Barbershop Trail

Photo: The colors of fall are abundant on a cool October hike along the Barbershop Trail. | Paul Gill
Mogollon Rim Ranger District
By Robert Stieve

This trail is not marked by red-white-and-blue barber poles. It would be nice if it were, but it’s not. Instead, this is one of those trails that can be hard to follow. Usually, all you have to do in Arizona is get to a trailhead, throw on a backpack and hit the dirt. You couldn’t get lost if you wanted to. This trail is one of the exceptions. More on that later. Meantime, back to the name.

Whether it’s towns, trails or back roads, Arizona has some real doozies when it comes to place-names. Gripe, Klondyke, Nothing ... they all have interesting stories behind them. And so does the Barbershop Trail, which is named for a sheepherder who once lived in the area. Apparently, he was as good at clipping his fellow herders as he was at shearing sheep. In an area as beautiful as this, no doubt there was a lot of pressure to be as well groomed and photogenic as Mother Nature.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start this hike is the postcard quality of everything around you. Unlike a lot of other Mogollon Rim hikes, which have limited ground cover, this one is lush and grassy with ferns as high as 4 feet tall. By the looks of things, Walden Pond could be right around the corner. Instead, after about five minutes, you’ll come to an impressive pair of ponderosas. They serve as a gateway to the trail, which, at this point, is still easy to follow.

After another five minutes, the trail passes through a gate. This is where it starts to get tricky. Cairns and tree notches mark the way, but they’re not always obvious. When you’re in a situation like this, don’t move forward until you find the next marker. Proceed cautiously and methodically, like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — once you see where to go, take the next step.

Heading east, the trail winds down a rocky slope and into a lovely meadow. Cross the meadow and the streambed, and head up the other slope. After about 20 to 25 minutes into the hike, you’ll come to another gate. Again, the trail is hard to find. Take your time and eventually you’ll enter Dane Canyon. It’s one of many canyons along this trail, and depending on the weather, it could have water running through it. Water, of course, attracts wildlife, which in this area includes wild turkeys, mule deer, elk and black bears. Maybe you’ll get lucky and see something.

From the canyon, the trail quickly leads to a point where it merges with an old jeep road. Look for cairns and notches to the right. About 10 minutes later, you’ll cross another road and finally come to a large meadow. This is the trickiest part of the trail. You’ll want to head left across the meadow, which is about the size of a football field. Keep your eyes peeled for a cairn at the opposite end, alongside a forest road. Stay to the left and look for the subsequent cairns, including one that eventually marks a 90-degree turn to the right. At this point, you’ll be back in the woods. It’s beautiful, especially when the aspens, oaks and maples are in their autumn attire, but don’t let your eyes wander too much — the search for the elusive cairns continues.

The effort pays off when you come to a sign that indicates you’re a half-mile from the Buck Springs cabins. The cabins mark the finish line, and like the hike itself, there are no barber poles to let you know you’ve arrived. Not to worry, though. Compared to the cairns, the cabins stand out like Don King’s hairdo. Look around, catch your breath and gear up for the return trip, which will be much easier now that you know where you’re going.

Trail Guide

Length: 9 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 7,603 to 7,811 feet
Trailhead GPS: N 34˚26.353’, W 111˚11.992’
Directions: From Payson, drive north on State Route 87 for 28.5 miles to Forest Road 300. Turn right onto    FR 300 and continue 16.6 miles to Forest Road 139. Turn left onto FR 139 and continue 1.9 miles to the trailhead on the right.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
Horses Allowed: Yes
USGS Map: Dane Canyon
Information: Mogollon Rim Ranger District, 928-477-2225 or