West Fork Black River trail

WHITE MOUNTAINS, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Debbie Hendricks, Arizona native and owner of outdoor store Just Roughin' It brings us some cooler hikes to take in the White Mountains this summer:

As an Arizona native, I cannot count the number of times I have had people tell me that Arizona is hot and cannot understand how anyone can survive the summers.

Well, aside from being one that much prefers the heat to the high humidity in most other places in the country, I am constantly reminding people that we are just a couple hours drive in most any direction to cooler weather hikes.

Here are 3 that are for different levels of hikers but equal in scenery. Since you are likely to be hiking this area during the summer monsoon, make sure you do so safely and follow our tips for hiking during the monsoon season.

West Fork Black River Trail

Originating in the White Mountains, the Black River flows through the Fort Apache and San Carlos Indian reservations before emptying into the Salt River. Make sure to not confuse this with the West Fork Trail that climbs Mount Baldy. This trailhead is south of Greer on Forest Road 68.

Over the course of this short segment, you will hike through a forest filled with Ponderosa and white pines, varieties of spruce and Douglas fir, plus the occasional aspen. Aside from black bear, mountain lion and coyote, the Mexican grey wolves are making their way back in the region – so while dogs are allowed, it may be better to leave them at home. Once you reach the river (which is small enough to cross by hopping on rocks), get wet if it is a warm day. Water should be treated before drinking. This trail is popular with the mountain biking crowd, so beware of bikes.

Mileage: 6 out and back - lightly trafficked

Elevation Change: 450 ft (8,900 to 8,550 ft)

Difficulty: Easy

West Baldy Trail

The summit of Mount Baldy reaches 11,403 feet, and while the scenery is best from the peak (or if you are a peak bagger), the actual summit is on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and is off limits. But you can get close and the hike is well worth the “almost” getting there. The trailhead is west of Eagar off SR 273 at the Sheeps Crossing Trailhead.

This hike gives you everything – water (as you hike about 2 miles along the West Fork of the Little Colorado River), beaver dams, thick forests, small meadows and views. And like anywhere in the White Mountains, there exist large critters like black bear. As with any water hike, be sure to treat the water before drinking it – and it will totally be worth having a drink of cool water.

Mileage: 13.5 out and back - moderately trafficked

Elevation Change: 2,150 ft (9,200 to 11,350 ft)

Difficulty: Moderate

Moonshine Park

This hike is one of several in the Blue-Range Primitive Area that encompasses 173,000 acres of rugged terrain along the Arizona-New Mexico border (it is the ruggedness that gives this hike a “strenuous” difficulty rating).

Like other hikes in the White Mountains, you will be in a wonderland of pine tree forests, cool creeks and green meadows. The area is also now home to the Mexican Grey Wolf due to the efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the species.

This area was affected by the Wallow fire in 2011, but seeing how a forest regenerates is a great lesson in biology (because everyday is a school day). The trailhead is at Hannagan Meadow south of Alpine along Hwy 191.

The first mile of this hike follows the P Bar Lake Trail which takes you to something that isn’t so much a lake as it is a stock pond/puddle– keep your eyes open for mule deer and elk ordering drinks from the “bar” (just kidding).

As you continue the hike, your best scenery will come from Paradise Park, but you really cannot go wrong on any part of this hike. If you are a backpacker, take note of all the choice spots to camp at both Paradise and Moonshine parks. And of course, water should be treated before drinking – there is an obvious theme here.

Mileage: 10.3 out and back - lightly trafficked. The hike is shorter if you forego hiking Paradise Trail and make your destination Grant Creek.

Elevation Change: 1,300 ft (8,400 to 7,100 ft)

Difficulty: Strenuous


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