PRESCOTT, Ariz. - This is a story of three trails that have almost the same name, but are no where near each other and range in elevation and scenery.
The Prescott Hiking Club recently trekked through the Hassayampa River Trail - not to be confused with the Hassayampa Preserve River Trail or the Hassayampa Lake Trail. Of course, the one point these have in common is the same river.
The Hassayampa River Trail starts at Wolf Creek Campground, which is a beautiful setting with pine trees and various flowers. Less than a minute into the hike, Wolf Creek springs up to greet hikers with water. The creek will appear a few more times during the hike. There will be two crossings over the Hassayampa River.
Of course, seeing the creek means flowers and butterflies. Columbine, daisies and Arizona thistle were plentiful. Yellow monkey flower was found in a clump just toward the end of the hike. California Sister was among the butterflies.
The trails on this hike are wide and good, but there are many of the same looking trails going off in many directions so it could be easy to make a wrong turn so pay attention to the directions and the scenery. This trail starts at 5,875 feet and rises only until 6,240 feet. This isn't much of an increase - for those who stay on the trail.
However, trail leader Keith Block made the hike more interesting by taking us off the trail including going down a dry drainage. Just past this dry drainage, Wolf Creek appeared in a nice shady spot. Butterflies were prevalent and birds were singing.
The Best of Prescott Trails book rates this 5.4 mile hike as easy, but warns the river may not be passable after heavy rains.
This hike also comes close to Payoff Springs, which had the hikers thinking more of the casino then the hike. The hike also goes by a wildlife habitat area.
Directions: From Prescott, take Gurley Street east from the courthouse and turn right onto Mt. Vernon Avenue. This becomes Senator Highway Forest Road 52. Go seven miles to the end of the pavement, turn right at the sign for Lower Wolf Creek Campground. Go west for 1.1 miles to the campground on the left side of the road. Park here if the campground is closed. On this day, the campground was open the campground operator allowed us to park there. The trail begins to the right just after Wolf Creek.
Resource Book: Best of Prescott Trails by Pat Baillie
The Hassayampa Preserve River Trail is one of Arizona's Nature Conservancy sites. It is located in Wickenburg and features a ribbon of green even in the summer when other parts of this area turn brown from the heat.
This preserve is filled with cottonwoods and willows that keep the birds and wildlife happy. The shade it produces is also good for humans. This is the only Nature Conservancy site in Arizona that can be found right off a highway.
The Hassayampa River is one of the last free flowing rivers in Arizona, but most of the 100 mile river is underground. However, the section here is above ground year-round. Five species of rare native fish are found at sycamore lined Palm Lake, which is also at the Nature Conservancy site.
This hike can turn educational as more than 50 signs are found along the three miles of hiking routes in the preserve. More than 280 types of birds including hawks either live or migrate through here. Lowland leopard frogs and rock squirels are also among the hosts along with many types of lizards. The preserve also has a Nature Rangers program to teach youngsters about the nature of the preserve.
The elevation is 1,980 feet and remains flat throughout the trek. The Nature Conservancy purchased the site in 1986 and is working toward returning it to its natural state.
Directions: From Wickenburg at U.S. 93 and U.S. 60, go three miles southeast on U.S. 60 to the Hassayampa River Preserve to milepost 113.8 and turn into the parking lot.
The Hassayampa Lake Trail is a bit of a ride for less than a mile of trail. It is through a pine, oak and aspen forest providing shade. It's also up at 6,680 feet so it can a nice summer respite. The elevation gain is 40 feet.
The aspen and oaks provide changing colors in the fall. The road is winding and narrow, which means the people who dare to take the drive can find a quiet area at the end.
Directions: From Prescott, at the intersection of Montezuma and Gurley streets, go east 6.2 miles on Gurley, turn right onto Walker Road, also known as Forest Service Road 197, and go south 12 miles. Park off to the side by a wide part of the road.
Resource Book: Streamside Trails by Steve Krause.