I hiked the Indian Springs Trail on July 8-9, 2004 as part of an overnight backpack trip that included the West Fork Trail #628 and the Thompson Trail #629. The Indian Springs Trail portion is a very suitable day-hike and is a loop, so there's no reason to turn around and head back the same way you came (always a bonus IMO).
This trail is excellently maintained by the forest service. The first 3 miles between the trailhead and Indian Spring is the most scenic
part of the hike, traversing along Big Lake Knoll through fairly dense pine and lots of Aspen. The 1-mile round trip spur trail to the Lookout is definitely worth it, and while the trail isn't quite as smooth and nice as the main trail, it's easy nonetheless.
The best part of this hike is that it is at about 9000 feet. Perfect for mid-summer. We got off to an early start from the trailhead, and arrived at the lookout tower
(elev. 9415) just as the forest service employee was arriving for the day. I helped her haul a couple of gallons of water and supplies up the tower, and observed as she radioed in her morning report... no rain, mostly cloudy, 63 degrees. She said it had been hovering in the low 80s on sunny afternoons.
The Nuttall Fire burning on Mt. Graham in southern Arizona was spewing smoke thousands of feet in the air and was clearly visible over 100 miles to our south. A couple of miles to the east, the charred forest left by the Three Forks Fire a few weeks earlier was clearly seen. The Lookout employee indicated that the Three Forks Fire had been a very beneficial fire to forest health, destroying primarily low-lying fuels, but not burning in the tops of the pines, so that was good to hear.
After about half an hour in the tower
, we headed back down the spur to reconnect to the trail and pick up our packs which we had conveniently left behind. (Why carry all that weight 1/2 mile and up 300 feet just to return?)
The trail continued around the mountain, to Spillman Spring
, providing a respite for my yellow lab, Kai, who found it necessary to use the hollowed-out-logs as his personal swimming pool
. From here, the trail slowly descended until it encountered an open meadow, following an old forest road along the meadow
This part of the trail was much less scenic, though I suspect it would be nicer in spring or late summer, when adequate moisture would make the meadow more green and lush. The fire tower employee had told us that there had been a couple of rain showers about a week earlier, but that they had totalled only about an inch of rain, so it was still quite dry across the forest.
The hike along the meadow was a slight but steady downstream grade. We stopped past Indian Springs
, despite the lack of shade, cow pies, and general lack of water. Kai once again found a puddle deep enough to lay down in and cool off, but his resulting stink of cattle, and stagnant mud wasn't a good one.
The meadow condinued for about a half mile past Indian Spring before intersecting another drainage, where the trail turned upstream, along an old logging railroad grade, which I later researched and learned had been disassembled in 1976. The next three miles was a slow but steady climb along the cindered grade, but offered little in the way of views, scenery, or shade. I'm sure that wildlife can be seen here regularly, but we didn't come across any.
The trail intersects the turnoff for the West Fork Trail #628, where we turned off. For the purpose of this trail description however, I'll continue as we returned here the next day on our way back to the trailhead.
The railroad grade continues for about another mile before turning back under the forest canopy
. This part of the trail continues a slight uphill grade and nears FR 249E, leaving the occasional sound of passing vehicles to interrupt your nature experience. It traverses an open meadow with great views of the lookout tower we visited earlier, before crossing FR 249E and heading north toward Big Lake.
The trail again meanders through dense Aspen and pine, and at one point comes so close to a campground at Big Lake, that we could see a couple of RVs parked through the trees. Sure enough, we cross a spur trail that leads to the campground, but continue on as the trailhead (and the best tasting beer ever) await just around the corner.
The trail descends back to the road, and the trailhead is right there. A great day trip if you're in staying in the White Mountains, and a very enjoyable overnight trip for those of us that think the White Mountains is a little far from home. As we relaxed at the trailhead, we encountered a couple of groups of hikers planning to hike at least to the lookout tower. This is a very popular hike, and I would recommend a weekday if you prefer solitude on your hikes.
Over the 4th of July weekend, over 400 people had signed the guestbook at the lookout tower - in just ONE day! That being said, except for the people at the trailhead, we did not encounter a single other person on the entire hike - on Thursday and Friday.
We did see a pair of coyotes wandering across the meadow adjacent to the trailhead at the conclusion of our trip, despite it being mid-afternoon and sunny. I was hoping they were the endangered Mexican Grey Wolf that is in the area, but wasn't that lucky.
As I said before, we hiked the West Fork Trail and Thompson Trail as part of our trip, and I've posted descriptions of those trails too.
As a loop hiked by itself, Indian Springs would probably take about 3 hours because of the great trail conditions and easy grades. (More if you visited the lookout tower...) Definitely a nice 9000-foot break from the summer heat though.