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Hikes In Arizona: The Granite Mountain Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Granite Mountain
  • Where: Prescott, Arizona
  • Distance: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation: 7,626 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,443 feet
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • More Information: Prescott National Forest website

Topographic Map of Granite Mountain Trail

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Granite Mountain Elevation Map

Granite Mountain Elevation Map

Narrative

Prescott, Arizona has many mountains that surround it with Thumb Butte being the most prominent and popular mountain to hike near the city.  The 2nd most prominent and popular mountain near Prescott is Granite Mountain.  The 7,626 foot bulk of Granite Mountain can be seen from many areas of the city looming in the distance to the north:

Picture from Thumb Butte, Arizona

The Granite Mountain Wilderness is nearly 10,000 acres and is part of the Prescott National Forest.  The mountain is easily accessed from Prescott by traveling a short ways down Iron Springs Road on the northwest side of town.  From Iron Springs there is a turn off on to North Granite Basin Road which leads into the wilderness area:


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The drive up the road is a scenic one with many pinon and ponderosa pine trees backdropped by the rugged Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The road ends at Granite Basin Lake which features a number of campsites and picnic areas for visitors that is backdropped by the huge rocky sides of Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Granite Basin Lake is quite a scenic sight and well worth checking out:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

There is a day use fee of $5 per vehicle which I promptly paid at the parking lot:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Across the street from the parking lot was Trail #261 which is the route commonly used to access the heart of this rugged wilderness area:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

A short distance later I passed a sign on the trail announcing that I was in the Granite Mountain Wilderness:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Trail #261 starts out by passing through a beautiful forest of various pine trees:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Eventually the forest opened up a bit to where I started to get my first views of Granite Mountain from the trail:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The more I continued down the trail, the more impressive the views of Granite Mountain to my my right became:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

On my left was a number of smaller mountains that framed the south side of the pleasant valley I was hiking through:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

About two miles into the hike is when the trail begins to climb in elevation to reach the summit of Blair Pass.  From the top of the pass there are nice views of the surrounding countryside:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

From Blair Pass the trail begins to switchback up the side of Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The vegetation along the trail becomes noticeably more desert like after leaving the confines of the relatively lush valley below:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is a picture of a desert plant called an agave that has the unusual feature of having a tree like appearance when it grows a stem upward to catch the wind to spread its seeds

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is another picture of a growing agave stem:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is a closer look at an agave plant:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The trail continued upward towards a saddle on the mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

On the way up I continued to have nice views of the impressive southern cliff face of Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

On the saddle I reached a trail intersection with one trail going descending down the northern side of Granite Mountain and the other, Trail #261 ascending further up the mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

From the saddle here is the view looking North towards the small town of Chino Valley:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

As I followed the trail I continued to be surrounded by mostly high desert vegetation:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

However, I did come across this very large juniper tree that made me wonder how old it must be to be that large?:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

From the juniper tree here is a panorama picture of the view I had looking towards the south:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

From the juniper tree I ascended higher into the heart of the mountain and I could see the trees begin to change from the smaller junipers and pinons to the large ponderosa pines:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Considering all the high desert plant life around the mountain I was a bit surprised when I was surround by a lush forest of large ponderosa pine trees:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

This beautiful ponderosa pine forest within the heart of Granite Mountain I think is possible because it sits in a bowl and thus collects enough water to support all these large trees.  Besides the trees there was plenty of wildflowers to see as well:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

I even spotted Indian Paintbrush flowers:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Within this forest there is another trail intersection with one trail leading to where the actual 7,626 foot summit of Granite Mountain is located while the other leads to Vista Point:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The trail leading to the actual summit of the mountain was blocked because just like with nearby Thumb Butte, access was closed due to the nesting of peregrine falcons.  So I had no choice but to continue on trail #261 to Vista Point.  At Vista Point the trail ends at a large rock outcropping:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

The entire upper region of Granite Mountain is nothing but piles of boulders everywhere that makes for some fun rock scrambling.  After doing some scrambling and climbing on the rocks I was able to get some different views of the mountain and the region.  Here is the view looking North across the forest bowl towards the actual summit of Granite Mountain which is the highest rock outcropping on the left:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is the view looking Southeast towards Prescott in the distance and Granite Basin Lake down below where I first started the hike:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

I began the hike from the lake at an elevation of 5,637 feet.  The highest I was able to get scrambling on the boulders on this side of Granite Mountain was 7,080 feet which gave me an elevation gain of 1,443 feet for the hike.  Back home in Colorado this would be considered a modest elevation gain but here in Arizona this wasn’t too bad.  This hike would actually be around 2,000 feet of elevation gain if I had access to the actual summit which reaches 7,626 feet in elevation.  Even though I could not access the true summit of the mountain I still had great views from Vista Point.

Here is a close up view of Thumb Butte that did not look all that impressive from Granite Mountain compared to how it looks from in town:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is the view looking East across the rocky southern ridgeline on Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is the view looking South towards some other large hills that rise near Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Sadly these hills along with the northern side of Granite Mountain burned in the massive June 2013 Doce Fire just a couple of weeks after a hiked this trail. Here is a picture from the fire where the cliff face on the southern side of Granite Mountain is visible on the left:

Image from MyFOX-Phoenix channel.

It appears the fire followed the trail up from the North side of the mountain to the saddle that Trail #261 ascends to.  From the saddle it went spread down the southern side of the mountain and burned the smaller adjacent hills which can be seen burning in this below picture:

Image from MyFOX-Phoenix channel.

Here is the view towards the Southwest which is where the massive Yarnell Hill Fire happened also in June 2013 that killed the 19 firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

When I hiked up Granite Mountain I did notice how dry the vegetation was which is not unusual considering this is Arizona.  Much like with the fires we have seen in Colorado Springs the Doce Fire was human caused during a very dry and windy time of the year and thus a lot of damage was done.  Anyway here is a panorama picture I took from Vista point with the Granite Mountain summit visible on the left, Prescott in the center, and Yarnell Hill on the right:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is one final picture I took of myself at Vista Point before beginning my descent back down the mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

From Vista Point I followed the trail back down into the lush forest below:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

I next came to the blocked off trail that leads to the summit of Granite Mountain.  I decided to hike a short ways down the trail to see if I could get a good picture of the summit approach.  The walk through this lush forest was quite nice and I really hope it survived the worse of the Doce Fire:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

It was hard to see the summit because of all the trees around me so I found a rock outcropping to scramble up to get a view of the mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is a closer view of the summit which appeared to be a pretty simple rock scramble to ascend for those who hike up Granite Mountain when it is not peregrine falcon nesting season:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

After getting a photo of the summit I then backtracked and continued my descent down Trail #261:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

I soon exited the lush forest and was back on the saddle.  Here is a picture looking back at the southern rock face that had a few large ponderosa pines clinging to it:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

As I continued down the trail I was once again surrounded by high desert plant life which included a lot of cactus:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Some of the cactus had some beautiful red flowers blooming from it:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

On the way down another high desert plant I spotted was the red skinned madrone tree that only grows in the American Southwest and Northern Chihuahua Mexico

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

There was also a few wildflowers that could be seen as well:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Though I saw plenty of beautiful plants and flowers during my hike, the only wildlife I saw the whole day was this little garter snake:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Eventually the trail returned to the valley that leads back to the trailhead at Granite Basin Lake:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Along the way back down the trail I continued to enjoy the views of the southern rock face of Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

On the south side of the trail there were some nice views of various rock outcroppings:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Here is a panorama picture from the valley that shows Granite Mountain on the North side of the valley on  the left and the various rock formations on the south side of the valley on the right:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

As I neared the lake the trail became surrounded by lush green grass due to all the available water:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Soon enough I was back at the parking lot and loading my gear into my truck.  My Garmin Fenix GPS measured the hike as being 8.5 miles long which also included the short distance I hiked up the closed trail to get a picture of the mountain’s summit and the rock scrambling at Vista Point.  Including the time I spent on the summit and taking pictures I completed the hike in 4.5 hours.  So it was a good work out and since I started the hike early in the morning I had enough time to get back into town to have lunch with my family.  So I drove back down Granite Basin Road and stopped to take this picture of Thumb Butte rising over Prescott:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

I also looked back and took one final picture of the impressive Granite Mountain:

Picture from Granite Mountain, Arizona

Conclusion

I had actually planned to climb the state’s highest mountain, the 12,637 foot Humphreys Peak the day I hiked up Granite Mountain, but the forecast of high winds convinced me to hike up a smaller mountain instead.  It was pretty windy on Granite Mountain, but not enough to where it made it an unpleasant day.  The wind did kick up a little dirt in the air that caused the sky to look a little overcast, but overall I could not complain.  I definitely had a great morning hiking up Prescott’s beautiful Granite Mountain.

 

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