A Tale Of Two Trails

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Segments of the nearly completed Arizona Trail pass through the Rim Country in the vicinity of the Payson, Pine and Strawberry. One such segment overrides two earlier established trails: Oak Springs (FST#16) and Walnut (FST#251).

Using these two trails, a visitor to the area will have an opportunity to explore a variety of terrains, plants and wildlife common to this part of the Rim.

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Oak Springs/Walnut Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Altitude at trailhead: 5,400 feet
Difficulty: Easy to difficult, depending on trail segment
Maps: Tonto National Forest Service, Buckhead Mesa Topographic

Hiking or mountain biking these trails provides access to open meadows, deep canyons and high ridges that overlook and pass through a number of ecosystems existing here.

The Oak Creek trailhead begins at the parking lot for the Pine Trailhead a half mile west of the town of Pine. Several trails begin at this lot.

The one for Oak Creek is located near a large tree on the northwest end of the lot. Look for a Forest Service trail sign affixed to one of the short posts bordering the parking lot. Proceed past the post and follow the faint trail in the grass. You will soon come to a sign identifying the trail.

Follow the trail for a half mile as it passes through a gate and parallels a ravine that separates the trail from the highway. It will eventually cross over the ravine before passing through another gate. From there, it climbs up the side of the ravine and reaches the highway.

Use caution crossing the highway, as traffic can be heavy at times. Look for a trail sign on the other side of the road and pick up the trail there. It will soon reach another gate. Pass through this gate and follow the trail northwest as it continues through a park-like area of tall pines, firs and assorted ground cover.

The trail will meet with a gravel service road. Turn right onto the road, following the Forest Service trail markers for about 200 yards. The trail will then veer off to the left and pass around a ranch located just to its right. From there, it will cross over the drainage of Pine Creek, as it passes by the beginnings of an area known locally as "the Narrows," which can be seen to the west of the trail.

On the other side of Pine Creek, it will begin to climb the ridge that leads out of the drainage. This short part of the trail is rather steep, but soon gives way to a level area that will end at a gate and a sign that indicates vehicle traffic is prohibited beyond that point.

Crossing through this gate will take a visitor to the Forest Service Bradshaw Meadows Watershed Project. This beautiful meadow could be the stopping point for a short hike and a quick lunch before heading back to the car.

For those who are continuing on, do not cross through this gate, but veer to the left at the sign and pass through a small wire gate. The trail will drop down into a dry creek bed before heading along the west side of Bradshaw Meadow. From this point on, there are very few trail markings, other than the occasional rock cairns, and the trail is often obstructed by downed trees.

The Forest Service has been completing extensive thinning in this part of the forest, so watch for pieces of bright ribbon tied to trees to mark the trail's route.

At approximately two miles, the trail crosses through and over a ravine before climbing another ridge. Once on top of the ridge, which is actually the east side of Oak Springs Canyon, it will drop down again as it descends toward the intersection with the Walnut Trail one mile away at the bottom of the canyon.

To actually get to Oak Springs, turn left at the intersection and follow Walnut Trail for about 100 yards. Look for a small sign on the left that indicates that the spring is in a gully just below it.

To complete the trail, return to the intersection of the two trails and head northeast up the Walnut Trail as it makes its way up Oak Creek Canyon. This first half mile of the trail is the most difficult -- the trail itself is faint, or nearly nonexistent in places and relatively steep. Watch for rock cairns, as they are the only things that indicate its route. In any case, realize that this segment of the trail parallels Oak Creek, as it makes its way down from the top of the canyon. For the next one-and-a-half miles, the trail passes through dense forest, as it traverses the creek bed several times. The trail will eventually meet and cross Hardscrabble Road. Walnut Trail continues on the other side of the road.

A Note of Caution

Do not attempt to use this portion of Walnut Trail during periods of heavy rain, such as experienced during the monsoon season. As the trail actually crosses over the creek itself, it will be flooded during these periods of weather and may quickly become impassable, leaving one stranded.

As it is, there are places in the trail where it has already been washed out. If you reach one of them, simply follow the bed uphill (or downhill, depending on which way you came) and watch for the trail to continue on the other side. In any case, the trail never ventures far from the creek side.

To Get There

From the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 in Payson, head north toward Pine on Highway 87 for 14.5 miles. Look for the turnoff to the Pine Trailhead on the right side of the road. Take this paved road for a one-quarter mile until it reaches the parking lot. The best way to hike this trail is to leave a second car at the opposite end. In order to set up this shuttle, drive your second vehicle into Pine, which is about one-half mile farther north on the highway. Watch for the turnoff to Hardscrabble Road on the left. There is a street sign at the highway. Proceed along Hardscrabble Road for three miles through two stop signs. The road becomes unpaved, after two miles. Watch for a Forest Service trail marker at both sides of the road. There is a small parking area here that only has room for one vehicle. The trail is marked with a sign on the west side of the road a short distance from the parking area. Additionally, cell phone coverage is adequate here, if a pickup is arranged instead.

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