Originally Published: July 6, 2017 6 a.m.
Catching the sunset is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have from the saddle of a mountain bike.
Prescott is lucky to have many places a rider can do just that, but some are a bit more special than others. My two favorites are the bench upon Badger Mountain and the first part of Ranch Trail leaving from Senator Highway. Both of these are sections of the Prescott Circle Trail.
The first option can be done with about an 8-mile out and back starting at Sundog Road. There is a small parking area just where the PCT crosses the road. If you prefer more of a warmup, I would suggest starting from the official Peavine Parking lot and taking the path back to the Sundog crossing. Riding the trail to the south you begin climbing almost immediately.
The trail winds below the ridge and begins to offer impressive views of Watson Lake, the Dells and even the San Francisco Peaks on clear days. Crossing the fields at the top is a great place to see deer or even a stray coyote or two… especially at dusk.
The route drops up and down, getting steep on occasion as you pedal towards Highway 69. A fun descent leads you underneath through a tunnel that doubles as creek drainage. Use caution here as consistent water can make the cement very slick.
The final climbs can be seen crossing ‘P’ Mountain but the grade is reasonable and very well designed. Making the bench at the top you are rewarded with views of Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain on the horizon.
The second option is T62 or Ranch leaving from Senator Highway. Begin to look for dirt lot parking on the left once you have passed the Goldwater Lake entrance and just before Schoolhouse Gulch Road. The trail starts from the north end of the parking lot and is well marked, but pay attention not to accidentally start climbing T299. This is a motorized trail that is a relentless and loose uphill battle.
Instead, take T62 up several aggressive switchbacks. The first few are very steep but don’t get discouraged.
Rather quickly the grade turns back to normal and views of Goldwater Lake as well as Mount Francis can be seen off your left shoulder. Climbing steadily, the route curves east at about a mile.
This is the first truly great sunset viewing opportunity. Continuing on, the trail begins to twist and turn through the pines. At about 3-1/2 miles from the start, the trail makes a 180-degree turn.
Stopping here gives a framed view of Granite Mountain and the valley below. An amazing descent as the sun drops behind the mountains to the west of town now awaits you back to the parking lot.
Be sure to go prepared when trying to see the magnificent colors Arizona can offer at day’s end. Remember dark will soon follow, so a quality light system can greatly reduce the anxiety making it back to your start point.
Being that both these options are part of the Prescott Circle Trail, feel free to explore further or even connect them both. Maybe you will find a new favorite spot or two for your own personal sunset appreciation.
Steve Reynolds is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Instagram at @Prescottopia. Contact him by email at email@example.com.