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Pine Canyon Trail #26
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mini location map2013-07-06
18 by photographer avatarcdeperro
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Pine Canyon Trail #26Payson, AZ
Payson, AZ
Hiking avatar Jul 06 2013
Hiking8.15 Miles 900 AEG
Hiking8.15 Miles   4 Hrs   30 Mns   1.81 mph
900 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I hiked Pine Canyon Trail #26 after reading several descriptions of it on the HAZ site. It sounded wonderful! I often lead hikes for a hiking group in the Phoenix area, but in summer, we like to get further out to cooler hikes. I asked three of our other members to join me in doing this as "rehearsal" for a future group hike...I don't like to take groups on hikes I have not already tried. Thank goodness we did try it out! I feel there is some much needed supplementation in the descriptions, particularly to several references that if you do this hike from AZ Route 87 south to the Pine Trailhead, that it is "all downhill". IT IS NOT ALL DOWNHILL, far from it.

Don't get me wrong, much of this is a beautiful hike--at least the northern half. We left a car at the Pine TH about 9:00am and then parked the other car at the 87 TH and got on the trail about 9:30am. Very quickly we arrived at "The Switchbacks" which had stunning views out over of Pine Canyon. The gradient on the switchbacks was good…only steep in a few places for very short distances. At the bottom of the switchbacks it said we were 2 miles from where we turned off AZ 87; not sure if it’s correct or not because at the top there were competing signs next to each other saying the Pine TH was either 7 or 8 miles ahead of us.

Once we were down in the canyon, it was just a beautiful stroll slightly downhill near and along Pine Creek. There were sections of very green ferns under the pine trees which attracted dozens of butterflies. The temperature was around 80 in the shade, which made for lovely hiking. And hardly any bugs: I think it was late enough in July that the heat got them already. At about Mile 3 from the rim, we reached a signed crossing at Pine Creek which directed to either the Pine TH, or back up the canyon but on the other side of the creek to the “Darling Rocks” and “Deep Pools”. We wandered a bit up the side trail but they were not within a 10 minute hike so we turned around to keep on our course.

We spent about another mile pleasantly rambling under the forest canopy along the east side of the creek. We had a quick look at the signed “Tiny Cave”, which is tiny and really more of a creek undercut. After this is when it went a bit sour for us; perhaps just because up to this point the trail was easy and gorgeous.

We reached Camp Lo Mia where we were abruptly routed uphill to the east, around the camp, after being totally confused by a sign I did not take a picture of but can be seen here:
I mean, if the hike is only 8 miles from 87 to the Pine TH, but it's still 5 miles to the Pine TH from here and 8 miles back to where we started...I mean, was this sign posted in kilometers or is it so old that the 8 miles to AZ 87 was an old route that didn't go up the switchbacks? Anyway I digress...

This was no short uphill from Camp Lo Mia! We went 400’ back up the side of the canyon, on a far rockier, and sunnier trail. We got hot really fast. Yes there were views out over Pine, but they weren’t as nice as the views from the switchbacks. Then when we thought we leveled out at the signed junction of the East Rim Trail, the Pine Canyon trail continued up and down and up and down and up and down the 2+ miles to Dripping Springs…which was a total muddy mess lacking a crossing due to some sort of flooding or earth movement. The sign was knocked over and we had to cross many downed trees in this this area. The kicker was the 3’ long snake in the middle of the trail, which upon later review, appeared to be a non-venomous Arizona Glossy Snake, but we didn’t know that at the time. After Dripping Spring, the trail finally headed quite steeply back downhill until about the last mile before the Pine TH, where it resumed going up and down through washes.

Maybe it’s just because we saw the lushest, most serene section of the trail first, or because the first 4 miles truly were all downhill, but none of us were happy with the second half of the trail and just wanted to get it over with.

One of our hikers started to overheat on the unexpected sunny uphill so we had to pause for a while in the limited shade of a juniper, but they were fine after more water and an energy bar; but this time and the resulting slower pace really drew out the time on the trail for us. We did this entire hike in 4.5 hours, when we planned for about 3.5 with breaks.

If I did this again from the top (AZ 87), I would hike down the switchbacks and only go as far as Tiny Cave, or perhaps find the Deep Pools, then return the way I came up the switchbacks. At least that way it’s only a mile of switchbacks back up on a not too steep gradient (though 800' +). We all did not find Dripping Springs to be worth looking at, at least not at the time of this hike.
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