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Mt. Baldy Wilderness - Apache / Sitgreaves National Forest

Summary: A very nice loop hike through forests and meadows to a spot near the summit of Mt. Baldy (the highest peak in the White Mountain range). The path is graded for horses & you will see evidence of their passage throughout the hike. Unfortunately, the Mt. Baldy summit is located on White Mountain Indian reservation land and is closed to all entry.
Directions: From Springerville/Eager in eastern AZ, drive west on Highway 260 for 4-5 miles, then turn south towards Big Lake on Highway 261 (near mile marker 393). Follow 261 for 17.9 miles to where it ends in Highway 273. Turn right on 273 and follow it 4.5 miles to the short, rough dirt road on the left for the East Fork Trail (also called Phelps Cabin Trailhead), or drive another 2.6 miles to the West Fork Trail (also called the Sheep Bridge Trailhead). Parking is available on the right side of the road just after you cross a small bridge.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - except for the short dirt road to the East Fork Trailhead (which requires a High Clearance Vehicle)
Navigation: Easy
Length: 16.5 miles
Date Hiked: June 2003
Weather Conditions: Nice & cool with sun, rain, thunder & hail
Required Skills:
Hike Description: I will describe this as a loop hike going clockwise from the East Fork Trailhead. You could hike it the other way if you want, or just hike out and back on one of the paths.
From the East Fork Trailhead, the East Baldy Trail #95 (0 miles, 9200 feet) heads straight and the Crossover Trail #96 heads right. Stay straight and begin walking on the double track as it heads through a nice grassy meadow. In about 5 minutes you'll pass a fence line at which point the road becomes more trail-like. Soon you'll pass a sign indicating that Mt. Baldy is 7 miles ahead and shortly after that, a sign indicating you're entering the Mt. Baldy Wilderness. The path soon begins to ascend moderately, then splits at an unsigned junction. Stay right at this split as the path continues upwards at a moderate grade through meadows and into the spruce-fir forest that is characteristic at this elevation. Soon you'll reach an area with some interesting basalt pinnacles which rise out of the forest. Mt. Baldy is actually an extinct volcano that last erupted 10 million year ago. Hiking past the rock, you enter the forest again and soon attain the top of the ridge that you will be following the rest of the way to the summit. The path heads up the ridge and you'll be faced alternately with some moderate climbing followed by some extended flat sections (there were a few patches of snow in the upper sections when I was here in June). After a bit, just before crossing a short meadow, you'll reach the site of an Army plane that crashed into the mountain back in the late 1940's or early 1950's. The wing and fuselage are visible just off the trail on the right (5.5 miles, 10990 feet). The path continues up hill and soon reaches the junction with the West Fork Trail (5.9 miles, 11180 feet) which enters on the right (note: there are a few sign posts, but no signs marking this junction). The trail continues left up to a prominent ridge with great views past a few large cairns. It follows the ridge a short distance, drops down to a saddle, then climbs a low hill to the Mt. Baldy summit (6.7 miles, 11403 feet). You need to turn around at some point before reaching the summit, but when I was here, there was no sign or evidence to indicate where that turn around point lies. I'm guessing it's somewhere on the ridgeline near the large cairn pile (there are great views from this point, so don't feel badly that you are not on the summit, the views aren't any better from there). When ready, backtrack a short ways, and stay left at the junction and begin descending on the West Fork Trail. The path descends along a short ridge, then performs a few switchbacks & begins descending along the side of a steep slope. After some walking, it eventually drops down, passes through an area of dead trees, then crosses a stream on a bridge consisting of corrugated steel pipe (rather inelegant considering how nice the rest of the scenery is). Past the stream crossing, the trail becomes a gentle slope, crosses a few more streams, then leaves the forest and enters a meadow which follows the West Fork of the Little Colorado which you can see flowing off on the right. You may see fishermen in the area, looking to bag a brook, rainbow or native cutthroat trout. After a bit of pleasant meadow hiking, you'll arrive at a junction with a right branching trail and wooden sign which reads: Phelps Cabin 3.25 miles (13.3 miles, 9350 feet). Unfortunately, the sign doesn't tell you, but this is actually the Crosscut Trail. Turn right on the Crosscut Trail, cross the Little Colorado, and begin climbing into the forest once again. This stretch of trail adheres to the following formula: climb a low ridge, drop down the other side, pass through a meadow, repeat. Meadow #3 in the above equation is quite a large one, meadow #4 brings you back to your car at the East Fork Trailhead (16.5 miles, 9200 feet).
Rating (1-5 stars):
A very nice and enjoyable summer hike. The author completed the loop solo, at a fast pace, in 6 hours.
Maps: Coconino National Forest Map
Books: Exploring Arizona's Wild Areas - Scott S. Warren
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
The start of the East Fork Trail. Much of the hike looks
much like this.
View from near the summit. The scenic West Fork
of the Little Colorado.