Highline National Recreation Trail

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The rugged country along the Mogollon Rim was once roamed by Geronimo and the site of many a skirmish between the Apaches and the U.S. Army. Today, the Rim running through the Tonto National Forest contains a great area for hikers, bikers, and horsemen that want to traverse steep, rocky trails. Visitors will find challenging trips for the day or extended packing adventures.

The backbone of the area is the Highline National Recreational Trail, an historic route established in the late 1800s to link various homesteads and ranches under the Mogollon Rim. In 1979 it was designated a National Recreation Trail. The Highline Trail provides 51 miles of spectacular views as it traverses the steep country just below the rim. It begins at Pine Trailhead on Highway 87 and ends at Two-Sixty Trailhead on Highway 260.

Several trailheads and spur trails provide access to Highline Trail at midpoints along its length, allowing it to be hiked in segments and loops. Trails from the Highline to the top of the Rim are generally steep, rocky and rugged, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. The trails within the Highline National Recreation Trail Area do not meet Forest Service standards for wheelchair accessibility and although wheelchairs are allowed, their use is not recommended.

The Dude Fire of 1990 burned over 21 miles of the Highline and associated spur trails from Washington Park Trailhead to Hatchery Trailhead. These trails are open. However, please be aware of hazards such as falling snags, burned out stump holes, and unstable footing.

Planning Ahead

Before your trip, familiarize yourself with potential hazards such as difficult terrain, poisonous snakes, plants and insects, and weather. For safety reasons, travel with a companion and notify a responsible person where you are going and when you plan to return. Come prepared with adequate clothing and equipment.

Weather along the Rim varies greatly fall through spring (-10°F to 80°F). Storms during this period can drop temperatures significantly. Summer days can go from cool to hot (40°F to 100°F). Severe lightning and thunderstorms during July and August bring heavy rains as well as extreme temperature changes. Being struck by lightning is a very real possibility near the Rim. During lightning storms, avoid mountain tops, ridges, open areas, shallow caves and rappelling. Safer places are between rocks in a boulder field, in a forested area away from tall trees, or in your car.

It is advisable to carry plenty of water, up to 3-4 quarts per person per day. Remember all backcountry water must be treated! The following is a list of fairly dependable water sources from west to east along the Highline Trail:

Red Rock Spring
Pine Spring
Webber Creek
Bray Creek
Chase Creek
East Verde River
Dude Creek
Bonita Creek
Perley Creek
Ellison Creek
Tonto Creek
Dick Williams Creek
Horton Spring
Christoper Creek

The Trails

Below, the twenty-three spur trails off of the Highline NRT are described and rated, from west to east. Note the Horton Springs and Promontory trails are not recommended for bikers or horses.

Oak Springs Trail, TR 16
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 5 miles
This trail goes into Oak Springs Canyon and Oak Springs and continues an additional 2 miles to FR 428. Easiest access is from Pine Trailhead.

Pine View Trail, TR 28
Rating: Easiest
Length: 1 mile
This is a connecting trail between TR 26 and Highline Trail. For access, go 1/2 mile north of the TR 301/TR 26 junction on TR 26 (see "Higher Line Trail" for access).

Redrock Springs Trail, TR 294
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 1.5 miles
The spring at this trail's end was used as a watering hole by Apaches and settlers. Access is from FR 64, 2.4 miles east of Highway 87 on the north side of the road. Parking is limited.

Donahue Trail, TR 27
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 1.75 miles
A challenging trail with steep, short switchbacks and loose rocks. Access is from Highline Trail, 1.4 miles east of Pine Trailhead.

Pine Canyon Trail, TR 26
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 8 miles
From the Rim, this trail offers beautiful views followed by a cool hike along Pine Creek and past Dripping Springs before ending near Pine Trailhead. Above the Rim, access is from Hwy. 87 north of the Camp Verde intersection. Turn south on FR 6038 and travel for 0.1 mile to the trailhead. Below the Rim, the trail starts from Higher Line Trail (TR 301), 1/8 mile east of Pine Trailhead.

West Webber Trail TR 228
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 2 miles
A shady, little-used trail with many switchbacks and beautiful fall foliage. The trail takes off from Turkey Spring Trail (TR 217), 1/8 mile east of TR 240. See trails 240 and 217 for access. It may also be reached 3.5 miles south of the FR 218/218A junction on FR 218 (see "Milk Ranch Point" for access to FR 218).

Turkey Springs Trail, TR 217
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 2.5 miles
A seldom-used trail with beautiful views of the Rim. This trail starts 2 miles north of Highline Trail on Trail 240. Alternate access is 2 miles south of the FR 218/218A junction on FR 218 (see "Milk Ranch Point" for access to FR 218).

East Webber Trail, TR 289
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 3 miles
This beautiful, little-used trail follows Webber Creek ending at a spring which flows from under the Rim. The trail starts from TR 240, 3 miles north of Highline Trail (see "Geronimo Trail" for access).

Geronimo Trail, TR 240
Rating: Easiest
Length: 3 miles
Provides access to trails 217, 228 & 289. From Hwy. 87, take FR 64 6 miles east to FR 440 and travel north on FR 440 for 2 miles to Geronimo Trailhead. Trail 240 starts 1/4 mile west of the trailhead on Highline Trail.

Pump Station Trail, TR 296
Rating: Easiest
Length: 1 mile
This trail starts near the Phelps Dodge Pump Station and ends at Highline Trail. Access is from FR 32A, 1/8 mile north of FR 32 (see "Washington Park Trailhead" for access).

Col. Devin Trail, TR 290 & Railroad Tunnel Trail, 390
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: Trail 290, 2 miles; Trail 390, .25 mile
Lots of history here! Indian and army skirmishes and an attempted railroad tunnel. Take FR 300 12.2 miles east of Hwy. 87 to Battle Monument on the north side of FR 300. The trail starts south of the road. Be sure to stay on the trail east of the powerlines. Trail 390 starts 1/2 mile down TR 290 and goes for another 1/4 mile up to the tunnel. Alternate access is 100 yards east of Washington Park Trailhead on Highline Trail (see "Washington Park Trailhead" for access).

Myrtle Trail, TR 30
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 1 mile
Dude Fire, the worst fire in Arizona's recent history, burned through this area. Easiest access is on FR 300, 19.3 miles east of Hwy. 87. The trail sign is on the south side of the road.

Highline Trail, TR 31
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 51 miles
Highline Trail, the backbone of all the spur trails, provides 51 miles of spectacular views. It begins at Pine Trailhead on Highway 87 and ends at Two-Sixty Trailhead on Highway 260.

Babe Haught Trail, TR 143
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 3 miles
Built by pioneer "Babe" Haught to pack supplies over the Rim from Winslow. Easiest access is from Hatchery Trailhead (see "Hatchery Trailhead" for access).

Horton Creek Trail, TR 285
Rating: Easiest
Length: 4 miles
Probably the most popular trail on the Payson Ranger District, this trail starts from Upper Tonto Creek Campground (see "Derrick Trail" for access).

Note: All trail distances given are one-way only. All trails (TR) in this guide are open to mountain bikes but closed to motorized vehicles. Certain trails not recommended for horses or mountain bikes. Complete descriptions for each trail are available at Payson Ranger Station.

Derrick Spur Trail, TR 32
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 1 mile
This spur trail winds easily through the pines joining with Derrick Trail (TR 33). From Hwy. 260, turn north on FR 289. The trail starts just past the cattle guard on the east side of the road. This trail may be used with TR 33 and a trail along FR 289 to form a loop.

Derrick Trail, TR 33
Rating: More Difficult
Length: 2.5 miles
This trail, in conjunction with trails 31 and 285, forms an all-day loop hike. Take FR 289 1 mile to Upper Tonto Creek Campground. The trail starts from the back of the campground. Parking is available across the bridge at Horton Creek Picnic Site.

Horton Springs Trail, TR 292
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 1.5 miles
The lower half of this trail is a steep, rocky sidehill with switchbacks. Not recommended for horses or bikes. Easiest access is from FR 300, 15.7 miles west of Hwy. 260. The trail sign is on the south side of the road.

Promontory Trail, TR 278
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 0.75 mile
This is a steep, brushy, challenging hike with the trail difficult to follow in places and not recommended for horses or bikes. Access is from Highline Trail, 1/4 mile north of the junction with Derrick Trail (TR 33) (see "Derrick Trail" for access).

See Canyon Trail, TR 184 & See Spring Trail, 185
Rating: Trail 184, Most Difficult; Trail 185, More Difficult
Length: Trail 184, 3.5 miles; Trail 185, 0.5 mile
Trail 184 is a challenging hike and particularly scenic in the fall. Trail 185 starts on TR 184 approximately 1/2 mile north of the junction with Highline Trail. Access is from FR 300 on top of the Rim, 12.3 miles west from Hwy. 260 or from See Canyon Trailhead. The trail starts 1/8 mile northeast of the trailhead on Highline Trail (see "See Canyon Trailhead" for access).

Drew Trail, TR 291
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 1 mile
An old pioneer trail built prior to 1909, easiest access is from Hwy. 260 to FR 300. Turn west on FR 300 and travel 5.4 miles to FR 9350. Turn south on FR 9350 and travel one mile. The trail sign is on the south side of the road.

Military Sinkhole Trail, TR 179
Rating: Most Difficult
Length: 2.5 miles
The trail starts on the Rim near the military road built by Gen. George Crook. Access is from either Two-Sixty Trailhead or FR 300, 1.9 miles west of Hwy. 260 (at the scenic vista parking lot).

Trail Access Routes

Pine Trailhead is reached by driving 15 miles north of Payson and is located just off Hwy. 87 on FR 297. Facilities include a toilet, corrals, and large parking area.

Geronimo Trailhead is reached by taking Hwy. 87 to FR 64. Turn east on FR 64 and travel 6 miles to FR 440. Turn north on FR 440 and travel 2 miles to the trailhead. Facilities include horse hitching racks and a parking area.

Washington Park Trailhead is reached by taking Hwy. 87 to FR 199. Turn east on FR 199 and travel 10.3 miles to FR 64. Turn west on FR 64 and travel .7 mile to FR 32. Turn north on FR 32 and travel 3.3 miles to FR 32A. The trailhead is 1/2 mile north on FR 32A. Facilities are limited to a corral. FR 32A is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles or trailers.

Hatchery Trailhead is located on FR 289, 4 miles north Hwy. 260 at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery entrance. Facilities are limited to a large parking lot.

See Canyon Trailhead is on FR 284, 2 miles north of Hwy. 260. Facilities include a toilet, corral, and parking area.

Two-Sixty Trailhead is located 27 miles east a Payson just off Hwy. 260. Facilities include toilet, corral, and large parking area.

Milk Ranch Point is reached from FR 218. From Highway 87, take FR 300 for .1 mile to FR 218A. Turn on FR 218A and travel for 1.3 miles to FR 218. Turn south on FR 218.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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