by Blake Herzog
Once outdoor activity was identified as the last bastion for safe out-of-the-house activity in our current crisis of contagion, the number of visitors to Greater Prescott’s forests, mountains, trails, lakes and creeks has as much as doubled this spring.
We’re squarely into summer now so the number of users, both local and out-of-towners, is only expected to grow. Fortunately, this area has an astounding variety of options for good, safe outdoor fun, so visitors can spread out and stretch their potential, all the while basking in the beauty of Arizona’s Central Highlands.
Since we’re not totally out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19, there are still precautions to be taken and some closures remain, particularly on federal land.
The outdoor areas and amenities in the City of Prescott and Town of Prescott Valley closed during the state’s stay-at-home order are now open, with staff taking on the additional effort to post reminders and sanitize public areas.
Kelly Tolbert, recreation coordinator for the City of Prescott, said, “We have banners strategically placed at our most popular parks, reminding people what 6 feet looks like, and to exercise that caution. For our sports leagues and special events, we got a bunch of hand sanitizer stations, so we’re installing those.”
She added, “Of course the social distancing — word of the year — is not going away, so try to keep that in mind.”
Prescott Valley spokeswoman Heidi Dahms Foster said all Town facilities are open, with capacity restrictions and other “adjustments” at the Mountain Valley Splash aquatic center.
“The mayor (Kell Palguta) wants everybody to get out and get some fresh air,” she said.
Prescott is a hiker’s haven and heaven with more than 100 miles of maintained trails in its borders and encircled by a 56-mile path drawn through interconnecting trails managed by the City and the U.S. Forest Service. The Circle Trail makes a great one- to two-day trip for the adventurous or can be broken down into delightful chunks of exercise and natural beauty, accessible from 15 trailheads.
Go to www.Prescotttrails.com for information on all of the City’s maintained trails and its interactive trails maps, accessible through the Avenza Map smartphone app. All are open to hiking, bicycling or horseback traffic, though the City recommends against horses on a few of the rockiest paths in the Dells.
Prescott National Forest has even more hiking options — 450 miles’ worth, both for backpacking and day hiking. You can learn about all of them at www.fs.usda.gov/activity/prescott/recreation/hiking.
The 14-mile Iron King Trail connects the Point of Rocks in the Granite Dells to Glassford Hill in the east, affording a family-friendly hike through open grasslands into the heart of Prescott Valley. The trail features three wash crossings that incorporate flatbed railcars used in the actual Prescott East Railroad operation.
Many Greater Prescott hiking trails accommodate other nonmotorized modes of transit including bicycles and horses, but Prescott National Forest has two built specifically with the mountain biker in mind; with the hills and jumps they crave for their craft.
Homestead Trail No. 305 (7 miles) travels through ponderosa pine and oak forest and connects several points of interest in Lynx Lake Recreational Area. Among these sites are Hilltop Campground and Lynx Campground, the Highlands Center for Natural History, and Lynx Ruin Trail No. 301, all within Lynx Lake Recreation Area. Many of the rock types exposed along the trail are metamorphic varieties similar to what one finds in the lower reaches of the Grand Canyon. This trail is open to hikers and mountain bikers.
Thumb Butte Bypass Trail No. 326 (2 miles) is part of a network of trails serving the Thumb Butte area. This trail begins in well-shaded pine forest and briefly meanders along the southern bank of Miller Creek before turning sharply and continuing uphill. As this trail climbs into higher country it enters more open terrain and there are some lovely views of the surrounding hills and valleys. At its far end, the trail meets up with Potts Creek Trail No. 327. This trail is open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bicyclists.
Recreational vehicles are permitted to camp at Watson Lake Park, along with trailers and tents. Campsites are $20 per night, and the 19 reserved campsites must be booked at least seven days in advance by calling 928-777-1121. There are an additional 15 first-come, first-served sites. These are for dry camping only; showers and restrooms are available. There are numerous private RV parks scattered throughout the region, many offering short-term options.
Prescott National Forest has numerous options for RVers or campers who like to bring their vacation (or full-time) home on the road with them. Campgrounds that can accommodate them can be found in the Groom Creek, Granite Basin, Lynx Lake, Mingus Mountain and Cherry areas, as well as at White Spar Campground. However, as of early June all developed campgrounds within the national forest remained closed as part of COVID-19 restrictions, so check www.fs.usda.gov/prescott for updates on their status, as well as fire restrictions.
Although closed to climbing from Feb. 15-July 15 to protect peregrine falcon breeding habitat, Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain just west of downtown Prescott offer fine opportunities to climb the rest of the year, traveling up the cracks or skittering along the face of some massive cliffs. Thumb Butte has several bolt-protected face and crack climbs.
The Groom Creek region south of Prescott along Senator Highway is a bouldering dream world, with granite outcroppings looming above wherever you look and smooth surfaces to figure out how to climb.
And of course the Granite Dells area is magnetic for bouldering and climbing, with five major routes including the Pavilion Wall on the southern edge of Lake Watson. For a 3D tour of the Dells and many of its iconic rocks, visit www.exploreprescott.org/climbing.
Kayaks are ubiquitous on many bodies of water, not surprisingly. This exciting yet relaxing activity lets you tour some of the region’s most spectacular scenery under your own power. They can be rented at Watson, Goldwater and Lynx lakes and used at many others, including Granite Basin.
Off-highway vehicles are welcomed on trails in several areas in and around Greater Prescott, including Mingus Mountain and Smiley Rock near Jerome, Seven Mile Gulch southeast of Prescott and in Chino Valley off Perkinsville Road, to name a few.
For details about all off-highway vehicle trails in Prescott National Forest visit www.fs.usda.gov/activity/prescott/recreation/ohv.