The Woodchute Wilderness Adventure, Featuring Great Views, Beautiful Wildflowers, and Some Surprises, Too
By Amanda Lane, owner, The Hike Shack
Mingus Mountain is a wonderful place to explore. Not only is this beautiful mountain about 10 degrees than Prescott on any given day, but the cool, tall Pinion Pines, Gamble Oaks and miles of trails offer a quick getaway less than 45 minutes from downtown.
Just 11 miles from the last light on 89A North (on the backside of Prescott Valley), you’ll find a left-hand turn that leads to a wilderness area full of adventure. I have never really explored the Woodchute Wilderness, but a recent trails day event inspired me to “lose my mind and find my soul” in an unfamiliar area full of wonder. The Woodchute Wilderness is nearly 6,000 acres of rugged terrain, designated in 1984.
I turned left from 89A onto U.S. Forest Service Road 106 and followed the Forest Service signs to the 102 Trailhead. I passed a small parking area and a simple pit toilet and continued to follow the signs to the 102 Trailhead just a little further down the dirt road. There is no fee for this parking area but also no facilities or drinking water. The parking area, which has plenty of room for cars and trucks with trailers, is just past the Powerline Meadow Wildlife Restoration Area, which is a beautiful meadow with a pond.
A trailhead sign on the right of the parking area has a map of the wilderness as well as a sign-in sheet. This information kiosk warns of black bears present in the area, poor cell phone service, and that only hiking, and horseback travel is permitted.
The signs had a quote that I loved and were a great way to start my adventure for the day, “Wilderness … an area where the earth and its community of life are untamed by a man when the man himself is a visitor who does not remain” – The Wilderness act of 1964.
My plan was to make a loop; hiking down the Woodchute Trail 102 for about two miles to the Rick Tank Cutoff Trail 104. Then traveling on about 1.7 miles to the Martin Canyon Trail 103 and heading south until I hit the Forest Service Road 106D that connects to 106 where I was parked. At approximately eight miles round trip, it would have been a long loop but not unreasonable. I headed down the Woodchute Trail 102 to find the connector trail for my adventure to the Rick Tank Cutoff Trail 104. The Woodchute Trail is a seven-mile trail through the wilderness that terminates on Forest Service Road 318A. A great map for this area is the National Geographic #857.
The trail was fantastic. I found myself wandering in and out of the shade from the pines and oaks, with a cool breeze at my back. The views of the Verde Valley and Red Rocks of Sedona were amazing. To put the icing on this moderate trail were the wildflowers! Some of which I was so surprised to see: Wild Lillies, Iris, Thistle, Daisies, and Lupine just to name a few, painted the trail. At two miles in, I found the turn to the Rick Tank Cutoff Trail #104 and ran straight into not one but two beautiful tanks in the meadow. I almost lost the trail but I let my dogs loose to cool off in the water and found the trail ran across the berm of the larger tank and headed south. I had seen black bear scat here and there all day, but this tank was full of wildlife tracks going in and out, to take advantage of the water.
I decided to continue my loop and head down the canyon on the 104 Tail. From here, the trail immediately got steep, rough, and overgrown. I started to question my plan as I was on the trail alone and not sure how many miles separated me from my truck. I continued down this rough, obviously untraveled trail for almost a mile. It seemed to go straight down the canyon which meant I had to climb back out at some point; it was difficult to follow and seemed to get rougher with every step.
Then I took a step that told me it was time to turn around: into a giant pile of unpleasantly fresh bear scat. I took it as a sign. I started making a little chatter, calling my dogs even though they were right by my side. Noise helps alert wild animals of your presence if the wind does not alert them of your scent; giving them plenty of warning to scamper away to where they feel safe.
I turned around and headed back the way I came. I wanted to see what was in the bottom of that canyon, but I decided to save it for another day. I am glad I did because when I got back to my truck, I traveled several miles down the dirt road I thought the trail came out on, and I did not find it. I will be back though to finish my loop! I will take a hiking buddy and see if we can find where the 103 connects to the road. This area has so much more to offer, and I cannot wait to see what I find. I had a wonderful five-mile out-and-back adventure in the Woodchute Wildness that I was grateful for, even though it didn’t work out as planned.