If you’ve been cooped up all summer, it may be time to hit the road and take a trip to the cooler climes and vivid vistas of Northern Arizona. Here are a few suggestions for outdoor activities you can do solo, with your partner, or your family.
The White Mountains
The towns that dot this picturesque stretch of northeastern Arizona include Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, Greer, St. Johns and Snowflake, each with its own charm and appeal. But if you’re looking for solitude and the lure of the pines, the best place to head is to the many paths that make up at the White Mountain Trail System (WMTS).
Started some 30 years ago, this series of multiuse trails in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest offers routes ranging from Easy, to Moderate, to Difficult, for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Many recreationers take advantage of the urban parts of the trail, which allow you to enter or exit at numerous points and be close to amenities in towns such as Pinetop, and Show Low. But there also are longer stretches like Los Cabellos that follow old logging roads and will test your endurance — and quad muscles!
The design of the trail system makes it possible to continue from one trail into another, giving those who would like to take a backpacking jaunt the chance to spend all day exploring the area, finding scenic spots for a picnic lunch, and even doing some short-term camping. Detailed descriptions and maps are available off the website: trackswhitemountains. org/trails.
While you’re visiting the White Mountains, be sure to make a point of driving to Greer, about 25 minutes from Springerville. At a height of 8,356 feet, it’s the highest town in Arizona, which allows for chilly evening and early morning temps even in the midst of summer. For more information visit: Greerarizona.com.
Roughly a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Pinetop-Lakeside sits a city that wears many hats: college town, logging community, place of scientific achievements and showcase for great natural beauty.
According to legend, Flagstaff was named for a pine tree that had been stripped of bark to create a pole from which to raise a canvas sheet to mark the area. These days, Flagstaff is a sign that you’re in a great spot to sample so much of what our state has to offer, including exploring the paths through the San Francisco Mountains, such as the Arizona Trail, a roughly 12-mile, point-to-point trail that’s good for beginners. The Kachina Trail — 5.5 miles — also is considered fairly easy, and a fun leisurely stroll that will allow you to view the pristine natural environment. If you feel more adventurous (and you have experience with hiking steep terrain), take on the Humphrey’s Peak Trail, 10-and-a-half very scenic miles that rise more than 3,000 feet to the highest point in the state.
To reach another highly recommended trail, head north out of town on U.S. Route 180, then veer off on Frontage Road 245, to FR 171, and you’ll arrive at the start of the Kendrick Trail. It’s only a four-and-a-half-mile climb, but it’s a challenging one that takes you up to a historic fire lookout post and a 360-degree panorama.
Before you go, check to ensure that area trails are open. Visit Fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recreation for the latest info and restrictions.
Less than an hour drive west is one of the most popular vacation spots in the state. Named for the wife (Sedona Schnebly) of the town’s original postmaster, the area is famous for its brilliant red rock formations, spiritual connections, and ample opportunities to revel in the great outdoors via more than 400 miles of trails.
If you want an easy hike that affords amazing views of red rock landmarks, try the Bell Rock Pathway, which takes about three and a half hours roundtrip, and climbs about 200 feet.
A good summer hiking route (although more difficult), is the Bear Sign Trail, which is shaded by trees and rock walls, and follows along streambeds. Another popular hike this time of year is Sterling Pass to Vultee Arch, a challenging trek that climbs about 1900 feet, but rewards the intrepid with spectacular views and the opportunity to examine a part of history. On Jan. 29, 1938, Gerard Vultee and his wife Sylvia (the daughter of Max Parker, a Hollywood art director whose films included The Big Sleep, All Through the Night and Arsenic and Old Lace), crashed their plane in a snow storm near the arch. Ironically, Vultee was the founder of an aviation firm that made passenger planes for American Airlines.
For more info on Sedona hikes go to: Thehikehouse.com/trails.