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Hike #30 – West Fork Black River – Thompson Trail

West Fork Black River – Thompson Trail
West Fork Black River

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

  • Drive east on 260 about 24.4 miles on 273 and drive 14 miles south and turn right.
  • Drive south on 273 about 8 miles and turn right on FR 116 that leads to Reservation Lake.
  • Drive 116 about 6 miles on the rough gravel road to the parking area on the right for the Thompson Trail and park.

Trail: The first section of the hike is on a rough roadbed along what appears to be an old railroad grade that goes slightly down hill. The second half is on a narrow dirt trail along the margin of the river.

Trailhead and Directions: Walk on the gravel road 116 to the west about 200 yards and find the trailhead on the left on the west side of the river. Walk the roadbed south on the old railroad grade for 1.45 miles where the grade drops down and crosses a small runoff creek. Turn left and make your way along the hillside to a trail along the river and follow the river to the north. The trail will eventually come back up to the railroad grade. From there, walk back to 116 and your car. The trail down and back can be muddy in places, and there will be water running off the hill to the west that crosses the trail. When you reach the turn around, you may have to bushwhack along the hillside just below the big spruce at the bottom of the hill to the north and over to the river trail as this area can be marshy. No Map is needed for this down and back trail.

West Fork Black River – Thompson Trail
West Fork Black River – Thompson Trail

Access: Although the railroad grade is drivable by the US Forest Service, it is not available to any motorized vehicles. Hiking, bicycles, and horses are permitted. The trail is not handicapped accessible.

Distance: The round trip from the parking area and back is 2.95 miles.

Difficulty: The first section along the railroad grade is easy with some to many wet spots. The return by the river is moderately difficult with several short up and down spots, climbing over rocks, and back up to the railroad grade.

Features: The trail provides some beautiful views of the forest and river meandering below. The trees are primarily Blue Spruce with some pines and aspens. The Wallow fire of 2011 burned the hilltops on both sides of the river valley. Flowers are abundant in July and August with Silverleaf, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Indian Paintbrush, Geyer’s Onion, Shooting Star, Pleated Gentian, and many other species along the side hill and river.

Common birds include Red-tailed Hawk, robins, juncos, jays, woodpeckers, Chipping, White-crowned, and Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Brown Creeper, Raven, bluebirds, and American Dipper. There were a few Beaver in the river just above the second dam. Elk and Black Bear are possible here. Fishing below the restricted area for trout is permitted. There is a “no fishing” area of the river between the two dams that is visibly signed. This is to protect the breeding population of native Apache Trout.

Connections: The railroad grade “road” leads many miles to the south.

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