Overview: The H. L. Canyon Trail #11 wraps around Mitchell Peak, in the mountains north of Morenci, Arizona. A part of the Grand Enchantment Trail, the seldom traveled H. L. Canyon Trail offers plenty, from chaparral slopes with sweeping views, to maple filled canyons, to a historic cabin below towering pines. The route of the H. L. Canyon Trail nearly forms a loop, and will be described here as a counter clockwise loop.
History: The historic cabin in H.L. Canyon was said to have been built by a rancher who sold beef to the miners of the Morenci-Clifton area.
Hike: From the trail sign at the Sardine Saddle parking lot along Highway 191, the H.L. Canyon Trail quickly descends into upper Sardine Canyon, through a covering of ponderosa pine and bigtooth maple. Breaking out of the trees after a half mile drop, the trail crosses steep chaparral slopes below Mitchell Peak before reaching a signed junction with the Frye Trail at 1.25 miles (33.20926 N, 109.35958 W). Stay left. Two more signed junctions, for the old Sardine Canyon Trail, and the Walnut Spring Cutoff, soon follow. Stay left at both junctions.
After surmounting several more small brushy ridges, The H.L. Canyon Trail reaches a rocky saddle with a worn trail sign for another branch of the Walnut Spring Cutoff, at just over 2 miles. Our trail becomes a bit faint for a short distance as it climbs north from the saddle, but picks up again as it angles northeast, toward a nearby higher ridge of powdery purplish soil.
From the purple soil ridge, the H.L. Canyon Trail continues northeast on a long and gentle descent, across grass and juniper slopes, where it passes the Mud Spring water trough at just over 3 miles. The spring (33.22659 N, 109.34353 W) appears to be reliable. Within a half mile, the H.L. Canyon Trail crosses H.L. Canyon, where it meets trail 312 at a massive cairn and trail sign on the north side of the creek (33.2315 N, 109.34221 W). The H.L. Canyon Trail turns west at this point, and follows an ancient, faded road up H.L. Canyon.
Always staying close to the creek bottom, the trail is well shaded by ponderosa pine, gambel oak and bigtooth maple. Potential campsites are numerous in this attractive setting. After passing a small spring (33.23301 N, 109.35486 W) among plentiful maple trees, H.L. Canyon bends southwest.
Nearing the 6 mile point, the H.L. Canyon Trail reaches an old homestead near Well Spring, complete with a rustic cabin and outbuilding. The trail transitions into a very rough 4 wheel drive road at this point, and continues up the canyon. A half mile past the cabin, the trail passes a signed junction with the Upper Pigeon Creek Trail #301, while climbing out of the creek bottom.
At the top of H.L. Canyon, the trail reaches H.L. Saddle, where it passes through a gate, next to an old corral and loading chute. From this corral, you could either continue down the H.L. Canyon Trail to Highway 191 in 0.15 miles (the easier option), or follow the unsigned connector trail south to Sardine Saddle. This connector trail, which is actually a very old alignment of the Coronado Trail, begins next to the corral, and contours along the mountainside about 100 feet or so above Highway 191. Either way, it is about a mile back to the Sardine Saddle trailhead.
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.
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.