The Balancing Rock Trail on the western edge of Prescott takes hikers, bikers, horses and their riders on a gently rolling journey through the foothills below Granite Mountain, through stands of ponderosa and oak that look majestic whether lushly green in the summer, red and gold in the autumn or dressed in sleeves of snow in the winter.
Clearings are dotted with wildflowers in the spring and can host snowball fights in winter.
This path at the base of Granite Mountain offers spectacular close-up views of the peak as it curves through a landscape that boasts manzanita, juniper and even some yucca and prickly pear.
Boulders loom high and low, with more than one that could be the trail’s namesake. The landmark it was actually named after is near its junction with trail No. 351, a large, rectangular boulder with a smaller, round one on top that seems to be frozen in mid-slide off the side.
As users approach the rock from the south they edge past Surprise Springs, where channels and sandbars direct water running off the mountain, which becomes more of a stream in the winter months.
As tempting it can be to wander over there when there’s an inviting cascade of water, much of the area to the east of the trail is private property, so it’s important to stay on the single-track path.
The forest begins to thin out on the upper end of the trail and the viewsheds open over the Williamson Valley and on to the Verde Valley and Flagstaff-area peaks. For most adults this trip will not have been particularly challenging, but the last tenth of a mile or so gets a little more difficult as it climbs toward Granite Basin Lake, making for a fitness-building trek as well as a gorgeous one!
BALANCING ROCK TRAIL No. 349
This path is a family-friendly trek near the border of the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area, which takes you from the trailhead on an easy curve through the forest and scrubland.
It links to several other trails including Surprise Spring Trail No. 350, which forms a nice, tight loop back to the middle of the trail; West Lake Trail No. 351, a wider loop that takes you back to the Cayuse trailhead; and Granite Mountain Trail No. 261, which hooks onto the end of No. 349 and curls onto the wilderness area and the face of the mountain.
The trail is within the Granite Mountain Recreation Area of Prescott National Forest, west of the City. It’s easily accessible from the Cayuse Trailhead, which is reached by taking Iron Springs Road west from its intersection with Willow Creek Road.
Continue west for 3 miles until reaching Granite Basin Road, then turn right and continue 2.5 miles until you reach the Cayuse Parking Area on the right, just past the trailhead. The No. 349 trail marker is on the south side of the parking lot.
- Parking fees: $5 (free on Wednesday)
- Uses: Hiking, biking, equestrian
- Distance: 3.2 miles (one way)
- Level of difficulty: Easy
- Elevation: 5,597 feet to 5,931 feet