If getting out and about and close to nature is what you crave, a hike can take you places in the Rim Country where you can find secret splendors.
Before taking off on a fall outing: dress appropriately, especially wearing good, sturdy shoes and socks that will prevent blisters; have the right maps, you will need ones for both the Tonto and Coconino National Forests and they can be purchased from the Payson Ranger Station; a compass, that you know how to use; a well-charged cell phone; pack water and food, but not so much that it will be a burden; and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. While in the forests be aware, there may be snakes in rocky areas, especially the Arizona Black (timber snake), which is aggressive, according to one local hiking expert.
The expert, Dave Engleman, has been hiking the Rim Country for more than a dozen years. Among the spots he recommends for fall color hikes are: Quaking Aspen Canyon; Oak Springs; the 260 Trail; Monument Trail; and the Pine Trail.
Quaking Aspen Canyon
Quaking Aspen Canyon is in Coconino County, off Forest Road 300 on Forest Road 308.
Take Highway 87 north and about two miles north of the West Highway 260 turnoff. Turn on the Rim Road, or Forest Road 300, continue on this road until reaching the burn area (you will cross Potato Lake Road, which is Forest Road 147). At the east end of the burn area is Forest Road 308, park on this road just as you leave the burn area.
Start your hike going up the 308 Road. About one mile in, 308 goes to the right and an old forest road bears to the left, take the old road to a fenced area. You can cross the fence to get off the road and then follow the fence line, keeping the road to your right. You are now basically in Quaking Aspen Canyon where you can find nice fall colors. There is a deepening cross canyon that you will encounter, so just go to your right and around the head of this canyon.
Continue you will reach a refurbished cattle trail that begins at a break in the fence and continues farther down into Quaking Aspen. The canyon base is like a narrow, grassy meadow with numerous aspen trees. An old road is also at the bottom.
Walking in a northerly direction you will reach the 308 Road again. In that area, the 308 and the 147 Roads come together. However, as you near the 308 you can go up a small ridge on the left, climb over or under a fence, to an old road that parallels the 147 Road (Potato Lake Road). Follow it a half-mile or so, and cross a wash on the right to continue to the Potato Lake sign. Go on to Potato Lake for a break and enjoy the numerous aspen in the area. In mid-October they will be in good color, as will the red maples. Potato Lake is spring-fed and just north of the lake is Potato Draw, the headwaters of East Clear Creek.
Return to the 147 Road and go south about two city blocks. Cross the wash again and pick up the old road. The wash is deeper here, so pick a good spot to cross. A short distance down the road, the road will bear to the right and on the left is an opening, or a small meadow. Go through the meadow and climb a hill and you will be in Quaking Aspen Canyon again. If you miss this spot, going left anywhere in that area, you will reach the canyon.
East of here, the road you came in on will be to the east. Follow the fence line or go to the road and follow it back to your car.
This is about a seven-mile hike and is of medium difficulty. It is also at about 7,000 feet above sea level.
Oak Springs Hike
This hike is in Gila County, south of Pine.
Take Highway 87 north from Payson to Pine, at the very south end of the community is a left turn off the highway, marked with a large number of name signs on a tree, this is Bradshaw Drive. Make the left and a short way in on the road, at the first cross street, you will make another left. This road dead-ends and there is space to park. Leave your car and start walking south to the trail, which should be marked "Oak Springs Trail."
As you hike you will cross a wash, look for the trail on the other side of the wash and then follow the trail, you will soon reach a fence, behind it are a couple of summer homes (do not cross the fence). The trail will climb for a distance and it is mildly strenuous. Follow the ridge of the hill and to the south is a terrific view of Oak Springs Canyon, and in the distance, the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
The trail then drops down and crosses another wash where color can be found in mid-October. There is a gradual climb to a signed trail directing you to the spring itself.
Engleman said, "For someone who is inquisitive, on the right, immediately off the trail is the remnants of a stone wall, Indian perhaps, or the remains of an early goat camp. You have to look for it, though."
Leaving the spring, you can go back the way you came, making about a six mile hike, or you can take another route and create a loop hike.
From the spring, go straight north and pick up another trail that will take you to Hardscrabble Road. Take the roadbed to the right to where the pavement starts and then walking east on the road, any road going to your right once you get near Highway 87 will take you back to Bradshaw Drive and lead you to your car.
The 260 Trail is just beyond Christopher Creek on the left side of East Highway 260, just before it begins to start up the Rim. Look for the sign and you will find a big parking area and a restroom. The trail starts right by the restroom.
The trail climbs mildly for about three miles. Continue to a fence and a gate, at that point one trail goes straight and another goes left. Take the left trail which goes off a ridge and down into an exotic area where you will find colors and on the right will be a lot of fallen trees. The wind coming up the canyon is what knocked the trees down, Engleman said.
You will run into Christopher Creek -- the actual water feature -- on this hike, you will cross it and continue up a small hill to a forest campground and picnic area. There is a well-defined, gravel road that heads south and leads back to East Highway 260 at Christopher Creek (the community). If you're hiking with companions, have them leave a car here, then drive back to the trail parking lot to get the second car, otherwise you will either have to hike the trail back or walk the roadside. Since this is a seven mile hike that is relatively mild, you'd be clocking a 14-mile trip.
Monument Trail is at the end of Granite Dells Road, as are two other trails. The Monument Trail is signed and goes around Monument Peak. Engleman said the peak is not very high and can be climbed. In the peak's saddle, on the north side, are Indian ruins, and on the east is a hill with more ruins. The other two trails are to the right of the Monument Trail, one crosses a wash and continues to the right, the other just goes around a wash. However, there are impressive granite rock formations in the area.
Pine Trail starts off Highway 87, near Mile Post 280, north of the 87 and West 260 intersection. Engleman said this is a beautiful hike and takes you to Pine Creek. It also continues on for about 10 miles to the Pine Trailhead on the south side of the community of Pine, and there are pockets of colorful trees all throughout the area.
The Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest has free material on hiking the area, the "Highline Trails Guide" plus basic maps for the Monument Peak, Cypress and Boulders trails, Houston Loop Trail and a booklet on exploring the forest trails on horseback, "Horse Sense -- Packing Lightly on Your National Forests."
The "Highline Trails Guide" provides a simple map and thumbnail sketches of 24 different Rim Country trails, including a difficulty rating and length for each, as well as directions to trailheads, water sources and tips on making proper preparations and caring for the trails while using them.
Complete descriptions for each trail are available at the ranger station at 1009 E. Highway 260, the phone number is (928) 474-7900.