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Hike #35 – South Fork of the Little Colorado River

South Fork of the Little Colorado River
South Fork of the Little Colorado River

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

  • Drive east on 260 past the Hon-Dah Casino, past SR 473, 273, and 373 down the hill for a total of 37.5 miles.
  • Find the turn off marked South Fork, turn right, and drive 3 miles down the hill, across the Little Colorado River and up the hill bending right and then keeping left towards the South Fork trailhead and picnic area.
  • Cross the cattle guard and take the first well-traveled right turn across the bridge, drive to the dead end and park at the trailhead.

Trail: The trail is dirt and loose rocks paralleling the west side of the South Fork of the Little Colorado River.

Trailhead and Directions: The trailhead is next to the bulletin board. Sign in here in case someone needs to find you if you don’t return. Walk the trail that rises steadily to an open pine forest with most of the trees damaged or killed by the 2011 Wallow Fire. The trail continues several miles, but we usually only go a little over a mile.

Access: Hikers, bicycles, mules and horses. No motorized vehicles. Not handicapped accessible.

Distance: As far as you wish to walk out and back. We usually go about 1.3 miles to where almost all of the forest has been burned and then return.

Difficulty: Easy.

Features: The river runs along close to the trail most of the way with easy access if you wish to wade or sit in the cool water. No fishing is allowed. The willows and alders along the creek, junipers, and pines attract lots of birds in the first half mile of the trail. Flowers are abundant in summer all along the trail, both near the creek and in the ponderosa pine forest opened up by the fire. You may find Red Osier Dogwood, Hops, Woodbine, Gumweed, Toadflax Penstemon, Sand Dune Wallflower, Indian Paintbrush, Winged and James’ Buckwheat, two species of Goldenrod, Western Spiderwort, Bird-bill Dayflower, several different vetches, Pineywoods Geranium, stickseeds, several species of globe mallow, Purple Locoweed, Helianthella, Nodding Plumeless Thistle, Besseya, Red Cinquefoil, Cut-leaf Coneflower, Mexican Hat, and many more.

Connections: None from the trail itself, but if you return to the lower reaches of the South Fork, or to the bridge over the Little Colorado River where you can park on the northeast side of the bridge you can push your way through the brush to walk along the river edge. This is one of the few places where Gray Catbirds nest in Arizona.

South Fork of the Little Colorado River
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