Prescott’s top four trail-running loops under ten miles

By Jeff Rome
With the Whiskey Row Marathon coming up May 5, Prescott’s runners are out hitting the trails. Trail runners seem to gravitate towards the Peavine Trail by Watson Lake and the ever-popular Thumb Butte Recreation Area, but if it is worth the effort to drive, bike or run all the way to those popular areas, these other trails may be worth checking out, too.

Listing is in order of proximity to downtown:

Acker Park to Spring Trail to Turley Trail, and back via city streets (about seven miles of trail and one mile of pavement):

    Preferable direction: Counter-clockwise
Difficulty rating: No big deal*
Scenic rating: Ooh!
Less than a mile east of the courthouse, by Virginia and Carleton streets, is Acker Park. South of Acker Park, a maze of unmaintained roads and trails meanders through the foothills. Head south on the Acker Park loop to get away from town. An unmarked trail exists at the end of Spring Trail Road, and from here it is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of run. Connecting this trail to Turley Trail is not as easy as the map makes it appear, but is possible. After following Spring Trail, turn left on a dirt road and in less than 100 feet a trail appears on the right. From here, continue turning right at junctions until you see a marker for the Turley Trail on the left. Then head left on the Turley Trail and end this peripatetic journey by heading back into town. Some of this run becomes especially muddy after rain or snow.
Mt. Francis loop (roughly 10k, or six and a quarter miles, all dirt):
Preferable direction: Clockwise
Difficulty rating: Ooph
Scenic rating: Jumping Jehosephat!
Between mile markers 13 and 12 on Copper Basin Road, park at the Aspen Creek trailhead and look for Trail 48 across the road. This first section might be muddy, icy, snowy, or a combination of all three — it sees little sun. After Trail 48 makes an abrupt and marked turn to the right, get ready for the hills. This continues for miles, and one might spy Highway 89 curving into the mountains far below while huffing up to a pass, which, unfortunately, is not the first pass, nor the high point of the loop. Make sure not to miss the aspen grove when finally heading downhill back on Copper Basin Road.

Watson Lake circumnavigation (six or seven miles, all dirt or rock):
Preferable direction: Counter-clockwise
Difficulty rating: Not too bad
Scenic rating: Ooh!
Park by the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, and head north on the Peavine Trail. This is likely the only section of this route where other runners will be spotted. Keep an eye out for the wonderfully marked trail maps on the left, and make your way to the Over the Hill Trail. Cross a short grated bridge to meet up with the Flume Trail, and then veer on to the first trail heading left. Head up this for about half a mile, until a low angle slab is seen on the left — aim for this, and pick through cross country terrain until coming to a parking lot (hint: go through the notch and keep an eye out for a faint climber’s trail). From the parking lot, a dirt path along the shore and a trail through Watson Woods makes it possible to avoid pavement.

Little Granite Mountain loop (six miles, all trail):

Preferable direction: Clockwise

Difficulty rating: Not too bad

Scenic rating: Mona Lisa

If you have been to Granite Mountain and have not done this loop yet, go back. Park at the La Playa Day Use Area and head down Trail 261. When the first signed junction is reached, head left and follow the signs carefully for the first half mile to stay on Trail 40. Once a creek is met, progression becomes exhaustingly steep. After a mile of hill, level ground is gained with the next trail junction. Atop a pass now, take a minute to appreciate the view. To the north, the San Francisco Peaks can be seen with the Mogollon Rim clearly visible below them. To the south, Skull Valley stretches out into the desert. The next mile has a good amount of exposure, with the trail perched on a steep hillside. As Trail 37 heads towards the main cliff on Granite Mountain, a large butte can be seen dominating the foreground. From any other trail, this butte looks unremarkable. From 37, it makes a scrambling side trip very tempting. Cruise back on gradual downhill beneath the imposing cliff. Just make sure not to trip while looking up in awe.


*Running difficulty is subjective.


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