The big attraction in Stewart's Pocket by Preston Sands
Note: FR #435 is currently blocked about 1/4 mi from the "Boulders Trail" sign. This will add to the posted distance.
This loop hike is made up of the Boulders North Trail and the Boulders South Trail, collectively known as the Boulders Loop Trail. Now a part of the Payson Area Trails System or P.A.T.S., this scenic loop hike takes one through the eroded granite formations of Payson's Granite Dells. This description is of a clockwise hike. Pay close attention to the P.A.T.S. trail signs to avoid taking a wrong turn onto one of the area's numerous atv paths.
From the trailhead sign, the Boulders Trail drops down and then crosses the eroded channel of Stewart Creek. Once across, the Boulders Trail immediately arrives at a signed junction, where it splits into the Boulders North and Boulders South Trails. Take a left onto the Boulders South Trail. This trail soon reaches an open, sandy flat with views of the area's boulder formations. To the south, Gibson Peak's rugged facade towers high above. The trail departs the flat to ramble southwest along the route of a dry creek bed, while heading toward a prominent needle.
Approaching the one mile point, the Boulders South Trail turns west and becomes more of a cross country route, traveling along sandy washes and bedrock in places. Watch for trail emblems nailed to trees to stay on route.
The trail travels through a wide pass and turns north at 1.5 miles, before reaching the wooded course of Stewart Creek at 1.7 miles. The Boulders South Trail meets the Cypress Trail and the Boulders North Trail at a signed junction in the creek bottom. Turn right (east) onto the Boulders North Trail.
The Boulders North Trail follows the gently descending wash of Stewart Creek, and weaves in and out of stands of Rocky Mountain juniper and Arizona cypress. A few willows, raspberries, and other moisture loving plants cluster around the occasional moist patch in the creek bed.
Stewart Creek pinches into a small box at 2.2 miles, tumbling through granite bedrock, while the trail bypasses this section by climbing over a small ridge. As the trail descends to the creek again, the terrain opens up to reveal a fine view to the east down Stewart Canyon.
Back along the creek, the Boulders North Trail passes through a nice stand of cypress, skirts the north side of a large boulder outcropping, and arrives back at the signed junction with the Boulders South Trail at 2.6 miles. Take the Boulders Trail back across Stewart Creek's gravel chasm to return to the trailhead at 2.7 miles.
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To hike From the junction of highways 87 and 260 in Payson, head east on highway 260 for 0.3 miles to the Granite Dells Road stoplight (next to Safeway). Turn right onto Granite Dells Road (Forest Road #435) and follow it for 3.85 miles to the large brown "Boulders Trail" sign next to the road. A fiberglass signpost for "The Boulders" marks the start of the trail (see hike description).
2010-11-08 casfranklin writes: FR #435 is currently blocked about 1/4 mi from the "Boulders Trail" sign. This may be due to a large wash-out near the sign... About 50 feet before the sign is a large cairn marking the easiest descent to the dry Stewart's Creek bed. Crossing the creek bed diagnolly left is a large boulder marking the incline to the trail start.
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