By Blake Herzog
Granite Mountain’s 7,625-foot peak has stood sentry over Greater Prescott for millennia as the tallest mountain on the horizon and temptation to the brave and foolhardy. Once known as Mount Gurley, and before that as Wi:kvte:wa to the Yavapai, it’s a magnificent jumble of boulders miniscule to enormous.
It’s also surrounded by the Granite Mountain Wilderness, which has additional protections than the rest of Prescott National Forest — all motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited. It is a refuge for deer, javelina, foxes, lizards, snakes, birds and nature-attached humans, most of whom treat the 9,700-acre refuge with the care that’s called for.
There are no official trails that go all the way to Granite Mountain’s peak, but the U.S. Forest Service’s Granite Mountain Trail No. 261 comes closest, curling around the top to a grand vista 500 feet below it with sweeping views all the way to Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks on clear days.
You get to enjoy so much more on the way up, too. When you start out from the Metate Trailhead next to Granite Basin Lake you have plenty of shade from ponderosas, cottonwoods, alligator juniper and many more species, as well as the first views of the mountain’s granite ledges.
Soon the trail crosses the boundary of the Granite Mountain Wilderness and dips down into a wash, then climbs back out and keeps climbing. You will pass one huge pile of boulders as you leave the forest and enter the open chaparral with shrubbier mesquite and manzanita trees as a series of switchbacks begins, boulders helping to mark the trail and guide the users.
At Blair Saddle about three-quarters of the way up, there’s a three-pronged fork. To the left is Little Granite Mountain Trail No. 37, which loops back to the south around the peak of the same name. Straight ahead is White Rock Spring Trail No. 39, part of a wider loop back to the trailhead.
Keep right to continue on No. 261, with the incline continuing as it winds back through more ponderosas to its end at breathtaking Vista Point. This calorie-torching workout takes an average of two hours, and you can choose to take one of the other trails back or return the way you came.
GRANITE MOUNTAIN TRAIL NO. 261
To reach the trailhead take Iron Springs Road from its intersection with Willow Creek, Whipple and Miller Valley roads in Prescott northwest to Granite Basin Road. Turn right onto Granite Basin Road, continue for another 3.5 miles to the Metate parking lot on the right where there are 20 parking spaces. Most of the trail is within the Granite Mountain Wilderness, where no motorized or mechanized equipment is allowed, including bicycles. Hiking groups are limited to 15 people and equestrian groups to 10 animals. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed at all times.
Parking fees: $5; free on Wednesday
Uses: Hiking, horseback riding
Distance: 4.1 miles (one way)
Level of difficulty: Difficult
Elevation: 5,500 feet to 7,000 feet