by Blake Herzog
Thumb Butte beckons to Prescott on its western edge, its unmistakable profile drawing us to its challenging slope and the craggy ponderosa forest surrounding it.
And people come, mostly on the road that bears its name, to walk the trail that loops up and down its slope and explore the surrounding boulder-studded terrain. This recreation is among the most popular within Prescott National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service and the City of Prescott have collaborated to create a less-traveled route into this outdoor playground near its southern edge, using an easement through private property and on public land to let hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders take a less congested path.
The Rancho Vista Trail is a short, scenic pathway that climbs gradually through trees and shrubs and offers horizons across the community and past the butte to Granite Mountain.
On the city side, the trail unfolds for about 0.6 of a mile before it meets the national forest’s Rancho Vista Trail No.387, where it narrows a bit into a singletrack that rolls within inches of pine and oak trees and shrubs for another 0.7 miles.
It runs over a few rocks on the way to meeting up with Pott’s Creek Trail No. 327, which is a link in the 56-mile Prescott Circle Trail network around the city that draws hikers and riders from around the country.
The Butte Creek Trail No. 321 is a few steps farther and takes you back to the city, via Strickland Park. Thumb Butte Bypass Trail No. 326 extends for 2 miles from the southeast through the interior of the recreational area that provides direct or indirect access to every trail within.
The sections of the Rancho Vista trail link urban-wildlife interface and open forest within their combined 1.3 miles for an engaging trek into all the Thumb Butte Recreational Area has to offer.
The City of Prescott built the Rancho Vista trail primarily for residents in the Rancho Vista and Hassayampa neighborhoods; there is no parking at the trailhead. Street parking may be available nearby but take care not to block any driveways.
Walking or biking may be your best approach to using this trail. To reach the trail from Downtown Prescott, drive south on Montezuma Street as it turns into White Spar Road and turn right on Copper Basin Road. Continue on Copper Basin for 2.3 miles, then turn right on Rancho Vista Drive. Drive north on Rancho Vista for almost half a mile to Weeping Willow Lane, then continue for another fifth of a mile until the road bends around and becomes Rancho Vista — the trailhead is here.
Parking fees: None
Uses: Hiking, mountain biking, equestrian
Distance: 0.6 miles (city trail), 0.7
miles (Forest Service Trail).
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate
Elevation: 5,680 feet to 6,150 feet