A Walk in the Park or a Tromp in the Snow...
From the White Montains Trailsystem:
Attractions and Considerations: Country Club is a moderate to easy trail just a short distance from Pinetop-Lakeside. The trail loops three and 1/2 miles through ponderosa pine, juniper, and oak woodland.
The half-mile spur trail to the top of Pat Mullen mountain is well worth the extra time and effort, even if you are pedaling a bike. Take the time to notice the views of the surrounding forest, the very old and impressive examples of alligator juniper, and the signs of past forest fires. Let them be a reminder to us to be extremely cautious with fire in the forest.
Snowshoeing: This trail was an excellent opportunity for snowshoeing during the heavy snows of winter 2010. Because it is well marked for Alpine use (blue diamonds nailed high on trees at regular intervals), well signed (thanks to the White Mountains Trailsystem) and relatively easy going for those of us who were not accustomed to the weight and gait of snowshoes.
Hike: The trail begins (if you're hiking it counter-clockwise) along a fence line adjacent to the various high-end developments, providing access from popular country clubs to the trail system (hence the name of the trail). However, after less than a mile, the fence falls away, and the country opens up. A relatively flat hike through beautiful ponderosa and juniper forest, with a number of open meadows for views, wildlife and snowplay. When we visited this February, there were recent tracks on the first mile of the trail, but after that we were blazing our own way.
The loop passes two connector trails, both of which are clearly signed. The Los Burros connector leads south 6.5 miles to the 13-mile Los Burros Loop Trail #631 and the Iron Horse connector leads approximately 1 mile south to The Springs Loop Trail #633. After the Los Burros Connector, the trail crosses Forest Road 185, which was closed to motor vehicles on our visit and was obviously heavily used by cross-country skiers (snowshoers should try to stay out of the ski tracks). The trail passes through a number of gates as it meanders in and out of cattle grazing areas.
The trail then begins a very gentle climb north toward Pat Mullen Mountain. An information connector trail branches off where the trail bends back west, the spur heading north to an old cinder pit which acts as a top-class sledding hill in the winter. The forest road behind the cinder pit leads back to Sky Hi Road the and Ski Hi Retreat subdivision. If you find yourself heading sharply down hill on the eastern slope of Pat Mullen Mountain - then you're on this spur trail, and you should backtrack to find the junction near the last gate and head west. (This is probably not a big problem in the summer, but winter use patterns seem to favor the sledding hill as a destination.)
The trail continues to climb the southern slope of Pat Mullen Mountain, coming shortly to another spur, this one signed, for the Vista Point at the peak of the hill. The Country Club trail continues roughly west, heading down from the low saddle, through changing pine and juniper foothills. Passing through yet another gate, the trail turns south to return to the trailhead on Sky Hi Road. The trailhead is also at the gate for Forest Road 185, providing yet another opportunity for variation on this pretty little trail.
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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.
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