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Pine Mountain Wilderness - Prescott (& Tonto) National Forests

Summary: The Pine Mountain Wilderness is located just east of I-17 in central Arizona. Here's how the sign describes the wilderness: "Pine Mountain Wilderness was created by an act of congress is 1972 offers the visitor a place of natural beauty and solitude with a breathtaking view from the Verde Rim. Horseshoe Lake is visible to the south, the Mogollon Rim the East, the Verde Valley to the north and the Bradshaw Mountains to the west. The wilderness encompasses 19,569 on the Prescott and Tonto National Forests, elevations vary from 4600 ft to 6800 feet. The western section lies within the Prescott NF and is characterized by an island of virgin ponderosa pine, this stand of pine is surrounded by woodland, chaparral types, and open grassland at lower elevations. The eastern section on the Tonto NF includes steep and rough chaparral covered slopes leading down to the Verde River."
What it really is: a poorly managed hangout for hunters and cows.
Directions: From Phoenix drive north on I-17 to exit #268 for Orme Rd. and Dugas Rd. Zero your trip odometer and turn right off the exit ramp onto Dugas (Forest Road #68) & you'll soon enter the Prescott National Forest. The pavement ends after 2.3 miles in a well graded dirt road, at the 9.5 mile point turn right, remaining on FR #68 following the sign towards Pine Mountain (the road becomes rougher at this point). At the 11.5 mile point, turn right (staying on #68) again, towards Pine Mt. (the road roughens a bit more, though never becomes too terrible). At the 17.6 mile point you'll pass the Double T Ranch and shortly afterwards, at the 19 mile point, you'll reach the Salt Flat Camping area and trailhead with trashed outhouses, a picnic table & register.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Difficult
Length: Depends
Date Hiked: January 2003
Weather Conditions: Nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: The Nelson Trail begins across FR #68 from the register & you'll soon pass a sign (described above) and fence. The purpose of the fence must be to keep cows from crapping outside the wilderness area, you'll be dodging pies the entire hike. The path heads up a wooded ravine, at a mild grade, next to a stream (which was flowing when the author was here). A short stroll will bring you to a fence post and cairn, this is the junction for the right branching Pine Flat Trail (which I did not follow & did not appear very distinct). You will soon pass a sign for the Nelson Trail #159, Verde Rim 4 miles, Pine Mt 4.5 miles then some low rock walls, which are the remains of the Nelson homestead. After about 45 minutes of walking you will come to an unsigned junction with distinct paths heading left and right (and a possible faint third path continuing straight?). The author and his wife went left, continuing up canyon on what we believed was the Willow Springs Trail. The path continues up the main ravine at a gentle, then more moderate grade becoming ever more faint as it goes. Eventually as the path nears the head of the ravine it degenerates into a series of cow paths & finally fades altogether. I turned around at this point. Back at the trail junction, I walked a short way up the right branching junction (which I think is the continuation of the Nelson Trail), which also faded quickly at an old water tank and fence. I then decided to cut my losses and returned to my car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife spent 3.5 hours here.
Maps: Prescott National Forest map - though it's not very good
Books: Exploring Arizona Wild Areas - Scott S. Warren
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
No pictures were taken on this hike.