Originally Published: June 10, 2011 2:58 p.m.
Ask local hiking and biking enthusiasts to name a favorite area trail, and don't expect to get an easy answer.
"My favorite? That's hard; there are so many," was a common response from the locals who advocate for trails.
Making the choice even more difficult is the diversity in terrain: From the rosy-hued slickrock trails through the Granite Dells to the pine-bordered path that circles Lynx Lake to the routes that pass by massive rock formations in the Granite Mountain Wilderness area, the Prescott-area trails feature a variety of hiking and biking experiences.
Despite the difficulty in narrowing it down, however, several areas came up again and again among the people who use the trails most often.
While trails can be found in virtually every corner of the community, they are especially concentrated on and around several of Prescott's promontories.
Granite Mountain, Thumb Butte, the Granite Dells, and Mingus Mountain all feature networks of trails.
Most local hiking advocates reported a special fondness for the trails in the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area.
Joyce Mackin, past president of the Yavapai Trails Association, cited Forest Trail 347, which begins at the Williamson Valley trailhead off Williamson Valley Road, and continues onto Trail 345 toward the Granite Basin Lake.
"It has all different kinds of country - the pines, the lake, and huge beautiful granite boulders," Mackin said of the loop. "Also, it runs along Mint Creek. When the creek is running, it is fabulous."
Nigel Reynolds, current president of the Yavapai Trails Association, also brought up the "huge selection of trails" at Granite Basin. Among his favorites is Trail 353, which loops near the Granite Basin Lake, via Trail 349 and back onto 353.
"I like the variety (in the Granite Basin)," Reynolds said. "You can go out there time after time and find something new."
And Ron Smith, author of the book, "A Guide to Prescott and Central Highlands Trails," cited perhaps the wilderness area's most noted route - the Granite Mountain Trail, which takes hikers to "the saddle" (near the summit of the mountain), via Trail 261. "That's a great one, but a little more vigorous," Smith said.
The Prescott National Forest office, 344 S. Cortez St., offers a wealth of information about area forest trails. Four main brochures detail the most popular areas: Granite Mountain, Mingus Mountain, Thumb Butte, and Lynx Lake. (Along with maps and descriptions, the brochures also include information on which of the trails are open to hiking, biking and horseback riding).
For visitors to the area, Reynolds suggests the Lynx Lake Trail (No. 311) as a picturesque option. "You can do one side or do the complete loop," he said. "With the water, that's always magic to me."
Smith and Reynolds also both praised the new series of trails on City of Prescott open space in the Granite Dells area.
Informally dubbed the "white-dot trails" because of the series of paint dots that help users navigate their way over the boulders and through the washes, the new system features a growing network of trails at and around Willow and Watson lakes in northeast Prescott.
The city trails are detailed at either the City of Prescott's website at cityofprescott.net/services/parks/trails/, or in the "City of Prescott Trails and Outdoor Recreation Map," which is available for free at Prescott City Hall, and at a number of local shops for $1.
TOP BIKING ROUTES
While many hiking trails are also suitable for mountain biking, say the experts, some are better than others.
Brooke Wietkunat, treasurer of the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance, offered some of her favorites, along with hints for various levels of experience.
For beginning cyclists, Wietkunat said, an obvious choice is Prescott's Peavine Trail. The relatively smooth, flat surface of the former railroad line is popular with cyclists looking for a gentle grade. A bonus: The trail passes by stellar views of Prescott's Granite Dells, as well as the granite-rimmed Watson lake.
Weitkunat said the Lynx Lake Trail is also a good spot for beginners. "That has some climbs in it, but the terrain is very smooth, so you don't have any obstacles to go over," she said.
For intermediates, Weitkunat suggested the Forest Trail 316 and 317 loops in the Thumb Butte area. Also, on the Copper Basin side of Thumb Butte, Weitkunat said intermediates could try Trail 391, which connects to Trails 327 and 393.
And at Granite Basin, she said Forest Trails 350 and 351 "are really nice, and they flow really well."
As another all-around trail Weitkunat suggests Trail 396 off of the White Spar campground on White Spar Road. "You get some climbs, you get some downhills, and you get some obstacles," she said. "It really has everything.
For advanced cycling trails, Weitkunat said the City of Prescott slickrock trails at the Granite Dells offer a challenge, as do the 347 and 345 loops at Granite Basin. She also suggested the Spruce Mountain (Groom Creek Loop, Trail 307), which she said is "a very technical and advanced trail."
Along with the recreational value of trails in the area, Reynolds notes that many also have historical significance.
For instance, he mentioned the City of Prescott's Flume Trail in the Granite Dells, which passes by the Watson Lake Dam and runs along an old aqueduct.
Another significant historic trail is located along the General Crook Trail, off Cherry Road (Highway 169). Dubbed the Old Stone Corral, the trail (No. 64), passes by walls that date back to the 1800s.
The Lynx Ruin Trail (Forest Trail 301) off Walker Road also offers a glimpse of history, Reynolds said, noting, "It is basically a pile of rocks, but if you use a bit of imagination, there was a little pueblo there."