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Scenic, Medium Difficulty Hike
This is a scenic trip through some of the high country in the Blue Range Primitive Area. After spending some time searching for a good loop hike that started from one of the trailheads along Highway 191, we chose to do this trip as a three-day, two-night backpack. The trip begins and ends at the KP Rim Trailhead, as shown on the Forest Service map of the Blue Range. The trailhead is about 23 miles south of Alpine and roughly 2 miles south of Hannigan Meadow.
Start by making a left immediately as you leave the trailhead, staying on trail 315. The first two miles are a relatively easy stroll along the top of the ridge overlooking the KP Creek drainage. The trail is sometimes faint and can be difficult to follow in this section, but it is relatively easy to stay on course with a map or GPS. The trail passes through a semi-burned-out forest, and at certain points, there are excellent views of Blue peak. If you try hard enough, you should spot the lookout tower on top of Blue Peak. At the two-mile point, make a left on trail 73 heading toward Willow Spring. At this point, the trail is very faint, and finding the intersection of trails 315 and 73 is not easy. We would have certainly hiked right by it had the GPS not indicated that it was time to make a left turn. After leaving trail 315, the overgrown trail heads downhill towards a small but pretty clearing that marks the beginning of the unnamed creek just north of Steeple Creek. The Forest Service map shows a primitive trail (#305) that follows this creek east to its intersection with Grant Creek. "Primitive" is an accurate description of this piece of trail. For about 3.5 miles, the faint trail follows the small creek as it makes its way downhill, heading for Grant Creek. There isn't much trail to speak of, but it's difficult to get lost if you follow the creek downhill.
At the intersection with Grant Creek, make a right and follow trail 74 as it slowly leaves the creek bed and climbs up to the first campsite, Moonshine Park. Moonshine Park is a small clearing located at about 7,200 feet. Water is available 5-10 minutes away in Grant Creek. You should expect your progress to be relatively slow on the first day due to the route finding, creek hopping, and stopping to enjoy the scenery and take breaks. Day two starts on another faint trail (#74) heading southeast from Moonshine Park. Be sure to use your map or GPS to stay on course through this section. Follow trail 74 as it makes its way to the intersection with Steeple Creek. At this intersection, make a left, heading southeast toward Mud Spring. After less than a mile on this trail, you will make a right on trail 70 and begin the gradual descent into KP Creek. Along this trail that slowly winds its way down to the creek bed, there are some lovely views to the east.
When you reach the intersection with KP Creek, the trail crosses the creek and then begins to climb away from the creek bed. Stay on the trail as it seems to leave the creek. About a quarter-mile up the trail from this point, the trail rejoins the creek bed, and there is a beautiful campsite located on a grassy knoll right next to KP Creek. This was the second campsite. This site had been used before, as evidenced by the number of fire rings and trash left behind. However, it is a very nice campsite nonetheless. Nearby in KP Creek, there are small pools that are perfect for soaking one's head or feet. Also, if you look carefully, you will see some small trout darting around in these pools.
SIDE NOTE: There is an optional day hike up to Blue Peak Lookout from the second campsite for the hardcore hikers. The hike to the peak can be done as a loop or up and down on the same trail. It would be about an 8 or 9 mile trip to the peak and back, and probably not an easy climb. We opted to relax by KP Creek for the remainder of the afternoon instead.
Day three is a slow grind up the hill from KP Creek at about 6,700 feet to the KP Rim trailhead at about 9,075. Although the trail is uphill almost all the way, it never really gets terribly steep. Leave camp heading west as the trail climbs slightly out of the creek bed. In less than a mile, you will pass the signed intersection with trail 71 that goes up to Blue Peak Lookout. Stay to the right and keep following KP creek as the trail meanders through the lush, alpine terrain. There are several creek crossings and views of small, clear pools inhabited by trout.
You will reach the signed intersection with the KP Cienega Trail about two miles later, letting you know that you have 2 miles to go to reach Highway "666". Again stay to the right and follow the trail uphill towards the origin of KP Creek. The last two miles are uphill, through a forest inhabited by all kinds of wildlife. Keep your eyes on the terrain, and you might spot some large horned toads, snakes, deer, squirrels, rabbits, and some interesting birds as well. And, of course, there are large, colorful butterflies everywhere. The last half mile has sections that appear to be on an old 4WD road, a welcome sight for sore feet. Stay on the trail as it branches off from the old road, and you will soon see the trailhead parking lot (a welcome sight after a 2,300-foot climb).
Overall, this is a somewhat challenging, very rewarding trip through some beautiful, remote country. Although the trails can be difficult to follow, it is difficult to get lost if you have some topo-reading skills or a GPS. Study the route before you leave, and take a good map, and you shouldn't have a problem.
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Apache - Sitgreaves FS Details
KP Rim Trail: Scenic overlooks into KP Canyon and a day hike that can be stretched into a loop of moderate length are two of the prime features offered by KP Rim Trail. This relatively short trail follows a fence line along a more or less flat ridge top that separates KP and Grant Creek drainages. For its entire length, the KP Rim Trail stays within a high country ecosystem where Douglas Fir, white fir, and ponderosa pine are the dominant tree species. The area through which this trail and connecting Steeple Creek Trail pass is a good place to see elk and mule deer, especially if you travel quietly and keep a sharp eye on open areas ahead. This trail is also a good place to see some of the bird species that inhabit the highlands of the Alpine District, including the Stellers jay that is blue colored but not a blue jay. Watch the trees for these deep indigo-hued birds with their jaunty black tops. They're cousins of, but not identical to, the eastern blue jay. Like most jays, Steller's jays have a unique character all their own. Some of them even assert their individuality by wearing a tasteful white eye stripe.
About a mile from the trailhead, openings in the tree canopy offer views of KP Canyon and its southern slopes. If you cross the fence and walk a few yards out to the rim the views get even better. A set of sharp eyes or a pair of binoculars will help you to see the lookout tower at the summit of Blue Peak across the canyon, and while you're looking keep an eye out for bighorn sheep. They're occasionally spotted on the steep slopes below.
A little over two miles from its starting point, the KP Rim Trail ends at its junction with the Steeple Creek Trail. If you'd rather cover new ground than retrace your steps, you can turn north along the connecting trail and hike it 3.3 miles to Hannagan Meadow. This trail traverses a more alpine habitat known for its plentiful wildlife.
On an environmental note, if you're up on your tree species you'll notice the absence of Engelmann Spruce in this area. This is due to an infestation of mistletoe which has virtually eliminated this valuable tree species from a place where it was once plentiful.
No mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) permitted in Primitive Area. Willow Spring and surface runoff provide water suitable for stock animals only.
0.0 Trailhead parking just off Highway 191. The trail crosses the fence. KP Rim Trail branches to the left (east) and North Fork KP trail goes to the right (southwest).
0.6 Trail crosses through a gate in the fence.
1.3 First good views of KP Canyon to the south.
1.7 Rocky point with excellent views of KP Canyon.
2.2 Junction with Steeple Trail #73
USGS Maps: Strayhorse