Photo by Cindy Barks.
Sit in the new White Rock parking lot off Thumb Butte Road for a time, and you’re likely to see mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers all setting out on their individual forest adventures.
Chances are they won’t all be heading in the same direction, though.
That is because the White Rock lot, which lies about 1.6 miles west of the main Thumb Butte trailhead on Thumb Butte Road, serves as a crossroads for recreation in the Prescott National Forest west of Prescott.
“It’s a great starting point,” Jason Williams, trails and wilderness manager for the Prescott National Forest, said of the new parking lot. “There are a tremendous number of loops on both sides of (Thumb Butte Road).”
Just to name a few: Garden Party, Javelina, Firewater, Garden Grove, and the Prescott Circle Trail.
For a family-friendly hike that offers gently rolling terrain and towering pine trees, Williams suggests a 2.3-mile loop that starts with the Garden Party trail (Trail 324) across the road from the White Rock parking lot.
From there, Garden Party runs roughly parallel with Thumb Butte Road for about a mile and winds its way down to the bed of Miller Creek, before turning northeast at Trail 392 and crossing back over Thumb Butte Road. It then heads uphill for a quarter-mile or so (Trail 332), and turns west onto Trail 318, and back toward the White Rock parking lot.
Along the way, the loop offers stellar views of both Thumb Butte, and Granite Mountain in the distance.
“It’s a cool little area,” Williams said. “It’s classic Prescott — boulders and pine trees. It’s pretty gentle, not all that strenuous.”
Although Miller Creek is not running this year, Williams said the trail offers a pretty walk along the creek in wet years.
As Prescott’s most distinctive promontory, Thumb Butte itself attracts plenty of attention and visitation. Williams said about 150,000 people visit the trailhead at the base of the butte each year.
The area to the west gets far fewer users. “There are about 20,000 visitors in the area up the road,” Williams said.
A number of recent improvements could increase the usage, however. The road was paved within the past five years, and the White Rock parking lot was expanded in spring/summer 2017.
Williams said $50,000 in Arizona State Parks trail maintenance grant money went into the new trailhead parking lot.
The lot provides about 15 parking spaces, and also has space for horse trailers — a feature that longtime local horsemen Jim Higgs said was especially helpful.
Higgs, a member of the Back Country Horsemen of Central Arizona, said he recently rode the entire 55-mile Prescott Circle Trail, and found a limited number of trailheads that could accommodate a horse trailer.
The expansion of the White Rock lot will offer a handy access point for the Circle Trail, which runs nearby, he said.
“Most original trailheads were not built for trucks and trailers,” Higgs said.”(The White Rock lot) really helps us, and also the area.”
Williams said one of the reasons for the White Rock lot expansion was to offer another parking spot for equestrians.
In an effort to make the Prescott Circle Trail more accessible,
Williams says plans are in the works to reroute the trail slightly to pass by the White Rock parking lot.
A U.S. Forest Service map of the area is available at this fs.usda.gov link.
To get to the White Rock parking lot
From the courthouse plaza, drive west out of Prescott on Gurley Street for five miles. Along the way, Gurley Street becomes Thumb Butte Road. Continue driving past the Thumb Butte parking lot for about 1.6 miles. The White Rock parking area is on the right, immediately past the road to Camp Willow Springs.