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more sky island fun
The Pipeline Trail #193 is one of several short trails on the top of Pinal Peak. The Pipeline, Middle, and Ferndell Trails serve as connectors between the three major trails that climb Pinal Peak. With elevations in the mid 7000's and a beautiful forest mix of pine, fir, and aspen, these trails, although short, offer a cool retreat in summer and vivid color in the fall.
This hike describes a trek along the Pipeline Trail from the Bobtail Ridge Trailhead to the top of 7812-foot Signal Peak. Much of the hike along the Pipeline Trail requires some route-finding skills due to damage from the 2000's Peak Fire. However, those who are not looking for a route-finding challenge can bypass the Pipeline Trail altogether and hike up the fire road to the top of Signal Peak.
Starting at the Bobtail Ridge Trailhead, begin heading downhill on the Bobtail Trail #194. The Bobtail Trail switchbacks down for a quarter mile or so before arriving in a flat saddle area, where the trail disappears. Just before reaching a lone group of tall, surviving ponderosa pines, there is an unsigned trail junction (33.28317 N, 110.83095 W) for the Pipeline Trail. I built a modest-sized cairn here; hopefully, it won't collapse. The Pipeline Trail turns north here and immediately begins climbing a little as it heads for a west-facing slope. Within a short distance, the trail becomes a bit more defined and easier to follow. There are some nice views to the west here, down Mill Creek canyon, as the Pipeline Trail contours through the burned forest. Wildflowers and new growth bring some hope for this area. Continuing, the trail zigzags down an open, grassy ridge with views of Signal Peak. At 0.5 miles, the Pipeline Trail arrives at the signed junction (33.28516 N, 110.83060 W) with the Middle Trail, then switchbacks off of the ridge, into unburned forest and plentiful greenery. The Pipeline Trail briefly becomes a little faint once again as it passes along the west side of the Pinal Recreation Area. At the one mile point, the Pipeline Trail comes to an end at forest road 651 (33.28919 N, 110.83100 W). A sign indicating Trail #193 marks the junction.
To reach the top of Signal Peak, turn left onto forest road 651 and follow it a short distance (0.1 miles) to a gated side road on the left. Hop over the gate and head northwest up the side road. Thick firs and bigtooth maples provide ample shade as the road climbs along the tops of Sixshooter and Icehouse Canyons on the north face of Signal Peak. After 0.6 miles, the road comes to an end at the fire lookout tower on top of Signal Peak. During the mid-1880s, the U.S. Army used Signal Peak as a link in its chain of mountain top heliographs that stretched across central and southeastern Arizona (a heliograph was a mirror that could communicate morse-code messages over long distances by reflecting sunlight). For some awesome views, climb the fire tower, or head over to the overlook a couple of hundred feet west of the summit, where there is an interpretive sign. Four Peaks, Superstition Mountain, Mt. Lemmon, and other peaks can be seen from Signal Peak.
Head back the way you came, or take the FR651 back to your vehicle for an easier return trip.
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Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.