Overview: Easy, nicely shaded, loop (with three different mileage options) as part of the White Mountains Trail System. A short spur trail at the western end of the loop provides access to the summit of Ecks Mountain.
History: The nearby town of Vernon was the site of an old sawmill, and old logging roads criss-cross the area. Remains of an old stagecoach station can be seen. The ruins of numerous old homesteads can be found along the northeast portion of the loop, between the trailhead and the box canyon. One of the old homesites is locally well known for being the site of a triple homicide many decades ago. Three "Arab" women had built a homestead, and there were rumors they had a large sum of money hidden on the property. One criminal decided to find out for himself and murdered the women. Despite ransacking the cabin, the money was never found. Lilac bushes the women planted can still be found near what remains of their cabin.
Hike: The loop, or any of the three loops, can be hiked in either direction, but this description is for counterclockwise. From the trailhead, continue north on the old road, following the white diamond markers posted on the trees. After a short distance, the markers and trail veer off to the left, into the trees. The entire trail is easy to follow, and is very well marked with the white diamonds--route finding is no problem, even if the trail were to be snow-covered.
As you head west, the trail gently rises and falls across the terrain, never really gaining or losing more than a few feet at a time. Ponderosa and juniper provide shade. After a little over a mile, there are some building ruins to the north of the trail. All that remains is an impressively dugout basement held up by rock walls. Rock steps down into the basement remain.
A short distance later, the trail splits--south for the short loop, west for the longer loop. Taking the short loop makes for about a 3.50-4.00 mile hike. Taking the longer loop, you come across numerous old homesites, including the site of the triple homicide mentioned above. At least 6-7 cabin remains are visible from the trail, but it appears more exist a little further into the forest. After that, the trail meanders north and west, gradually climbing about 150' up to the area of a small box canyon. Views to the north and east open up in this area as well.
Just after the box canyon, there is another trail junction. Heading south takes you on the medium length loop (about 7 miles total), heading west continues the full loop. From here, you slowly begin the biggest elevation gain of the loop as you make your way up the eastern slope of Ecks Mountain. As you gain elevation, the switchbacks become more frequent, making for an easy ascent. Eventually, the trail turns south and you will contour the eastern slope of the mountain to the southern end.
Optional Ecks Mountain Spur: At the southern end of Ecks, at the top of the first switchback heading downhill, you can tack an additional 1.75 miles and 295' aeg onto the loop and visit the summit of Ecks. From the corner of the switchback, head west, slightly southwest, in a straight line for about a hundred feet or so until you reach a dirt road, probably right around where it makes a hairpin turn. From there, head up the road as it makes its way northwest around the western side of the mountain. You'll gain and lose some elevation, but it's gradual. After a little more than half a mile on the road, you will intersect another forest road. Turn right (there will be a brown sign that says "Vista Point Trail") and head steeply up the dirt road to the summit. Near the top, turn left and follow the faint road north a short distance to the true summit. Due to the trees, views are limited from the top. Once done, retrace your steps back to where you left the main loop.
Once back on the loop trail, or if you skipped Ecks: The trail will switchback down the south slope of Ecks. The switchbacks start to seem excessive, but they do make for an easy incline/decline. At the bottom, there is another junction--east continues the loop, south/west connects to other trails in the White Mountains Trail System. Heading east, there are more ponderosa on the southern part of the loop. There's also more scrub oak on the southern half, probably making for some nice fall color. Again, you'll gradually gain and lose small amounts of elevation as you pass the two junctions of the shorter loops. Views are more limited on the southern half of the loop due to the trees. In places, the trail follows or crosses dirt roads, but keeping an eye out for the plentiful diamond markers keeps you on track. There is a very small seasonal creek in the last couple of miles, and the trail crosses it on a small wood bridge in one place. I would not rely on that creek for drinking water though. Eventually, the trail turns north as you approach the trailhead and your return to the parking area is on the south side of the lot.
Most of the loop has good cell service. Make sure to close all gates you pass through.
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.