Photo by Cindy Barks.
For a pure mountain experience – complete with steep climbs, pine-scented breeze, and towering ponderosas – trails don’t get much better than the Spruce Mountain trail in the Prescott National Forest.
Also known as the Groom Creek Loop Trail, the route winds through forestland to the Spruce Mountain summit, where a lookout tower surveys the wooded terrain below.
The trail is a popular one; its usage is listed as “heavy” by the U.S. Forest Service. On a sunny spring or summer day, you’re sure to encounter other hikers, speeding mountain bikers, and groups of horseback riders. Still, the course provides for plenty of solitude along its shady switchbacks as well.
With an accumulated elevation gain of more than 1,600 feet, the trail also makes for a good workout. The Forest Service rates the Groom Creek Loop as “intermediate to difficult.” The trailhead sits at about 6,300 feet elevation, and the summit comes in at about 7,650.
Adding to the challenge is the route’s distance (nine miles), the trail’s rocky surface, and the multiple steep stairs.
But for those up for a fairly intense four-hour hike, the payoffs are plentiful. The Forest Service bills the loop as “one of the most attractive trails on the Prescott National Forest,” passing through “idyllic stands of ponderosa pines and Gambel oak” (although the summit doesn’t feature any actual spruce trees).
To reach the trailhead, turn south off of Gurley Street onto Mount Vernon Avenue, which soon transitions into Senator Highway. Continue on for 6.4 miles, passing through the community of Groom Creek. The trailhead is located on the left-hand side of the road, and is well-marked.
Once at the trailhead, users can choose to start the loop by going left for a slightly steeper ascent, or right, for a longer, more gradual climb. Either way, parts of the climb will be steep and rocky, interspersed with rugged wooden steps.
The left-hand (clockwise) route will get you to the summit in about three miles. Along with the lookout, the summit features picnic tables and a vault toilet. From there, you can either retrace your footsteps to the trailhead, for a total six-mile out-and-back, or continue along the loop route, descending gradually for six miles to the trailhead.
If you choose to start the loop to the right (the counter-clockwise route), the initial climb will bring you to a clearing, where trail number 307 intersects with the Isabella Trail (number 377). At about three and a half miles, the Isabella intersection provides a nice rest stop, complete with a couple of tree stumps.
From Isabella, the trail meanders along a ridge, rising gradually toward the summit, and passing by a helipad. The summit also offers a good spot for a rest, before the steep, rocky downhill toward the trailhead.
More information on the trail is available on a number of hiking and mountain-biking websites, including the U.S. Forest Service site, at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/prescott/recreation/recarea/?recid=67583&actid=50
By Cindy Barks. Follow her on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or 928-642-0951.