The Kendrick Mountain Wilderness straddles the boarders of the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests. Located within the wilderness is its namesake, Kendrick Mountain. One of the larger volcanoes in the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field, Kendrick Mountain reaches a height of 10, 418 feet. Driving north from Flagstaff on 180 Kendrick is the predominant mountain on the left, or west, side of the highway. The telltale sign of a volcano, the two peaks, characterizes it.
The forest itself is comprised of ponderosa pine, aspen, oak, fir, and spruce trees and is home to Mexican spotted owls, mule deer, elk and black bear. My experience in the Kendrick Wilderness has resulted in spotting a hawk, and the ever-elusive cow. There are a lot of cows in the area. If you have any fear of cows, stay way. Seriously, lots of cows. And cow turds. Lots of cow turds. Which my dog seems to like. I didn't like that part too much.
The trailhead has tons of parking and even a few pit toilets. It is also a stop on some kind of car tour, so on nice weekends, there could be a lot of traffic. The trail starts off as an old logging road, and although gentle at first, goes up the whole way. You'll start hiking in a northerly direction and will pass East Newman Hill off to the left. The trail is very wooded, so views of the actual summit are sparse. The trail itself is soft, littered with pinecones. This is a sweet hike! First off, it has a few HUGE switchbacks! These are really long switchbacks... reminded me of Colorado. And although you are always gaining elevation, it's not what I'd call a tough hike. Sure, you're going to gain almost 3000 feet in elevation, but it's entirely a walk up, no scrambling required. The trail is very similar to Humphrey's Peak below the saddle. Eventually, the trail narrows to single track and you enter an area of the forest that is recovering from fire. Pat captured this area so well with the digital that it's currently our desktop wallpaper. The only word I could think of to describe the area was "haunting". You can look at where the trees burned, and see how the fire focused on one side, working it's way up the ridge. It was kind of scary to think of being in the area during the fire, you would have had to choose which side of the ravine to run up, left or right, if you'd guessed the right, you'd have been fine. Had you chosen left, the fire would have caught you. Standing there, thinking about that, made me feel small. The easy to follow trail continues to switchback its way up the mountain. Gradually, the switchbacks become shorter in length and you can feel yourself making progress.
Although all the views were enjoyable, they were primarily of the volcano field to the west. It's not until you reach a saddle of sorts, more of just an open flat area, that you are graced with easterly views of the San Francisco Peaks, most notably, Humphrey's Peak. It is at this same clearing that you come upon the Old Lookout Cabin. This structure was built around 1911-12 and was the lodging for the fire lookout stationed atop Kendrick Mountain. It's quite picturesque, and still functional. The door is secured with a common eye bolt and hook, which, when opened, reveals a tidy cabin containing a spring bed, a spring bunk bed, and some camping supplies inside a small storage chest. I couldn't help but think of how perfect a site the area would be for backpacking. This clearing offers access to another trail, heading back down the mountain, so make sure when continuing on that you remain headed toward the summit, which would be off to the west.
From the clearing, it's a short .3-mile hike to the summit. This section is rocky and steep. In fact, it's the steepest section of the hike. You'll reach the summit and approach the modern fire lookout, which rests atop Kendrick Mountain. Continue to the flat concrete pad just past the lookout. This is really the only area to hang out on the summit; the lookout takes up most of the available space. On the day we summited, we were able to see the smoke form a nearby forest fire, it created a dull haze throughout the area. Although the person manning the lookout was visible, he didn't offer us a tour, and we thought it best not to ask. As it was a Saturday, we figured he had already been bothered enough. The fire lookout on top of Kendrick is unique in that it is the only lookout in Arizona without an access road. (Note: some access roads have been decommissioned) The person working the tower has to follow the same trail we did to get to work. Heck of a commute. Knowing this ahead of time, we contemplated taking along a few beverages and snacks to leave for the lookout worker, however, we weren't sure how that would be received, so we opted against it. I couldn't get over the sense of seclusion one must feel working that fire lookout. Especially considering that you don't even have a truck nearby. I would think it would be quite a different experience than working a lookout you can drive to.
The actual length of the trail is arguable. The forest service says it's 4 miles one-way. AZ2020 claims it's 7 miles round trip. Another source reports 4.6 miles one way. I would say it's closer to 8 miles round trip. I would also call it a moderate hike. It does go up, but it's not a tough up. This is a truly enjoyable hike; just remember to make sure you are prepared for sudden weather changes, and lots of cows. And as always, make sure you...