Prescott Circle Trail Promises 56 Miles of Adventure

by Blake Herzog

For the last three years we’ve published a monthly feature about a trail readers can explore in the Greater Prescott area; now we’re finally getting around to the longest of them all.

We’ve written about many of the trails that form segments of the Prescott Circle Trail, which was assembled over the course of 25 years out of existing trails and new segments maintained by the City of Prescott and Prescott National Forest, but never provided an overview of the entire captivating loop.

The Prescott Circle Trail, also known as the PCT, has 15 trailheads as it circumnavigates the city it was named after, guiding hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian users through the habitats found in our remarkably diverse region.

People with the time and stamina can devote one or two days to completing it in one fell swoop, but the majority break it down into smaller bites.

Explorers of this great loop will see, as they travel counterclockwise from the Peavine trailhead parking lot:

  • The majesty of the Granite Dells and beauty of Watson and Willow lakes, with broad trails views that continue through Pioneer Park and Williamson Valley.
  • The Granite Basin section with peerless views of Granite Mountain, denser vegetation and narrower trails that may provide more of a challenge.
  • Thumb Butte’s western base, with more tree cover and the bustling activity that surrounds this iconic landmark.
  • The White Spar area’s thick ponderosa forest and panoramic vistas from the Sierra Prieta Overlook and Quartz and Wolverton mountains, plus enchanting Goldwater Lake.
  • Explorers then zigzag down from the forested slopes and over P Mountain, down past Prescott Gateway Mall and the auto dealerships on Prescott Lakes Parkway and back up to the Peavine trailhead.

Since many different trails and junctions are used along the route it’s important to watch for PCT signs to keep you on track. The trail has an overall 6,000-foot elevation gain but doesn’t include any particularly steep sections outside of the White Spar peaks, but you can branch off onto many more challenging side trips.

The PCT has multiple trailheads with parking. Many of them charge fees including at Goldwater, Watson and Willow lakes, the Peavine trailhead and Thumb Butte. The rest are free, including White Spar Campground (if you aren’t camping), Williamson Valley and Katahn trailheads, Pioneer Park and Copper Basin Road near Mount Francis. There are many tools with more in-depth information about each segment of the PCT, including a guidebook available for $10 at the Prescott Chamber of Commerce at Goodwin and Montezuma streets and The Lookout (formerly Jay’s Bird Barn), 1230 Willow Creek Rd. The AllTrails app details 11 downloadable segments of the PCT and several blogs have detailed coverage. You camp along the way at the Watson Lake, White Spar or Yavapai campgrounds.

Parking fees: Free at most trailheads
Uses: Hiking, biking, equestrian
Distance: 56.25 miles
Level of difficulty: Mostly moderate
Elevation: 5,143 feet to 6,693 feet