about 45 miles northwest of Phoenix, threads between cholla cacti and paloverde trees along the edge of Cottonwood Creek. Wild burros—survivors from when prospectors scoured these hills—also concentrate around Cottonwood Creek, leaving droppings and tracks. The federal Bureau of Land Management more or less manages the population, keeping a semitight leash on the invasive species. At the 2.5-mile mark, a sign notes entry into the Hells Canyon Wilderness. This imposing name reflects the hardships of a different time, but it certainly promises adventure. The trail passes a natural amphitheater, pocked with caves up on a ridge.
Trail GuideLength: Varies, depending on how far hikers want to follow the mostly dry streambed.
Elevation: 1,750 to 2,250 feet
Directions: From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Carefree Highway. Exit and turn west onto Carefree Highway, State Route 74, for 35 miles to Castle Hot Springs Road. Turn right onto Castle Hot Springs Road, and drive 5.1 miles north to parking area on west side of road. The trail starts at the north side of the parking area, beyond a lowered barbed-wire fence.
Information: Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix District, 623-580-5500.
Willow Springs Canyon TrailThe chartreuse lichen covering the rock wall in the Goldfield Mountains' Willow Springs Canyon gives the afternoon light a fluorescent glow. The psychedelic green lichen and the odd, shimmering metallic striations in the rocks lend this little mountain range a distinctive appeal. Sitting in the shadow of the renowned Superstition Mountains, the Goldfields often get shouldered out of the limelight by their myth-tinged neighbors. While prospectors combed the Superstitions for the fabled Dutchman's lost gold, racking up minerals more flamboyant than useful, the Goldfields actually produced about a dozen mines, a few in big style. Some say the Dutchman's gold actually came from a mine in the Goldfield Mountains. A hike in the Goldfields traverses a backcountry similar to the Superstitions without the crowds. Although the Goldfields lack a developed trail system, a 6-mile hike down Willow Springs Canyon presents a moderate trek into the heart of this special range. The hike starts on Forest Road 12 heading north from State Route 88 (the Apache Trail). Veer right at all forks for the first mile. As the road climbs up a hill, veer left at a fork that drops into Willow Springs Canyon. Once in the canyon, wide and still shallow, the route travels right on the gravelly floor amid classic Sonoran Desert landscape. By about mile 3, the canyon develops some character as the walls rise and start to close in. Wonderfully welded volcanic scenery shows off extraordinary displays of massive cliffs and curious formations containing hoodoos and strange statuary. The last 2 miles of the route require boulder-hopping and some minor scrambling down dry falls. The chasm deepens and narrows on this last stretch, at times to less than 20 feet. The hike ends in a cattail-choked cove of Saguaro Lake, often without another soul around.
Trail GuideLength: 6 miles, one-way
Elevation: 2,080 to 2,400 feet
Directions: Drive east on U.S. Route 60 and exit at Idaho Road (State Route 88); continue north on State 88, which turns right (east) and becomes the Apache Trail. Drive to the parking area near Milepost 204 on the north side of the road and begin at Forest Road 12.
Information: Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, 480-610-3300; www.mile204.us/Goldfields.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park, The Verde River GreenwayA veritable kingdom of leafy canopies, the Verde River Greenway, a shady 6-mile stretch of the Verde River, runs through central Arizona. In 1986, the State of Arizona appropriated $2 million "seed money" to begin purchase of the portion of the VRG between the Tuzigoot and Bridgeport bridges in Cottonwood. Managed and operated as a unit of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, this important jewel in Arizona's ecological crown is abundant with natural and cultural resources, including a rare Fremont cottonwood/Goodding willow riparian gallery forest that helps on my shade-seeking mission. Exploring the VRG is less like hiking and more like visiting a wildlife park. The lush, level stretch between the River Day Use Area and the Verde River Greenway offices is just 1.5 miles one-way. From the signpost, head north a few steps and turn west into a dry, rock-filled creek bed that looks like a side-winding sandbox. Follow it to a smaller, shaded and foot-friendly trail to the south, running parallel with the river. After about two hours of following the path, red-and-bleached desert bluffs starting to dominate the landscape to the south. Complete the loop by taking the long way back through the park along Dead Horse Ranch Road in the company of the blazing sun, or go solo, back the way you came.
Trail GuideLength: 3-mile loop
Elevation: 3,300 feet
Directions: From Flagstaff, take Interstate 17 south (approximately 3.2 miles) to Exit 337. Go west to the stop sign and head south on State Route 89A. Follow State 89A for 42.3 miles to Cottonwood (where the road becomes Main Street). Turn right onto 10th Street and follow for .7 of a mile to park entrance.
Information: 928-634-5283 or www.azparks.gov/Parks/parkhtml/deadhorse.html.
Coffee Flat TrailOut in the eastern Superstition Wilderness, life looks a little different. The volcanic formations that keep the western portion of the wilderness so popular stand as 5,000-foot-high mountains in the eastern high country. Juniper trees replace saguaro cacti. Wildlife appears more often than people. The 7.6-mile-long Coffee Flat Trail, near the south-central boundary of the Superstition Wilderness between the JF Headquarters and Fraser Canyon, connects these two worlds. The hike starts on a road closed to vehicles. The road travels about a mile to the JF Headquarters and the start of the trail. Jack Fraser pioneered the ranch a few years after prospectors started searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Fraser sold the ranch to the Clemans Cattle Co. in 1909, and the operation eventually ran 8,000 to 10,000 head of cattle. Today, only 50 cattle graze the area. The trail follows along Fraser Canyon, where the drainage transitions from shallow and shapeless to narrow and scenic. Cairns direct hikers as the trail winds back and forth across the canyon floor. Thick forests of saguaro cacti, some more than a century old, cover sections of the south-facing wall of the canyon. At about mile 2, the trail climbs up into the cactus forest, edging past ancient giants. Whetstone Spring, at about mile 3, presents a soggy stretch that may force hikers to walk carefully alongside a string of pools in a willow thicket. Hikers should watch for the stacks of cairns just beyond the pools, signaling the trail's brief climb up the south wall. This hike ends at Dripping Spring, about mile 3.5, where hikers can turn around and return the way they came. For a longer hike, some may opt to continue west in Randolph Canyon to the trail's end at Coffee Flat.
Trail GuideLength: 7.6 miles, one-way
Elevation: 2,350 to 3,120 feet
Directions: Drive east on U.S. Route 60 from Phoenix about 2 miles east of Florence Junction, and turn north (left) onto Queen Valley Road. Drive 2 miles and turn east (right) onto Hewitt Station Road (Forest Service Road 357). Drive 3 miles and turn left onto unpaved Forest Service Road 172, which requires four-wheel drive. Drive 12 miles to the Woodbury Trailhead parking lot. Hike back about a thousand feet to the closed road that leads to the Coffee Flat Trail.
Information: Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, 480-610-3300, www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.
Munds Wagon TrailHistoric Munds Wagon Trail climbs 4 miles from the base of Schnebly Hill to Merry-Go-Round Rock. From the trailhead, you'll cross Schnebly Hill Road twice before descending toward Bear Wallow Canyon. According to local histories, an early settler spotted bears wallowing in the mud somewhere nearby. Munds Road began as a cattle trail in the late 1800s, used by Jim Munds to drive his herd from the Verde Valley to greener summer pastures at Munds Park. Sedona's fruit growers and ranchers later improved the route for wagon travel, shaving at least a day off the journey to Flagstaff. After Carl and Sedona Schnebly settled where Los Abrigados resort stands today, the Munds wagon road became known as Schnebly Hill Road. When the modern Schnebly Hill Road was built in the 1930s, the old roadbed faded back into the forest. It was rediscovered by a couple of local Forest Service rangers, history buffs who delighted in resurrecting it as a hiking trail. The trail climbs back and forth uphill. Above the switchbacks, rock reinforcements stand as testament to the pioneers who built the road using picks, shovels and, where necessary, hand drills to place dynamite charges. You'll cross present-day Schnebly Hill Road again, heading toward the north-facing cliffs of Munds Mountain, where ponderosa pine trees jut from pale Coconino sandstone. Shrub oaks and junipers shaded patches of snow and offered peeks of the conical orange-red formation known as Merry-Go-Round Rock.
Trail GuideLength: 4.4 miles, one-way
Elevation: 4,400 to 5,500 feet
Directions: From the intersection of State Route 89A and State Route 179 in Sedona, drive about a half-mile south on 179 and cross the bridge over Oak Creek. Turn left onto Schnebly Hill Road and drive 1 paved mile to a parking/picnic area on the left. Two other trails, Marg's Draw and Huckaby, also begin there. For the Munds Wagon Trail, head east, roughly paralleling the road. This multiuse trail is open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Travel Advisory: A Red Rock Pass is required to park on forest lands within the Sedona Ranger District. Hikers should carry plenty of water and wear appropriate footwear. Winter snows may obscure the trail at higher elevations.
Information: Coconino National Forest, Red Rock Ranger District, 928-282-4119; www.redrockcountry.org.