by Blake Herzog
The Spence Basin Trail System off Iron Springs Road is a 30-mile network of trails unfolding into a hilly wonderland that spans scrubby chapparal to piney woodlands.
One of its centerpieces is the West Side Story (No.725), a trail which runs along the westernmost ridge of the cluster and rewards users with energizing mountain views on both ends.
There’s something for everyone at this roller coaster in the forest just outside the Prescott city limits. The variety of the surrounding habitat and the heart-pumping ups and downs all make this an adventure to remember.
West Side Story is a relatively small link in the overall maze at a little less than 3 miles, but it brings you deep into the basin. Its single-track path begins at the Iron Springs Trailhead in open high scrubland, giving you its first twists and turns to help you get acclimated to what’s ahead.
After a half-mile there’s a big bend that brings it close to the riparian habitat along Spence Creek, which sprinkles some cacti into its lush willow stands laced with canyon grapevines and studded with boulders.
You soon begin to climb into ponderosa-dominated woodlands as the short Spence Creek Trail (No. 719) juts off to the east, heading down to the creek bed and connecting to the Javelina Trail (No. 332), one of the main connectors for the basin.
Continuing on the West Side Story trail takes you up onto the western ridgeline of the basin and reveals a view of Granite Mountain and down into Williamson Valley.
You’ll soon come to another junction where the Skyline Trail (No.712) is straight ahead while the West Side Story Trail bends to the left, providing more swooping curves along the ridge and access to a short connector to the more technical Tatanka and Tunnel Vison trails.
The last chapter of West Side Story throws a few more curveballs as it flows toward the west and offers an extended peek at the top of Thumb Butte before swinging back east and ending at the Waterline Trail (No. 733), a great spot to either turn back or press onward.
Prescott National Forest collaborated with the Prescott Mountain Biking Alliance, Over the Hill Gang and other local groups to develop the Spence Basin trails, which opened in 2018 after three years of planning and construction. They were designed to help mountain bikers take advantage of the rolling topography, and it continues to get heavy two-wheeled traffic. To reach the Iron Springs Trailhead from downtown Prescott, take Montezuma Street north from Gurley Street for 5 miles, continuing as it bends to the west and becomes Whipple Street and then Iron Springs Road. Turn left onto Spence Springs Road and the trailhead will be on your left about 200 feet from the intersection.
Parking fees: None
Uses: Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding
Distance: 2.75 miles
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5,819 feet to 5,990 feet