The Aspen Creek Trail in Prescott National Forest surrounds you with pine trees and fresh air mere steps from the trailhead.
Despite its fairly isolated location southwest of Prescott, Aspen Creek Trail No. 48 is one of the most popular trails for hikers and mountain bikers in Prescott National Forest. It’s easy to figure out why.
It begins by following a short section of Aspen Creek and climbing up the base of Mt. Francis through impressive stands of ponderosa and Gambel oak, the latter of which provides a healthy amount of fall foliage for those who come to this year-round trail at the right time. There are no aspens to be found, unfortunately.
The first mile of the trail is spent climbing up and over a ridge. A great cardio and core workout whether you’re on foot or wheels. Horses are permitted, too, so this is great exercise for them. Their riders also benefit from a full core workout and improved posture.
The Moby Trail (No. 737) branches off to the west almost a mile away from the trailhead, taking you on a parallel, higher-elevation track that offers the tradeoff of less vegetation for more expansive vistas of the surrounding wilderness.
At the 1-mile mark of the Aspen Creek Trail you reach gentler, more rolling terrain, from which you can enjoy panoramic views of numerous peaks including Spruce Mountain, Mount Union and on clear days the San Francisco Peaks beyond Flagstaff.
The trail begins a slow descent toward the base of the mountain as the vegetation begins to switch over to juniper and manzanita. After another mile or so you’re rewarded with panoramic views to the south, including the burg of Wilhoit and the Board Creek Divide.
The trail ends by meeting the East Copper Trail (No. 260), which permits OHVs but is considerably less busy than Aspen Creek. You can head farther south or double back to reach the 7,100-foot peak of Mount Francis, site of several radio towers. Or you can go back the way you came, reversing the spectacular progression you just witnessed.
As mentioned, this trail can get quite busy, to the point of warranting a “high use trail” sign at the trailhead warning “serious accidents” have resulted from the steep slope and tight curves. These conditions mostly exist on the first mile, so users need to be on alert throughout this segment. It can be much quieter in the middle of the week, but with a little common sense you should be fine, whichever day you choose for your trek.
ASPEN CREEK TRAIL No. 48
Reached from Aspen Creek Trailhead, which is about 15 minutes away from downtown Prescott via Montezuma Street/White Spar Road. Take a right onto Copper Basin Road and follow it past the end of the pavement (the last 1.5 miles is OK for most vehicles) until you see the trailhead parking lot on your right. Trail No. 393 toward Thumb Butte starts from the parking lot; find the trailhead for No. 48 directly across the road.
Parking Fees: None
Usages: Hiking, cycling, horseback
Mileage: 3.4 miles (one way)
Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation: 6,300 feet (at the end) to 6,800 feet (about a half-mile from the trailhead)
Photo by Blake Herzog