Best Winter Treks in Greater Prescott

by Blake Herzog

The hiking scene in Prescott becomes less active in the winter, but it’s by no means dormant.

There’s less traffic on the trails, rivers and creeks are flowing, surrounding peaks are snowcapped, and when you get to walk on snow it cushions your joints. You get to see the green world you know and love in a translucent new light.

It’s glorious.

Avoid or use caution around the ice and mud that snow leaves behind, but don’t let them scare you away from these spellbinding sights!

ASPEN CREEK TRAIL No. 48

Head west of town on Copper Basin Road to reach this winter highlight. Its elevation is just high enough for it to be blanketed in snow when lower parts of Greater Prescott are just dusted with the white stuff. Come here to see the spectacle of trees weighed down with sleeves of white, Thumb Butte nearly unrecognizable with a coating of snow, as well as distant peaks.

Walk or sled past milky aspens, broad-branched oaks, puffy ponderosas and peaceful glens. Walk along the creek itself, likely to be more than just a trickle this time of year. Leave with spectacular photos and memories to share with everyone who didn’t get to go.

THUMB BUTTE TRAIL No. 33

This trail on the iconic butte also makes many lists of the best places to hike in the winter, giving everyone a 2-mile loop with great views of our bucolic winter town and the surrounding forests, while the cooler weather gives hikers a break from the hot sun that beats down on the less-shady portions of the path.

Hiking Thumb Butte can be a great family Christmas activity, as long as everyone can handle the steep incline (start the loop by heading to your right at the trailhead for a gentler incline on an unpaved trail). The half on the steeper slope can get a little icy in freezing temperatures, so use caution just as you would with any other icy patch.

WOLF CREEK LOOP TRAIL No. 364

One of this trail’s highlights is a waterfall, though it’s often difficult to find during the dry months as it slows to a trickle or nothing at all behind some shrubbery. Snowmelt during the winter fires it up to an impressive cascade, particularly starting in February as the spring thaw approaches.

You also will see many stands of pine and oak among granite boulders that glitter with ice and snow, and when you’re lucky you may see some deer or follow mountain lion tracks in the snow — not too far, please!

WATSON AND WILLOW LAKE TRAILS

You have plenty of chances to walk on boulders along these trails, which can keep you out of the snow and mud that can bog down even the most experienced hikers. The avian population’s sounds and play are crisper in the chilly air and reduced human population. The Granite Dells are even more impressive covered with snow.

Higher water levels may cross your path at a couple of points along both lakes, so check ahead to avoid any unexpected detours if your time is limited.