It may sound like a lot to ask for, but I recently found everything I needed to attain my weekend quota of fun in (and around) Prescott -- less that a two hours' drive from Phoenix. From miles and miles of mountain bike trails to delicately-brewed pale ale, fat tire aficionados with a penchant for the finer things in life will not be disappointed when visiting this historic enclave in the middle of the Prescott National Forest.
With summer heating up, temperatures were predicted to be too toasty for biking in the desert, so my riding partner, Greg Armstrong, and I decided to load our bikes in my VW bus and make the short drive north to Prescott. When we arrived in this quaint but rapidly growing town early one Saturday morning, we stopped at a local bike shop to inquire about trails in the area. Ray at High Gear Bikes recommended a 25-mile loop through the Bradshaw Mountains on a mix of single track, jeep roads and pavement for the first day's ride. For the next day he suggested the short but steep Groom Creek Loop Trail, which leads to the top of Spruce Mountain -- one of the most scenic lookout points in the Bradshaws.
With Ray's hand-drawn map in my jersey pocket, we drove out of Prescott on Copper Basin Road and parked the van in a pine-shaded pull-off (camping spot) where the pavement ends. From here we pedaled up the road several miles to the Aspen Creek Trailhead (also known as Trail No. 48).
The terrain on the first leg of our loop route was technically moderate and loaded with beautiful scenery. We started climbing immediately (small chain ring of course) at the Aspen Creek Trail intersection. The path snaked up to the top of a ridge, giving us our first taste of the panoramic Bradshaw Mountain scenery that was to come. After pausing to take in the view, we followed the trail down a short rocky section that is riddled with wooden water bars. At this point, Greg began longing for the bump-absorbing full suspension mountain bike he had recently ordered. I didn't notice the jolting ride, however, because I was so entranced by the beautiful mountain views.
This pattern of up and down continued for about another two and a half miles until we reached the junction of Trail No. 48 and 270. We decided to take a short rest and consult the hand-drawn map we were given at the bike shop. Although the map was helpful, I wished we had purchased a guidebook or a more detailed Prescott National Forest Map. The wealth of roads and trails in this area has one downside -- the many intersecting routes can make for some confusing biking and hiking.
After figuring out our bearings, Greg and I continued south on Trail No. 270. It wasn't long before we found ourselves cruising down an amazing section of downhill that meanders through the scrub and pine forest for several miles. The surface beneath our tires was perfect -- the slope was just steep enough to keep us firmly attached to our brake levers -- and the panoramic view of the rolling green mountains to the south was awesome.
Following that short and exciting segment, we turned right on Forest Road 53 and started climbing again. But this time it wasn't too difficult because we were on a smooth, wide fire road. We continued on this dirt road for a few miles until we reached the graded surface of Thumb Butte Road, where we turned left and resumed climbing. From here we could see snow-capped Humphreys Peak north of Flagstaff. The San Francisco Peaks looked like they were only a few miles away as the crow flies, but I knew they were actually at least 50 miles distant.
Distance from the Phoenix: 100 miles
Getting there: From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to the State Route 69 exit. Follow SR 69 west into Prescott. To reach the Aspen Creek trailhead (the author's first ride), continue into town on SR 69 until it dead-ends into Montezuma Street. Turn left on Montezuma and then veer to the right at the "Y" onto Copper Basin Road. Park where the pavement ends and pedal several miles to the trailhead. To reach the Groom Creek trailhead (the author's second ride), head into Prescott on SR 69 and turn left on the Senator Highway (Forest Road 52); continue south for about seven miles to the Groom Creek Trail sign.
Season: Summer, fall and spring. High temperatures in the Prescott area during June and July average in the mid-80s; average lows are in the mid-50s.
Maps: Prescott National Forest; USGS topo 7.5 minute "Groom Creek;" and "Iron Springs."
Accommodations: Camping is allowed anywhere in the Prescott National Forest; contact the Bradshaw Ranger District (see below) about developed campgrounds. There are several bed and breakfasts in Prescott including the Mt. Vernon Inn (phone, 520-778-0886) and the Prescott Pines Inn (phone, 520-445-7270).
For more information: Prescott National Forest, Bradshaw Ranger District, 2230 E. Highway 69, Prescott, AZ 86301; phone (520) 445-7253. Prescott Chamber of Commerce, 117 West Goodwin Street, Prescott, AZ; phone (520) 445-2000.