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Long Haul to a Hilton
Tough haul up from East Verde River into the remote, rolling hills of the northern Mazatzals. Half of this trail is part of the AZT and is well-maintained and easy to walk, the other half requires constant attention and long pants. For the few that travel its full length there is a rustic cabin with large trees waiting at the end.
The entire length of this trail was damaged by the Willow Fire, which heavily impacts route-finding beyond the AZT.
Reaching the start of the trail is a two-part process. First, getting to Doll Baby Trailhead can be a muddy slog depending on the condition of FR 406. Second, the road is gated at Doll Baby, and hiking Bull Spring Trail means a 3.6 mile walk down a rocky two-track (aka FR 406W). However, if you're doing a longer trek along the AZT, chances are that this road walk will not be necessary and you'll start as it connects with either Brush or Saddle Ridge Trails.
The eastern end of Bull Spring Trail makes a quick climb from the road over a wide, rocky grade as it ascends the side of Copper Mountain. Ignoring the rolling rocks underfoot, this can be a pleasant section, with junipers on each side and pleasant views back towards LF Ranch and the East Verde River. At 0.4 miles a saddle shows up and the grade lessens, and then at 0.7 miles there is a slight drop near Bullfrog Canyon. The junipers began to fade as the fire damage of '04 takes over and the rest of the hike will be through shortened vegetation with no shade.
The real climb begins on the far side of Bullfrog, just over a mile in. In 2.3 miles the trail gains 1700', though the tread is wide and footing solid, most likely the result of a road from yesteryear. A few of the drainages have small stands of trees that have sprung up since the fire that could provide meager shade for breaks. More interesting are the views along the climb - the Mogollon Rim is clearly visible, as is the northern mesas of the Mazatzals. At 3.3 miles the AZT heads south along Brush Trail and, after some more climb, the less-traveled half of Bull Spring Trail finally ascends a saddle and heads west in earnest.
Beyond the AZT junction the trail narrows into a single-track and becomes more difficult (at times) to follow between the crowding brush on each side. As of 2018 there were no cairns to assist, just the lonely track to hunt. Once past the first saddle the wide, barren basin at the start of Red Metal Canyon shows up. The trail swings along the north side of this basin and passes near an old mining prospect and dry tank. At 4.7 miles the trail leaves this basin, enters another, smaller one, and then at 5.6 miles the final saddle is reached and an expansive view of Bull Basin shows up below.
The descent is quick along a shallow ridge before it swings next to, and then crosses, the rocky drainage of Bull Spring Canyon. The trail continues to follow this drainage, never straying more than a few dozen yards from it, making the rocky bed a good navigation aid when the tread inevitably fades away. At 6.5 miles Bull Spring shows up just off trail and makes for a great water-up spot. Alternatively, Bull Trap Spring is located at the end of the trail right next to the LF Line cabin. From here one could set up camp, go back the way they came, or ambitiously continue west on Wet Bottom Trail.
The eastern half, with the AZT, doesn't have much to offer outside of a unreliable Bullfrog Spring and, a bit north of the trail, the East Verde. On the far western side are two more reliable springs, Bull Spring and Bull Trap Spring.
The area around Copper Mountain, with the stands of juniper, could make for an okay campsite. Otherwise there are a few flat spots west of the AZT, and, of course, a great location and fire ring at the LF Line cabin.
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.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.