by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator – City of Prescott
Dating back to the early 1990s, the Prescott Circle Trail was purely a vision of the Yavapai Trails Association members and president, Jan Alfano. Eventually, cooperation between land managers and nonprofit agencies led to Prescott National Forest officials devising an action plan and successfully completing construction of what equaled about half of the original Prescott Circle Trail. After the City of Prescott purchased Watson and Willow lakes from the Chino Valley Irrigation District in 1998, development of recreation opportunities led to those portions of the Circle Trail becoming incorporated into the existing Prescott National Forest portions. Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University was also a collaborator, allowing access across its campus for the northern portions of the trail. The finished product is a 54.45-mile combination of nonmotorized paths that cross jurisdictions of the City of Prescott, Prescott National Forest, Arizona State Land Department, Bureau of Land Management, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Yavapai County.
As with many local trails, construction was funded by grants and performed by volunteers from the City of Prescott, Prescott National Forest, AmeriCorps VISTA program, the Over the Hill Gang, Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA) and many other individuals. Ongoing maintenance is performed mostly by the Over the Hill Gang, Community Service Work Programs and Prescott National Forest-led work days. Perhaps the crowning accomplishment was generous funding initiated by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), which allowed for a paid American Conservation Experience trail crew to complete the grueling construction along Badger Mountain. Although maintenance is ongoing, this was a final step to connecting the various trails that comprise the Prescott Circle Trail, allowing the trail to be completed in May of 2015.
Prescott, nestled in the Central Highlands of Arizona, is at the top of its class in geographic and biologic diversity. From the Circle Trail, hikers, equestrians, runners, mountain bicyclists and other nonmotorized trail users can experience highlights of dense chaparral; grasslands, such as Willow Lake; amazing rock formations at Watson Lake; and tall ponderosa pines strewn throughout the Prescott National Forest, as well as riparian corridors. All of this is located within miles of a bustling downtown culture that features historic Whiskey Row.
Roger Naylor, Arizona-based freelance travel writer, perhaps describes it best when he writes, “The Circle Trail provides almost instant access to wild country as it follows the high backbone of rising mountains. It connects to all major trail areas as it orbits the town. No matter where you are in Prescott, you’re only minutes from a trail. What a rare gift that is – to be able to immerse yourself in fragrant woodlands, at a moment’s notice; to be able to stroll the shorelines of sun-kissed lakes or clamber over craggy granite formations, whenever you feel the urge.”
Planning a hike on the Circle Trail is relatively easy, and can be completed in a multitude of ways. Broken into segments, roughing it in a campsite or lodging in one of the many B&Bs or hotels along the way, there is surely something for everyone.
Featuring 5,500 feet of total elevation gain, the Circle Trail is not to be approached lightly. Fortunately, comprehensive guides, as well as gear, are available for a small fee at local biking and hiking retailers. More information can also be found at prescotttrails.com, yavapai-trails.org, and visit-prescott.com.