Historical Highline: Trail Offers Views Of Rim Country, Past And Present

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Whether you're new to the Payson area or just visiting, the Highline Trail offers an opportunity to explore a popular portion of the Rim Country. Beginning on the west end at the Pine Trailhead, just south of the town of Pine, the Highline Trail continues east along the Mogollon Rim for more than 50 miles until it reaches its other terminus at the 260 Trailhead.

This trail offers access to every type of terrain and vegetation found along the base of the Rim, everything from scrub oak intermixed with a variety of junipers, a scattering of dense chaparral, all the way to park-like stands of tall ponderosa pines.

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A Piece of the Highline Trail
Length: 6.3 miles one way
Altitude at trailhead: 6,650 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Best time to visit: Year-round (weather permitting)
Maps: Tonto National Forest
Dane Canyon and Promontory Butte Topos

It is somewhat of a transition zone of vegetation, where the rolling hills of the Payson area come in contact with the dense forest of pines found on the Colorado Plateau above. An escarpment of the plateau, the Rim is a point of demarcation where east truly meets west.

Historically linked to the area, the Highline Trail was an important route of travel for pioneers, homesteaders and local Indian tribes when it came into being in the early 1800s. Many of the small communities found along it owe, in part, their existence to the trail and its connection to the outside world.

In 1990, over 20 miles of the trail were in the path of the Dude Fire and much of that part of the trail continues to show signs of the subsequent damage incurred. Today, the vegetation is slowly reclaiming most of it.

Starting at the 260 Trailhead, the trail meanders through a densely forested area just above highway. Within .25 miles, however, it begins to move farther up the face of the Rim and the sounds of traffic are quickly replaced with the solitude this area provides. The trail passes by a number of very old alligator junipers that stand both as sentinels and guides that mark the trail's route.

Running parallel to the face of the Rim, a few hundred feet below the top, the trail passes by a number of places where a visitor can stop briefly and enjoy excellent views of sections of the Rim and the valley below. Large rock outcroppings are often found close by the trail, and intermittent creeks will send shallow rivulets of water rushing across the trail during the wet seasons. They dry up almost as fast as they occur, and are always possible during the monsoon season of the summer. It is a wise person who comes prepared for the area's unpredictable weather patterns that can change quickly.

There are two side trails that connect here with the Highline -- the Drew Trail (FS291) and the See Canyon Trail (FS184). The junction with the Drew Trail is about 4.2 miles from the 260 Trailhead and is only about a mile long, but it is strenuous as it climbs up the face of the Rim, before reaching the Rim Road (FSR300) at the top. The See Canyon Trail is about 2 miles further along the Highline, and at 3.5 miles in length, is even more strenuous, as it takes a similar route to the top. Should you choose one of these side trails, you will find the effort worth it, as the views are significant.

A small spring, called See Spring, is on anther short, half-mile trail that branches off the See Canyon Trail. It usually has water in it most of the year, but should not be used as a source, unless purified.

This section of the Highline is easily traveled and is a good choice for visitors of all abilities. The trail is well-maintained and provides good access to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders alike. It is not opened to motorized vehicles. Larger groups and families might want to set up a shuttle hike for this visit.

The parking lot at the 260 trailhead is ample and there are both a restroom facility (primitive) and a small corral available. Like most of the trails along the Rim, there is little or no water available. Be sure to bring adequate supplies with you.

To Get There

From the intersection of highways 260 and 87 in Payson, head east on 260 through Star Valley. Proceed on the highway for 26 miles until you reach the turnoff to the 260 Trailhead. It is on the left side of the road and there is a sign on the right side, indicating its location, just before you get to it. Use caution when turning onto the road to the trailhead, as you will be crossing over the main lanes of the highway. The trailhead is about 100 yards beyond and above the highway.

A shuttle can be arranged, so that you do not have to return to the 260 Trailhead. Leave vehicle(s) back down the highway near the village of Christopher Creek. Watch for the loop road to the village, about 6 miles before you get to the 260 trailhead.

It is on the left side of the highway and is well-marked. Follow this road for one mile. Watch for the intersection with Forest Service Road 284 on the left.

It is in the main part of the village, directly across the road from the Tall Pines Grocery Store.

Turn onto this road and follow it for 1.7 miles. Watch for the See Canyon Trailhead for the Highline Trail on the right side of the road. The parking area, restroom facilities, and corral are about 100 yards up the road. This trailhead is what you will reach from the Highway 260 side, after passing by the junction with the See Canyon Trail. The trailhead is less than a quarter-mile from this junction. After dropping off the shuttle, return to the Christopher Creek road, turn left onto it and follow it until it runs into Highway 260. Turn left onto the highway and proceed on to the 260 turnoff.

Note: A Highline Trails Guide is available from the Payson Ranger District Office. The office is about a mile east of town on the right side of Highway 260. It is open Monday through Friday.

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