Despite being less than 2 hours from Phoenix, Prescott National Forest is the least visited National Forest in Arizona being overshadowed by its brethren to the east: Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Coconino. The forest lies in between the Northern Arizona’s plateaus and Southern Arizona’s deserts creating a mountainous region that can provide a cool refuge from the Phoenix heat.
Prescott National Forest is comprised of three Ranger Districts: Bradshaw, Chino Valley, and Verde. Half of the forest lies east of the city of Prescott while the other half lies west.
There are also eight designated wilderness areas making up Prescott National Forest:
Apache Creek Wilderness; Castle Creek Wilderness; Cedar Bench Wilderness; Granite Mountain Wilderness; Juniper Mesa Wilderness; Pine Mountain Wilderness; Sycamore Canyon Wilderness; Woodchute Wilderness.
The Bradshaw District has the best hiking opportunities in the forest with Granite Mountain Wilderness being the most popular area; located just a few short miles from Prescott.
Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Prescott National Forest
- Constellation Loop – 2.4 mile loop
Not technically within any of the Prescott National Forest districts, but just north of Prescott. This is a fun, family-friendly hike with lots of bouldering and rock formations on the way.
- Granite Mountain Trail #261*** – 8.2 miles out and back
One in a network of trails serving Granite Mountain Wilderness, Granite Mountain Trail #261 is the first leg of a 6-mile loop starting near Granite Basin Lake and traveling counter-clockwise around Little Granite Mountain using Little Granite Mountain Trail #37 and Clark Spring Trail #40. Granite Mountain Trail #261 also provides a day trip from the Granite Basin Recreation Area up to Blair Pass and into the heart of Granite Mountain Wilderness. Despite its proximity to the city of Prescott, this area is a sanctuary for a diversity of wildlife.
- Groom Creek Loop #384 – 8.7 mile loop
Rewarding hike through the area’s forested high country. This trail passes through idyllic stands of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak as it climbs to the top of Spruce Mountain.
- Lynx Lake Loop Trail #311 – 2.3 mile loop
This popular hiking trail, located in the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, travels around Lynx Lake. The man-made, 55-acre lake attracts a diversity of wildlife. The birdwatching here is particularly excellent.
- Thumb Butte Trail #33*** – 2.1 loop
Due to its proximity to downtown Prescott, Thumb Butte Trail #33 is one of the most popular and heavily used hiking trails on the Prescott National Forest. The trail climbs steeply to a ridge just below the rocky crest of Thumb Butte. Here, Groom Creek Vista offers spectacular panoramic views of the Prescott area, Bradshaw Mountains, Sierra Prieta Mountains, Granite Mountain, Mingus Mountain, and, on clear days, the San Francisco Peaks.
- Watson Lake and Flume Trail – 4.5 mile loop
This is another hike just north of Prescott but not within any districts, this loop trail still has plenty to offer. There is a fair bit of difficulty for a lake trail as you’ll be scrambling over some rocks but nothing too strenuous. Best enjoyed when the water level is high!
***Most Recommended Hikes
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