A few hours into the trip, my boots start punching through snow. Hard to believe it was 90°F when I left Phoenix this spring morning. But if there’s novelty underfoot, there’s beauty ahead: The more I climb, the better my view of the verdant high country of the Colorado Plateau, its folds and mounds glowing in the afternoon light and slowly fading into the Blue Range. I’m on a 16-mile loop across the wooded slopes of Arizona’s second-highest peak, 11,421-foot Mt. Baldy, exploring the headwaters of the Little Colorado River. I’ll follow it as it gains speed and volume, flowing northwest to where it will join the Colorado River and course through the Grand Canyon. Where I am, the Little Colorado hasn’t yet bored through the redrock, but here, amid the pines and through the snow, it’s at the heart of Arizona.
From the East Mt. Baldy trailhead: Head 6 miles west and south on the East Baldy Trail #95 along the East Fork of the Little Colorado.
Continue 6.5 miles on the West Baldy Trail #94, which drops to the headwaters of the West Fork of the Little Colorado .
Veer south (hiker’s right) onto the Baldy Connector Trail #96.
Hike 3.5 miles back to the trailhead.
Little Colorado River (mile 10.5)
Pick an established site amid the ponderosas. Water access is a breeze, and we doubt you have to share with anyone, except maybe mule deer, coyotes, or bobcats.
Near mile 5, enter a clearing in the conifers caused by a 1943 plane crash. Look to the uphill side of the trail to see pieces and insignia of Air Force AT-11.
The Mexican gray wolf was reintroduced to the region in 1998, and a small population has established itself. Elk and beaver frequent the meadows, and the streams are bubbling with trout.
Trailhead 33.931735, -109.489937; 45 miles southeast of Show Low off AZ 273 Red tape The summit of Mt. Baldy is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation and off-limits. The boundary is marked by wooden posts. Season Mid-May to mid-October Permit None Contact
Distance: 16 miles (loop)
Time: 2 days
Difficulty: 2.5 stars