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Hike #32 – Railroad Trail Loop

Railroad Trail Loop
Railroad Trail Loop

Location: From the Pinetop Post Office on SR 260 (map):

  • Drive 25.9 miles east on 260 past the Hon-Dah casino, past 473 and 273 and look for the tall antenna tower ahead on the hill on the right. The trail is just below the antenna. After you leave the Apache Reservation, in about one quarter mile you will see a large parking area on the right with a restroom in the center.
  • Drive in and park in the back left corner near the large rocks.

Trail: The first part of the trail is dirt and cinders along the old railroad bed. The railroad trail continues many miles south at least to Big Lake, but the short hike described here only goes south about 1.7 miles. The second part of the trail is an old dirt road bed through the grass, then up the hill by the antenna tower, and down to the parking lot on cinders and gravel.

Railroad Trail Loop
Railroad Trail Loop

Trailhead and Directions: The trailhead is between the large stones next to the bulletin board in the southeast corner of the parking area. Walk the trail along the railroad berm for about 0.9 miles where you will come to a small pine tree on the left. From here, or just beyond, leave the railroad berm and walk across the grassland to the southwest until you reach the dirt road tracks near the border of the forest. Walk the tracks to the south into the open grove of trees at the southern extent of this forest. You can relax on one of the large fallen logs for a snack break here. Return north on the old road along the edge of the forest. Soon the tracks parallel the fence line on the left, then bend left at the fence corner. Continue on the old road up the hill with the antenna tower on the left. This road joins the main road leading to the tower with a large cinder pit on the left. Keep going north and down the cinder road to the parking area. There is no reason why you cannot take the whole hike in the reverse direction.

Access: Hiking, bicycling, horses; no motorized vehicles. Not handicapped accessible. The old road will be muddy after a rain.

Hiking in the White Mountains
Hiking in the White Mountains

Distance: It is 0.9 miles to the lone pine tree, and from there, about 0.6 miles to the southern end of the forest, and then 1.6 miles back along the road to the parking lot, for a total of 3.1 miles.

Difficulty: Easy along the railroad grade, moderate difficulty in walking the bunch grass across to the road. Watch your footing along the old road trail. There is a hill to climb before coming down on the cinders to the parking area.

Features: The grasslands have been used for pasturing sheep and cattle, but we have seen herds of pronghorns, coyotes, elk, and black bears along the trail. One day we encountered a badger. In spring and after rains, there are wet marshes on one or both sides of the berm at places between the parking area and the single pine tree. Mountain Bluebirds, Vesper Sparrows, swallows, kestrels, and hawks are commonly seen from the trail. Once you get across to the forest, you might see elk, deer, red squirrels, and chipmunks. The usual forest birds are here like woodpeckers, kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees, jays, juncos, and ravens. In summer, the grasslands are covered with flowers such as Bluebell Bell Flowers, Fendler’s Sandwort, fleabane, thistles (on the railroad grade mostly Cirsium scariosum), Clark Valley Larkspur, mullein, sometimes Gentianella and Spurred Gentian, and many others.

Connections: The railroad trail continues many miles to the south where you could park a second car.

Railroad Trail Loop
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