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East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF, AZ

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Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Prescott > Black Canyon
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HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 2.1 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,292 feet
Elevation Gain -217 feet
Accumulated Gain 388 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 4.04
Interest Ruins & Historic
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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17  2019-04-20
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
7  2018-05-24 kenjacobsen
7  2017-08-05 Hansenaz
42  2017-04-29
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
12  2016-08-06
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
11  2016-04-16
Bradshaws Fort Loop
15  2015-05-27 AZWanderingBear
45  2015-05-17
Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
Page 1,  2
Author AZWanderingBear
author avatar Guides 27
Routes 62
Photos 2,620
Trips 700 map ( 4,689 miles )
Age 63 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Mar
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:13am - 6:33pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Ancient Views
by AZWanderingBear

This short trail descends into Oak-Chaparral vegetation, passing through 1.7 million year old granites (tan color) to the East Fort fortress ruins. This hike starts on an old 4x4 track, changing to single track entering the Castle Creek Wilderness.

The drive from Crown King to the trailhead is on a seldom maintained dirt road and may be closed during winter months. 4-wheel drive is not required, but moderate clearance is.

East Fort is a Hohokam site dating back to approximately 1300 AD. It is one of many hilltop sites that form a network with each site being visible to at least one other. The sites stretch from the northern Phoenix Valley, across the Bradshaws to Prescott and down to Wickenburg. Archaeologists are not certain of the purpose of this extensive network.

The trail begins at a sign along the Horse Thief Basin road. From here you can either hike the old jeep trail or park and walk. For those brave enough to drive you will stop either at Castle Creek Wilderness boundary or when you have had enough of the washed out trail. Most of us will choose the latter option. The jeep trail portion of the hike is a steady descent.

The Jeep trail stops near the wilderness boundary marked by a gate. From here the trail climbs steadily. Your objective is right in front of you at this point, but the trail works north up onto the ridge and then south to the Fort.

Vegetation includes impressive Manzanita, Alligator Juniper, Ponderosa Pine, and a smattering of wild flowers in season. Deer are plentiful in this area. A few black bears call the southern Bradshaws home as do a very few mountain lions.

Upon reaching the summit follow the cairns along the western edge of the rock out cropping around to the fort. Some easy rock scrambling is required. Your dual reward is a small but fairly well preserved fortress ruin and very impressive views. Take some time and imagine how this would have looked when the Hohokam inhabited this area.

If you are still craving some more views after your hike, drive south a short distance along Horse Thief Road to the Horse Thief lookout tower. If the gate is open the tower is manned. Odds are they will invite you up for one of the best views. Most of the watchers are long time Crown King residents and a chat with them is usually fascinating.

Water Sources
Water is available at the Ranger Station, Hazlett Hollow Campground and Turney Group Campground (maybe turned off in winter months).

Nearby Hazlett Hollow Campground is open Spring through Fall. Multitudes of dispersed camping sites available.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2015-05-30 AZWanderingBear
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Headed up to Crown King for the pines and ambience. Continued past on the increasingly bad roads toward the East Fort trailhead. We stopped a little short of the trailhead just to quit riding and start walking. My companions were not at all happy with that rough road but it is Subaruable; the ride takes about 45min beyond Crown King.

    Short walk to the fort which is a really cool with preserved walls and a great view from the top of the Bradshaws. Brought along Charlie, my son's new dog from the pound that he picked up the day before. He did fine.

    Downtown Crown King was crowded with an auction going on or something. So we went across the road to The Mill for a nice lunch and the most hummingbirds I've ever seen.
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    Third time back in as many years to Horsethief Basin. The views are spectacular, I get to use my Jeep for what it is intended, lunch at the Mill afterwards, and fudge from the Crown King General Store; it is the quadfecta hike trip!

    Gathered up my hiking harem at the McDonalds at I-17 and Carefree highway for the 2 hour drive up to Horsethief basin. I originally planned this as a beat the heat of Spring hike, but a cold front set our trailhead temp between 37 and 40 degrees. Luckily, we were prepped for the cool start.

    The road up to Crown King is bladed and graded and high speed in the Jeep. The initial part of the road from Crown King to Horsethief Basin has recently been graded and is nice and smooth. It doesn't last long until you're bouncing your way through rocks and ruts on your way to the Recreation Area and toward the Fire Tower Lookout. If you leave Phoenix early enough, you will have little to no traffic to contend with on your way up the hill.

    There's room for 2 cars on FS52 at the trailhead for East Fort Trail #31. We decided to do something different this year. We started our day with a hike up FS52 to the Horsethief Lookout Tower. The attendant passed us in his Suzuki Samurai on the way up, but was in no hurry to climb up the expanded metal steps and open the tower for visitors. That's OK, we were anxious to get on the trail and get out of the chilly early morning winds.

    I was looking forward to Coal Camp Spring Trail #203 as it would cut some roadwork out of this already jeep road heavy loop. To quote The Eagle from his 2012 trip log, "Coal Camp #203 to Jim Creek #235 - Nice little Connector to both Willow Springs and Jim Creek TH's from the Lookout. Route not bad, GPS Track helpful" and Hansenaz from 2016, "After the overlook I needed some IT help. (Invisible Trail) But not too dense and easy enough to keep heading the right way. This whole area has burned and though it's much more green than black these days I think the net effect is that some old roads have disappeared. Eventually I hit a Jeep Rd / ATV track and took that to South Fort." From the lookout tower, there's a sign and the trail starts nice enough with some deadfall and wild flowers (weeds), but the footpath is easy enough to follow. The romance with #203 didn't last long though and we found ourselves searching for the path of least resistance through the dense fields of cat claw. Undeterred, we pushed through the pain for a little over a mile before coming out on the road to Jim Creek Trail and ultimately, South Fort Ruins.

    It was a nice reprieve to be out of the cat claw and picking up the pace down the road. We were rewarded with beautiful purple snapdragons lining the roadway. For as windy as it has been over the past week, we were afforded great views south over Lake Pleasant, Cardinals Stadium, and South Mountain.

    Coming back down from South Fort and heading north on FS696 toward Willow Springs trail saved us the brutal ascent up the fire cut doing the loop in the opposite direction as we had done in the past. There were a couple of slips and falls as we dropped off the hill but no injuries were sustained.

    reaching the bottom of the hill we turned right on East Fort Trail #31. Nature has started reclaiming this trail at spots and despite having been on the trail twice before, there was a couple of sections that left scratching our heads for a moment. The snow capped San Francisco peaks were visible to the north and blooming hedgehog cactus were littered throughout the ruins. After enjoying some caffeinated jelly beans and relaxing on the warm rocks, we made our way back up to the jeep.

    On the way back out, we stopped and took in the sites around Horsethief lake and then down into Crown King for a delicious lunch at the Mill and a round of fudge at the Crown King General Store.

    What a wonderful day only 75 miles from Phoenix.

    Snapdragons abound!
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    After 1 year and 3 months I returned to do this loop again with 3 hiking buddies. Even though Crown King got 5 inches of rain this week (according to the woman at the General Store), they got no rain yesterday and the road up to Horsethief Basin was in good shape (not much mud). Went to both East Fort and South Fort. Both are same condition as my last visit with East Fort being the more interesting site and South Fort affording excellent views south towards Lake Pleasant. We saw 5 horny toads on the trail and a deer on the road to Horsethief Basin.
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Bradshaws Fort Loop
    A while ago Bruce the Eagle gifted me with a custom made GPS loop he thought I'd like - thought I should give it a whirl.

    The road to the trail head is pretty rough, definitely high clearance required. The Kentuck trail up to Horsethief Overlook was nice. Looked to me like the attendant was away...maybe a Saturday in town.

    After the overlook I needed some IT help. (Invisible Trail) But not too dense and easy enough to keep heading the right way. This whole area has burned and though it's much more green than black these days I think the net effect is that some old roads have disappeared. Eventually I hit a Jeep Rd / ATV track and took that to South Fort. The rocky outcrop has a commanding view and is a natural defensive site but just a single stacked wall.

    From there I followed another track to East Fort. This one is much more impressive with some extensive high walls - better than I expected. This fort overlooks Perry Mesa - maybe it's considered part of the line-of-site communication network thought to be operative 700 yrs ago. I saw just a couple small pottery pieces there.

    Continuing on from East Fort there were more IT problems and a lot of deadfall in the places the old road could be seen. But again I soon hit another Jeep Rd and looped back to the start.

    This hike was quite a change of pace for me. The granite strewn country is nice (though being more ATV than hiking trail-dominated detracts) and the whole walk occurs, more or less, on top of the mountain. I'd sort of been planning a beer and burger in Crown King on the way out, but the timing was wrong and the center looked crowded (this is a relative term), so I just headed back.
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Last hike of the day for us, and the best. Saw two deer through the manzanita. They'd move a bit, but stop to peer at us through the foliage. Once entering the wilderness area, the trail was a pure pleasure. Nice views and interesting flora. The manzanita were blooming nicely. Love the red color of their trunks.

    Once up top we checked out the nice ruins. The haze limited the views to simply spectacular as opposed to they usually amazingly spectacular.

    Hiked back to the Jeep and made the short drive to camp at Hazlett for some well earned libations. Great way to end a good day in the Bradshaws.
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Horsethief Basin East Fort South Fort Loop
    I was looking to bag East Fort in the Castle Creek Wilderness for quite some time now. My buddy Dodson was in town from Pennsylvania and a trip to Crown King and Horsethief Basin seemed to fit the bill.

    The drive up to Crown King was good. The section of road from Crown King to FR52 was really bad. FR52 out to Horsethief Basin was muddy in spots (it rained and snowed on Friday) but was generally in better condition then the short stretch from Crown King. You totally need a high clearance vehicle past Crown King right now.

    We parked on FR52 and hiked down the old access road to East Fort Trail #31 as was suggested in the previous trip logs. That was a good thing since the road going in quickly turned impassable, as least for me and my Jeep! Following Trail #31 was easy enough, it is well worn and well cairned in the rocky sections. We saw at least a half dozen horned lizards between the Jeep and FR696. Returning the way we came we followed a fire break straight up the side of a hill that eventually turned into FR696. Once on top, FR696 turns into a nice jeep road and descends gradually to the South Fort Trail. South Fort trail is super short and easy to follow. We then followed FR696 back to FR52 and the Jeep. Great loop! Awesome views! Perfect weather! Headed up to the fire tower and chatted with the Ranger. Then into Crown King General Store to pick up some of the best fudge in the state and off to the Saloon for some burgers and beers. It doesn't get any better than this!
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Took our time on a nice out and back to East Fort on a very rainy day. The trail was muddy in spots - and the rocks were slick - but the views - even on a cloudy, rainy day were amazing.

    Very tough roads to get to this trailhead, but I enjoyed the trail.

    WATCH for snakes! I was lucky that it was quite unusually cold and rainy for this time of May. Just as I was climbing the last few "steps" to step up into the remnants of East Fort - a rattlesnake let itself be known it was very near underfoot. I never saw him....but he was very close as his rattle was quite loud.
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    East Fort trail is the only hike in the Horse Thief Basin area that we've tried that isn't choked with thorny bushes. It is wide and steep downhill for the first half mile to the wilderness gate, then much narrower and easy up hill the rest of the way. While the narrow trail is somewhat overgrown with manzanita bushes, which don't have thorns, there are cairns placed frequently on the boulders marking the way. The trail across the boulders near the top is also well marked with cairns. To reach the 360 degree view you have to step up through the ruin wall to the flat area above it.

    It took us nearly an hour and a half to drive our Jeep 9.3 miles from Crown King to the well marked trailhead sign. The road is so rough there were very few places where we could go faster than 5 mph. Since the trail is only 2.2 miles round trip, after the hike we drove further south on the road and took FS696 to the Jim Creek trailhead to check it out. 696 has a steep hill that does require 4WD to get back up it. Jim Creek trail starts out as a road up to the wilderness fence, then a narrow path after going through the gate, and quickly becomes choked with thick bushes so we decided it wasn't worth continuing. Back in the Jeep, we started driving further south on 696 to check out the Willow Creek trail but quickly came to a steep, badly washed out hill and decided it wasn't worth the risk, especially not knowing what lay ahead. A short visit to the lake in the center of Horse Thief Basin was a nice respite during the grueling ride back toward Crown King.
    September 12, 2019
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    This is a nice easy hike with excellent views. This would be a good family hike if camping in the area. I wouldn't suggest driving out just for this as the drive from the valley is taxing. Albeit practically overlooking the valley you could drive to Sedona or the Catalinas in the same amount of time. Thanks Bruce
    East Fort Trail #31 - Prescott NF
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Horsethief Lookout
    This is triplog 2 of 3 from the Prescott Nation Forest including Horsethief Basin Rec Area and the Castle Creek Wilderness.

    This hike included two marked trails:
    #217, Kentuck Trail TH 34.1750 -112.2768
    #31, East Fort Trail TH 34.1630 -112.2615

    About 2 miles further up FR52 from Horsethief Lake is the Kentuck Campground and the TH for the Kentuck Trail.

    The description I found says "The trailhead is located on the inner circle of Kentuck Springs Campground between camp spaces #14 and #15." I saw no indications that showed camping space numbers.

    Through parts of this trail you see indications of the fires in 2008, but the area seems to be coming back. The trail itself is faint in spots but is cairned and taped for the most part. I'd recommend a GPS track to help you. I lost the trail for about 1/4 mi. once I got to the ridge that goes to the Tower, but you can see the tower at this point, and that is your first destination.

    The views at 6702' from the Horsethief lookout are just incredible in all directions. The sign said they were open at the time I was there, but there was no answer and a lock on the hatch when I tried going up. You get a pretty good sense of the damage the fires out here caused.

    Here's a somewhat shaky 360 from the Lookout.

    From here I hiked down the FR .8 mile to get to the TH for the East Fort Trail #31. This hike starts on an old 4x4 track which ultimately dead ends at the Castle Creek Wilderness gate and a nice trail getting to the top. It is a bit over a mile long to get up from the TH. I'd swear the area back in here is right our of an old cowboy movie. This is the place all the Bad Guys went to hide out. Once again the views at the top are great. At the top are the East Fort ruins. It's basically a series of rock walls that are up to 12' tall in sections and run about 40' long. I spent 20 minutes or so playing around and exploring at the top, taking pictures, turned off my camera, and then started down.

    I took 2 steps off the top and came face to face (20' away) with my first Mountain Lion!!!!

    I took me 2 or 3 seconds to take in how cool this was, and by the time I even thought about getting the camera out, he turned around and scampered back down the mountain. I was really bummed that I got no pictures, but happy I'd seen one, and that he went back down the mountain instead of coming closer!

    The rest of this portion of the hike was uneventful on the loop back to the car.

    Permit $$

    Prescott Forest
    Prescott National Forest Pass

    Only trailheads with six "amenities" have fees. Amenities are picnic tables, trash, toilet, parking, interpretive signing and security.

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    From Phoenix take I-17 north to the Bumble Bee Exit 248. Follow the Crown King dirt road 27.5 miles to Crown King. Continue through Crown King along the Senator Highway for .5 miles and turn left on Horse Thief Road. Follow Horse Thief Road 9.1 miles. The trailhead sign is on your left.
    page created by The_Eagle on May 30 2015 10:56 am
    3 pack - loud whistle
    go prepared
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