Formed approximately 30 million years ago, Arizona’s Mogollon Rim forms the southernmost portion of the Colorado Plateau. Just north of Payson, this area offers an abundance of Ponderosa pines, aspens, blue spruce, lakes, streams, fields of ferns, and much, much more. It's not exactly what you’d expect when hiking in a state known for its desert landscape. Sitting at around 8,000 feet, the rim, as it is commonly referred, yields summer temperatures generally ranging in the mid-70s to 80s. Coupled with a landscape more reminiscent to that of Colorado, this area makes for a near-perfect place to spend an Arizona summer day.
The idyllic Western Cabin Loop rounds out at about 23 miles and makes for an exquisite day hike — or if you are wanting to spend a little more time in this area, a nice backpacking trip. It's a trip that will not only boggle your senses with breathtaking sights, sounds, and smells, but will also send you trekking through a bit of Arizona history. Here's your guide.
Starting at Washington Park, the Colonel Devin Trail will begin your ascension up the rim. At just under two miles and an elevation around 1,200 feet, this is a much milder ascension than that of the Babe Haught Trail near the Tonto Fish Hatchery. This route offers plenty of shade, along with the cooling sounds of a running stream in the background. From here, go west on the General Crook Trail toward General Springs Cabin. This cabin was built in 1918, and used for years as a fire guard station. It's a historical marker for the Battle of Big Dry Wash, and also marks your first historical reference of the trek.
From there, you have about seven miles on the Fred Haught Trail. Look forward to bright green fields of ferns as the pines welcome you into the first quarter of your hike. This trail will connect with the Houston Brothers Trail, historically used to move livestock. That's where you will come across your second historical marker, Pinchot Cabin, named after Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. National Forestry Service in the early 1900s. Often referred to as the “father” of preservation, he managed to increase the number of national forests from 60 to 150 with an increase of 116 million acres of national forest land from 1905 to 1910.
At this point, you are almost at your halfway mark and the cabin area provides a nice place to stop for lunch or a snack. There is also a running stream, providing a great opportunity to filter and replenish your hydration packs.
The third quarter of your hike will include several rolling climbs until you reach Forest Road 300. It will also offer an outstanding forest adventure. This part of the hike has a fairy-tale mystique to it. The trees seems to come alive, bending into tunnels, as the area grows dark around you, dipping into fluorescent pockets of ferns. Then, the trail weaves you up and opens to a small meadow, closing back in before spitting you out onto FR300.
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Once you hit the road, you are on the last quarter of your hike. While traveling the road is not the most exciting part of the hike, it does offer scenic lookouts off the edge of the rim. It also makes for a nice cool down before dropping back down the rim to the trailhead and ultimate end of your journey.
A day among these trees brings to mind Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. There are not many things in this world that ask for nothing in return. But as long as there are untouched wildernesses filled with trees and streams, wildlife, and cool breezes to escape to, lessons, quiet moments, and adventures will always be within reach.