There are many use trails mixed among the named & numbered trails. Some of them more obvious than the official trails. The difference is that the path of official trails is marked by blue diamonds. The only difference in color, or shape, is for difficulty, which follows skiing convention. Personally, for hiking, I would rate no trail more than moderate.
Pole Knoll Trail #602 is old jeep trail for ⅓ mile. The trail then splits: Right is more casual strolling, while left is rather rocky. I went left. Rated “difficult”, it was similar to hiking a Mogollon Rim creek bottom (minus the deadfall). The rocky section is only 150 yds. long. If you mind your footing, no problem.
Back on old jeep trail, at ¾ miles I split left onto Grouse Trail #602G. Just short of a mile, the trail splits again: Go right. 250 yds. later is an x-intersection: Go straight across. If you get onto the wrong trail, like I sometimes did, don’t worry: With all the signs, it’s hard to get lost.
At 1¼ mile, I split left onto singletrack Viewpoint Trail #602H. Just after the split was another short section of fall color in even less mature aspen. Just babies — like the tiny horned lizard I almost stepped on. Viewpoint switchbacks up 300 ft. in ¾ mile. My recent hikes up North Mountain paid off, as even over 9,000 ft. elevation, Viewpoint was no problem.
The top of Viewpoint Trail #602H is marked by double blue diamonds. Left Viewpoint continues; right is a contour-following use trail. To summit Pine Knoll, split the difference, heading off-trail, up through mixed grass and cinders. (Pole Knoll is an old volcano.) In 250 yds., there is a false summit, which has awesome views southwest to Sunrise Ski Area.
From the false summit, it is 150 yds. along a semi-fenced aspen grove to Pole Knoll’s true summit. Overall, the climb is only 250 ft. I searched for a benchmark, but only found tangled wires. Perhaps from a height-of-light. No geocache or summit log either. The only item of interest was a small open-sided structure in the aspen grove, which appeared to be neither a hunting blind nor shelter.
My GPS was low on battery, and I’d forgot my extras back at the trailhead. Nothing in my pack either, as I’d left that at home in favor of a Camelbak. Pole Knoll Recreation Area is so mellow & enjoyable, I didn’t need the weight of all that extra stuff. Instead of dawdling, I headed down with a quickness back to the double blue diamond.
Viewpoint Trail #602H continues around the north and east slope of Pole Knoll. Summiting from that area would suck, due to all the aspen deadfall on the upper slope. However, it was the shadiest part of a mostly shady hike. At just over 3 miles, Viewpoint Trail widens to jeep trail, seemingly heading right. Instead, split left.
The t-intersection of Summit Trail #602J is 150 yds. further. The obvious route, left, is the way you should go. I could barely make out a trail to the right. It must reveal itself during cross-country skiing season. Summit Trail seemed steeper than Viewpoint Trail, but looking at the route profile, I guess it is the same. Not sure why it is called "Summit Trail" as it does not go anywhere near the top of Pole Knoll.
Throughout my hike, the dirt and clay of the trail surface was moist, but not wet or muddy. Just enough to get me dirty when I got down for my flower photo closeups.
Just over 4 miles, Summit Trail #602J turns left. (Right is Elk Trail #602I.) After 200 more yards, I turned right onto Osprey Trail #602C. The surrounding terrain was much more open, but there was still plenty of shade. At 4⅔ miles, I split left onto Raven Trail #602B.
Finally, at just under 5 miles, I turned left back onto Pole Knoll Trail #602 for the final half mile back to the trailhead. I got a bit confusing there, between jeep trail, singletrack and the trailhead access road. Regardless, you are heading the correct direction.
I really enjoyed hiking through the mixed aspen, ponderosa, conifer and small, sunny, meadows of Pole Knoll Recreation Area!
Hike Video: https://vimeo.com/756151276Wildflowers
Beautiful fleabane, western yarrow, Wheeler's thistle, alpine leafybract aster, mullein, hairy golden aster, harebell, fetid goosefoot & silvery lupine.