up, up, and up
Please note the 2004 Willow Fire leveled this area. Passenger car access is no longer possible.
If you are a peak-bagger, this trail is for you! Averaging approximately 1000 feet elevation gain for every mile, this trail does not let up--but it's worth it. This trail takes you up the seldom climbed North Peak, which is the northern-most peak and 3rd highest peak of the Mazatzal range. Only Mazatzal Peak and the Four Peaks are higher.
The trailhead can be found about 10 miles west of Payson along a good dirt road easily passable to passenger car. After embarking on the trail for about 100 feet, you'll come across a sign informing you that you are indeed on the right trail. This beginning part of the trail travels through a nicely shaded riparian area thanks in part to Mineral Springs. You will also soon pass what appears to be an abandoned/collapsed mine. However, the shade soon ends and the trail will begin to climb as you approach the Mazatzal Wilderness boundary. From here the trail starts heading up a ridge that descends from the NE face of North Peak. As you go along this part of the trail, look to your left to get expansives views of Tonto Basin and behind you to your right to get a view of the Mogollon Rim in the distance.
After about 2 miles, the trail reaches approximately 6000 feet and the trail starts to level off here as it enters the cool and refreshing pine forest. Although several trees have succumbed to the bark beetle, there are still plenty of tall ponderosas to provide adequate shade. At about 2.5 miles you'll want to turn left (south) and head off trail to ascend the summit as the North Peak trail does not go to the summit (it hooks up with Mazatzal Divide trail). As you make your way through the forest towards the summit, it immediately becomes a relatively steep climb until you reach the top. At times the forest will be quite dense and a fair amount of bushwhacking will be required (but not too bad).
An hour or so is all that should be required to reach the summit and once you do you will be greeted by more lady bugs than you can possibly imagine. But don't forget the views! The views are expansive and rewarding from up here. To your south you can see Mazatzal Peak and Mt. Peeley. And of course the Rim to the NE. On a crystal clear day the San Francisco Peaks would be very visible to the North.
On the descent, head back the way you came until you run into the trail again. You can look west and get a good view of the sprawling forest that covers the upper elevations of the Mazatzal Wilderness as you descend. Don't forget to look back and see the summit of the mountain you just climbed. Also, note the century plants in their various stages. If your lucky, you might run into a deer like I did, but hopefully not a bear! I ran into the bear on the descent very near the trailhead in the riparian area. He was suprised to see me and I was surprised to see him. After he took off down the trail, he decided to turn and face me. This is where I decided to conveniently go off-trail so he'd have a harder time getting to me wanted if he chased me. Luckily it didn't happen!
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.