|Hiking||5.75 Miles|| 2 Hrs 15 Mns ||2.56 mph|
||no linked trail guides|
|So, this may be my new favorite hike in the entire state.
My reasoning may be aided by the fact that I was hiking on a Wednesday, it was cloudy, and maybe 65 degrees in August.
In any case, the terrain here is spectacular. Tons of aspen, plenty of fir. Basically, the kind of sub-alpine environment that is extremely rare in Arizona.
A few points to make for the people who haven't done this before. One of my pictures is a map that I've drawn to help out. Look it over as it can help you. The mileages seem to vary in reports here, and my map is fairly good about clearing up some of the inconsistencies (Despite my GPS dying and having to fill in the blanks on the map later).
We did a car shuttle, which I recommend. Hiked from Snowbowl down to the end of Freidlein Prairie Road, which I recommend. It ended up being 5.75 miles, with a -600 foot drop total. If you want to go out and back, that's good, but know what you're in for!
If you want to leave a car at the Weatherford trailhead, that is another option, but it's an additonal 1.5 mile of hiking, and apparently it's all on an old dirt road. (We didn't go that way, so I can't describe it, but the map sort of shows it).
If you are leaving a car at the end of the Freidlein Prairie Road (FR522) I highly recommend getting there on FR522 ... it's by far the easiest route to drive. You can also access this trailhead from FR6273 which is just west of the Weatherford TH on Shultz Pass road, but it is perhaps the most rocky, uncomfortable road I've ever driven. Actually did it without switching into 4WD, but high-clearance is a must. If you've ever driven in a dry river-bottom, it's a lot like that.
Freidlein Prairie Rd is much better maintained, and while high-clearance is recommended, I saw a Volvo station wagon at the TH, so it's certainly possible without.
On a camping note, Freidlein Prairie Rd is closed to camping except in designated spots (there are 14--all marked on my map) and #10-14 are closed for much of the summer. So don't plan on setting up camp here and hiking.
On to the hike ... after shuttling cars, we started from the Snowbowl parking lot and immediately were enjoying the dense sub-alpine forest. After about a half mile, we reached the Kachina Wilderness Boundary which paralleled the power lines which feed the Snowbowl ski area. A trail register indicated we were the first hikers this August Wednesday, and there had only been two groups on Tuesday, and one on Monday. I didn't count, but the weekend had many more visitors.
While I know that the hike is predominately down hill, there were just enough short climbs to keep the heart pumping and my breath short (not really used to 9000 ft oxygen levels) without absolutely killing myself.
It was cloudy, so I really enjoyed the shade, but I estimate that the first 2 miles or so would be shaded on a sunny day anyway. As the hike went on, the terrain opened up and more sun would be visible on a nice day. There were a few nice views of Flagstaff where the Walkup Skydome and Lowell Observeratory stood out. Similar views of the the peaks above (Agassiz, Fremont, and Doyle) were stunning ... especially on our cloudy, misty monsoon day. Surprisingly, the last two miles or so were more shaded again, not with much pine, but with plentiful aspen groves.
We were about two weeks into a pretty good summer monsoon flow, so the grasses and ferns were plentiful, tall, green, and lush. Really a nice break from the valley of the sun!
Just as we were thinking "we must be almost there", I noticed a rock cairn and what looked like a lightly used trail heading downhill. After turning on my GPS (dead battery when I started... doh!) for one last gasp, it showed that we were less than 1000 feet from our car. We didn't follow the light trail, but I've marked the approximate location on the map in my photoset (dotted red line) because it may be useful to some people. It probably knocks 3/4 mile off the end of the hike.
The trail "ends" at the now-closed portion of the Freidlein Prairie Rd. If you turn right and head downhill, it's 4/10 mile to the TH at the end of the road where we parked.
If you head left, it's 3/10 mile to the intersection of the Weatherford trail, where you can then head downhill 1.6 miles to the Weatherford trailhead on the Shultz Pass Road.
Regardless of how you do it, this trail is great. I recommend it to anybody. It's not too difficult, extremely well-maintained, and the scenery is nearly unmatched in Arizona.