Top photo, Bullpen Wilderness trails parallel Clear Creek and great swimming holes in summer. Below, Agua Fria National Monument and the Agua Fria River has the perfect winter temperatures for a hike.
Photos by Cheryl Hartz
Whether they've lived here long or are new to the area, many people act surprised when I tell them Yavapai County is home to 19 designated Wilderness Areas. Encompassing hundreds of thousands of acres, they are: Apache Creek, Agua Fria, Arrastra Mountain, Castle Creek, Cedar Bench, Clear Creek, Fossil Springs, Granite Mountain, Hassayampa River Canyon, Hell's Canyon, Juniper Mesa, Mazatzal, Pine Mountain, Red Rock-Secret Mountain, Sycamore, Tres Alamos, Upper Burro Creek, Wet Beaver and Woodchute. Most of these wilderness areas contain marked trails, but some require experienced bushwackers to enter them. Some wilderness areas of Yavapai County are part of the Prescott, Coconino or Tonto national forests.
That's an amazing array and so far, in the 23 years I've lived in Prescott Valley, I've visited small parts of only about half of them - mostly because my family has favorite places we return to again and again, and because they're nearby.
With a system of both maintained and primitive trails so numerous I can't begin to list them all, hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers have their pick of breathtaking places to traverse. Some are better to visit in summer when you want to swim, while others are more conducive to winter hiking - especially the southerly ones such as Arrastra Mountain with its Phoenix-like climate and temperatures.
Abundant wildlife, hardy desert flora and arresting geologic formations offer visual feasts in each one. But they're all in desert terrain and many are remote, so always let someone know where you're going, take plenty of water, and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
It's a good idea to go online to the National Forest Service website for maps and other information. Call district offices if you're unsure of anything you read. Sometimes, I've found the info a bit outdated. But they have a lot to keep track of, so give them a break and be nice!