Arizona Trail - Hart Prairie Loop via Mountain Bike

The San Francisco Peaks in late June.

One of the more well known mountain bike trails in the Flagstaff area is a segment of the Arizona Trail that runs through meadows on the lower slopes of Humphreys Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona, and along the top edge of Hart Prairie, a grassland in Coconino National Forest. The easy option for mountain biking involves a car shuttle from the Arizona Snowbowl Road to Forest Service Road 418. This allows for a long descent of several miles through fir and spruce forest, high grassy meadows backed by barren snowy peaks, groves of white-barked Quaking Aspen, and finally sunny, open Ponderosa Pine forest.

Unfortunately I had been feeling pretty good about my fitness and made the mistake of trying to ride the overly ambitious loop route defined on the MTB Project web site which involved long riding on a network of forest service roads, fire road, and monstrous climbing. I got it done but not without suffering, missing an extremely easy to miss and unmarked turn, and burning up my legs before I even got to the good part. Fortunately it was nearly all down hill from there, literally, as the Arizona Trail descended steadily over a distance of several miles.

As someone said, nothing truly worth doing is easy, so despite the difficulty, I can't say I regret riding this section. It was worth it for the views alone. The very long and spectacularly scenic downhill at the end added to the pleasure. I decided not to write out a lengthy report for this ride so instead here is a photo trip report. This ranks as a fairly difficult ride by my standards, although I'm not sure I would say "never again." It certainly is one of the most beautiful places I have ridden.

The ride had a promising beginning with snow fields on the western slopes of the Peaks visible through the trees. Unfortunately FS Road 151 soon got steep and sandy and it became a grind.

Somewhere much further down the road I broke into the open spaces of the lower area of Hart Prairie with views of the San Francisco Peaks. The ski runs of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort can be seen on the right.

Kendrick Peak, 10,422 ft (3177 m) from Forest Service Road 151, Coconino National Forest.

I missed this turn and rode a good mile or so too far before a passing rider gave me directions to look for this thing. The description on the MTB Project website say the fire road is marked but it is not. It must have been at one time. The fire road is behind this cattle loading ramp.

The fire road was in terrible condition (see video) but the views started to improve within a short distance.

Alfa Fia Tank

The view across the Colorado Plateau from Fire Road 9215B. Alfa Fia Tank is in the meadow in the foreground. In Arizona, a "tank" is just a spot where surface water is available. Alfa Fia is an artificial pond with an earthen dam. Sometimes these are natural ponds, or just places in an intermittent streambed where water is retained among rocks.

I love prairie with mountains in the background. This is looking downhill from just below the Arizona Trail. Kendrick Peak is on the right and Government Mountain is just right of center.
I was extremely glad to see this Arizona Trail sign at the top of the climb. By this point I'm sure I had climbed well over 1200 vertical and my leg muscles were gelatin.

The high peaks visible through the Ponderosa Pines.

The view from the Arizona Trail at the higher end of Hart Prairie.

A view northward along the Arizona Trail onto Hart Prairie.

One last view back uphill towards Humphreys Peak.

The Arizona Trail amidst the Douglas Firs.
This section of the Arizona Trail wanders though some amazing groves of Aspen. If you travel this section northward (downhill) then you will be rolling though places like this at high speed.

Stupid knuckles! I was too lazy to edit. Maybe I will later because otherwise this is a gorgeous view of the snow fields on Humphreys Peak in late June from Forest Service Road 418 on the way back to my car.


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