Running from the flat desertland near Carefree Highway in north Phoenix to the foothills of Prescott’s Bradshaw Mountains, the entire course of the 70+-mile Black Canyon National Recreation Trail is a scenic wonder. In its former lives, the trail served as a wagon road and cattle drive route before being repurposed into its current status as a non-motorized hiking, biking and equestrian trail. Although an end-to-end trek would be a worthy endeavor, the segments that run through the Agua Fria River Canyon are, in my opinion, the “jewels in the crown” and therefore, the best place to sample the trail. Apparently, the stewards of the Black Canyon Trail Coalition recognized this and created a large, easy-access trailhead right in the heart of the trail’s glorious, watery mid-section. A 0.8-mile spur path leads directly to the Horseshoe Bend- K-Mine segment junction. Go south (left) for Horseshoe Bend (see separate blog entry) or north (right) for K-Mine as described here. Either segment will get you to the river gorge goodies in a jiff. The spur path is so immaculately groomed it looks as if it was landscaped—-gigantic saguaros and a rich under story of brittlebush, ironwood and Palo Verde seem impossibly lush for a ridge located less than a mile from I-17. The junction appears at the top of the top of the ridge, and then traverses a geological Garden of Eden. Snowy-white quartz, ancient metamorphics and massive outcroppings of crumbling stone decorate an ever-changing roller coaster ride of twists, turns, dips and climbs. Once over the crest, get ready for jaw-dropping views of the Agua Fria River and it’s scoured floodplain rolling out hundreds of feet below. Here the trail begins its descent along skinny hairpin coils carved from the cliff face. At the bottom of the canyon, the trail meets the boulder strewn sandy shores of the river where the path is swallowed up in a riparian corridor of Gooding willows, reeds and salt cedar. To stay on track, look carefully across the waterway and you’ll spot trail signs for a clue about how best to navigate the quagmire. Agua Fria water levels vary from barely there to raging torrents, but as long as you plan to avoid peek snow melt season or the days after heavy rains, you should be able to hop the river with just muddy soles. Beyond the water, the trail jogs up-and-down through the bluffs surrounding Slate Creek (no water on our trip) then follows an old Jeep road to segment’s end.
overlooking the Agua Fria from K-Mine segment
LENGTH: 8.4 miles out-and-back
Access path: 0.8 mile
K-Mine South: 2.0 miles
K-Mine North: 1.4 miles
RATING: moderate (creek crossing)
FACILITIES: restroom at trailhead
ELEVATION: 1680′ – 2070″
From Phoenix, travel north on I17 to exit 242 for Black Canyon City/Rock Springs. Go West (left) and continue to the stop sign. Turn north (right) here and proceed about 300 feet to Warner Road on the left. There’s also a sign for Black Canyon Trail here. Follow Warner Road roughly 0.2 mile, turn right onto the first crossroad and follow it to the trailhead a few hundred yards ahead. Warner Road is good dirt, passable by sedan.
Bio: Serial blogger, manic hiker and “mom” to a dozen adopted dogs, Mare Czinar has been exploring Arizona trails for more than 20 years. After being led astray (or just plain confused) by outdated hiking books and online resources (hence the tagline: We got lost, so you don’t have to), Czinar sought to create a fully vetted, frequently updated online hike travelogue with current driving and hiking directions to spare fellow hikers the mental and physical wear-and-tear of aimless wandering.
In addition, blog entries are amended when road closures or wildfires restrict trail access. When not working, blogging, writing about the great outdoors or picking up dog poo, Czinar attempts to “stay found” while checking out new trails.