The Houston Brothers Trail is one of the best summer hikes in Arizona because of its altitude, shade, running streams, flowers, butterflies and a feeling of wilderness.
The drive to the trailhead is another plus as motorists take Rim Road 300 that winds along the Mogollon Rim. The 16-mile ride on this graded road starts covered by pine trees so there is plenty of shade. Before long the panoramic view opens up.
The road is just far enough from the drop-off that motorists can feel comfortable because it looks like it's thousands of feet down. Then there is a great view of all the mountains off in the distance.
It is also this 16-mile scenic drive that leaves most of civilization behind, although people will pass many campers, hikers and dirt bike riders along the way. But don't worry, there won't be dirt bike riders once you start the hike.
The 14-mile round trip hike starts at 7,732 feet and drops down to 7,074 feet. Many consider the hike a moderate outing, but after putting in some mileage there are some small hills that will have most hikers huffing and puffing on the way out.
The high altitude meant the temperature was 69 degrees at 10 a.m. How many places in Arizona are this mild in the thick of the summer?
Purple lupines greet hikers at the large trailhead sign. This was only the beginning of a wide array of colorful flowers that lit up the trail. The more common blue lupines, sunflowers, columbine, Indian paintbrush, red star flowers and a variety of other flowers joined in the colorful show.
Those who like a variety of mushrooms will also be pleased.
The folks at the Blue Ridge Ranger District said this is an easy trail to follow and for the most part they were right, but one of the early trail signs was covered by shrubbery so we missed the turnoff and went about two miles out of the way before running out of trail, turning around and finding the sign on the way back.
This also happened to some hikers behind us who we eventually met up with. Being more thoughtful, they removed the shrubbery and put rocks around the sign so it was erect for everybody to see.
Not long into the hike on the right trail, the first treat was the shade. The trail starts with plenty of pine trees, but before the hiker knows it there are spruce, oaks and aspens. A bit further the maples and ferns start to appear.
"This is one of the best forest hikes," said Dave Fickas, a member of the Prescott Hiking Club, as he marveled at the trees. Unique bark at the bottom of some of the aspen trees caught his attention.
Another treat shortly into the hike was wild blackberries. This hiker never tasted any sweeter blackberries.
A short while later, the descent drops down into the drainage area and with the slow running water came a couple huge stands of sunflowers. The sunflowers brought with them a plethora of butterflies.
The rest of the hike went in and out of stream areas before coming into one of many meadows that had the best running stream along the hike. The stream, in the area called Houston Draw, is fenced off to keep cattle out, but hikers can enter at several places. A huge fern forest borders the fence.
Toward the end of the fenced area is an old cabin right near Aspen Springs. This is a great place to have lunch, watch the stream and the forest before deciding whether to turn around or keep going. The northern trailhead is seven miles from the southern trailhead.
The Pinchot Cabin, a bit more than a mile down the trail, was part of the network of fireguard cabins on the Mogollon Rim many years ago.
Arizona Highways rates this as one of the best summer hikes. The hike offers so much that it's hard to disagree.
More information is available from the Mogollon Ranger District at (928) 477-2255 or online at www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
From Winslow, drive about 62 miles south on Route 87, then turn left onto Forest Road 300. Drive 16.1 miles on Forest Road 300 to the trailhead on the left. The dirt parking lot is about 100 yards past the trailhead on the right.