Tag Archives: Easy Day Hikes

Butterfield Trail to Gadsden Trail Loop – Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Butterfield Trail to Gadsden Trail Loop – Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Butterfield Trail

Butterfield Trail

The Sierra Estrella lies southwest of Phoenix, AZ, and the Estrella Mountain Regional Park is the most popular way to access this mountain. Starting at the northern edge of the Sierra Estrella, the Estrella Mountain Regional Park has several trails that lead alongside the popular mountain. One of these trails is Butterfield Trail, which can be combined with Gadsden Trail to form a nice 7.5-mile loop. The trail starts at the Rainbow Valley trailhead and is very easy to follow.

Butterfield to Dysart Trail

Butterfield to Dysart Trail, an option that makes the loop less than three miles.

Leaving the Rainbow Valley trailhead, the first turn onto Butterfield appears on the left. Once you’re on the well-signed Butterfield Trail, keep hiking through the Coldwater junction and head south on Butterfield for a mile. At this point, the Gadsden Trail appears on the left heading east. You can pass Gadsden at this junction and hike on Butterfield another 1 1/2 miles to the end of Butterfield, or you can start the loop at the first Gadsden trail junction. I prefer to hike Butterfield down to the end of the trail first, as Gadsden Trail tends to be a little windier on hot days than Butterfield Trail.

 

 

 

Up and Down Coulees on Gadsden Trail

Up and Down Coulees on Gadsden Trail

Moving past this first intersection and continuing along Butterfield Trail, the trail leads up and down small hills as you meander towards the Sierra Estrella. After a total of 2 1/2 miles, Butterfield Trail ends at the second junction with Gadsden Trail. Turn left (east) as Gadsden Trail leads up and down small canyons and coulees, circling counter-clockwise towards the first intersection with Butterfield Trail. This trail brings you the best chances of catching a cool breeze and offers views of nearby Phoenix, AZ. Continuing along Gadsden Trail, the Butterfield Trail junction appears straight ahead.

Rare Spot of Shade on Gadsden Trail

Rare Spot of Shade on Gadsden Trail

Turn left (north) at the intersection for Butterfield Trail, and follow Butterfield Trail the rest of the way until it ends at Toothaker Trail. Turn right here, and follow this short trail to the Rainbow Valley trailhead. Alternatively, you can also turn left when Butterfield Trail meets Coldwater Trail, and follow Coldwater Trail to the Coldwater trailhead. The Coldwater Trail option is a little bit shorter than continuing to the Rainbow Valley trailhead, but if you start and stop this trail at the Coldwater trailhead the difference adds up to saving a quarter mile of hiking.

Directions to the Coldwater/Rainbow Valley Trailhead

Enter Estrella Mountain Regional Park (14805 W Vineyard Ave, Goodyear, AZ 85338), continuing down the paved road until you see a gravel road turnout with a horse arena.  Park at either the Coldwater trailhead or the Rainbow Valley trailhead on the other side of the horse arena.

Map to the Coldwater Trailhead

 

 

 

02 Jul 2020

Goldmine Trail to Dynamite Trail Loop – San Tan Regional Park

View From Dynamite Trail

Goldmine Trail to Dynamite Trail Loop – San Tan Regional Park – Phoenix, AZ

View From Dynamite Trail

View From Dynamite Trail

The San Tan Mountain Regional Park is located an hour from downtown Phoenix, AZ and offers a good calf-stretching trail that is stunning. On this trail, it seems as if you are walking on diamonds as tiny glimmers from mica and Pyrite glisten in the sun. You can hike this loop in reverse to save yourself some exercise, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s better to hike up the 500 ft tall hill in the beginning so that you can appreciate the scenery heading downhill. For either option, start at the Goldmine Trailhead located just outside of San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

Graves on Goldmine Trail

Graves on Goldmine Trail

Leaving the trailhead, you immediately have the choice to hike this loop counter-clockwise or clockwise. Clockwise is probably the easiest, but if you hike this trail counter-clockwise, you have only one big hill to hike up in the beginning. This makes the trail more interesting. As you take the counter-clockwise option, you will soon see the spur path to the graves of Marion E. Kennedy and Mansel L. Carter. These two men started in the Arizona desert in search of gold, finding a deep connection with the local flora and fauna. They are buried here in this quaint cemetery, to remind us to tread lightly and respect the unique animals and plants along the trail.

View From the Top of Goldmine Trail

View From the Top of Goldmine Trail

Leaving this spur trail, you will re-connect to the main trail, which dips down into a coulee before starting the climb to the east shoulder of Goldmine Mountain. The trail climbs swiftly here, but I am still categorizing this hike as an easy hike. Yes, the next mile gains a little over 500 feet and is quite steep. However, I saw two small children and several older men and women hike this portion of the trail, so the trail can’t be that difficult. Take your time on this one big hill, and the rest of the trail is more or less downhill. Reaching the top of the hill, the view is fantastic. If you look to the north (behind you), you can see Phoenix and the Superstition Mountains. Looking south (forward), a scenic spread of hills and valleys await. 

San Tan to Dynamite Trail

San Tan to Dynamite Trail

Once you’ve carefully descended into the valley below (this portion of the trail is marked as difficult, but it honestly is an easy section of the trail), you reach the valley floor.  The next 2.8 miles are a walk in the park so to speak. The trail leads mostly downhill to the San Tan junction on your left, and following this junction quickly reaches the Dynamite Trail, where you will bear right. This portion is the easiest but the longest section of the loop. 2 ½ miles lie between you and the trailhead, but it honestly doesn’t seem that far.

As you slowly glide up and down ravines, the time passes by quickly. Take your time and look down at the trail. You will see beautiful reflections from Pyrite and mica specks that reflect the ever-present sunlight. These specks will decorate the trail for the rest of the hike. As you wind your way towards the trailhead, one last hill appears.

Horned Lizard on San Tan Trail

Horned Lizard on San Tan Trail

This hill is so much easier than the first, and if you hike this in the late morning, you will be thankful for the nice breeze at the top. After a couple of switchbacks, the trail leads downhill slowly towards the trailhead. Look out for all of the lizards darting back and forth on this section of the trail. Remembering Kennedy and Carter’s lifestyle, take the time to appreciate this unique habitat and the creatures that make this desert their home. After 2.4 miles from the San Tan junction, you will arrive back at the trailhead. Hopefully, you will have gained an appreciation for the land and animals that Kennedy and Carter fell in love with decades ago.

Directions to the Goldmine Trailhead

Take exit 167 off of I-10 to East Riggs Road.  Follow East Riggs Road for 11.7 miles, turning right onto S Higley Road.  Continue onto Hunt Hwy, turning right onto North Wagon Wheel Road.  Follow this road as it turns into West Skyline Trail.  The Goldmine Trailhead is at the end of West Skyline Trail.  Pay your $8 park fee at the trailhead box.

Map to the Goldmine Trailhead

 

 

 

05 Jun 2020

Cave Creek Regional Park

Clay Mine Trail

Cave Creek Regional Park

During my visit to Phoenix, AZ, I was impressed by the Maricopa County trail system. One of my favorite parks was Cave Creek Regional Park. Here, there are eight named trails that link together, allowing you to pick and choose where in the park you would like to visit. Bikes and dogs are more than welcome in this park. The park’s located in the Sonoran Desert, a beautiful region dominated by various cacti species. However, like anywhere else in the desert, you must watch for rattlesnakes along the trail. Give them plenty of room, and they’ll leave you alone. Speaking of room, the Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 2,900 acres to recreate in; here is a list of my favorite routes in this park:

Clay Mine Trail

Clay Mine Trail

Clay Mine Trail

This trail runs approximately 2.5 miles, offering a great view of the park and the hills and cacti surrounding the park. This is the most relaxed hike in Cave Creek Regional Park. As a bonus, there is an abandoned mine at the end of this trail. Keep outside the gate and respect the cacti along the trail, the infamous “Teddy Bear” cactus is plentiful in the Cave Creek Regional Park. One encounter with this cacti will leave lasting memories of removing the horrible pods covered in needles that attach themselves to you as you hike down the trail. My dog Kairos accidentally brushed up against one of these cacti, and it took a great deal of effort to remove the spiny pod from his foot, as well as the dozens of needles on his tongue, face, and feet.

 

 

Go John Trail

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

The Go John Trail was one of my favorite trails in the Cave Creek Recreational Park because the wildlife seemed more abundant on this trail. This is the only trail in the park that allowed me to see deer and a rattlesnake, so hike this 6-mile loop if you want to see more of the fauna associated with the Sonoran Desert. The trail does have a few small hills, but it’s still an easy day hike.

 

 

 

Slate Trail to Go John Trail Loop

The Dreaded Teddy Bear Cholla

The Dreaded Teddy Bear Cholla

If you only have a couple of hours and want to see the diversity that Cave Creek Regional Park offers, hike this trail. It’s only 4 miles long, leading you through some of the more remote trails in the park. There are fossils to be seen in the slate outcroppings, beautiful quartz crystals shining in the mid-day sun, and an interesting guide to the flora of the Sonoran Desert. Among those is the most infamous– the teddy bear cholla.

 

29 May 2020

Slate Trail to Go John Trail Loop – Cave Creek Regional Park

Slate Trail to Go John Trail

Slate Trail to Go John Trail Loop – Cave Creek Regional Park

Slate Trail to Go John Trail

Slate Trail to Go John Trail

Cave Creek Regional Park has plenty of trails that can combine into a myriad of options. One popular loop that isn’t as long as the nearby Go John Trail is the Slate Trail to Go John Trail Loop. This hike is only 3.8 miles long and offers beautiful views of northern Phoenix as well as the Superstition Mountains. A side benefit to hiking this trail is that if you’re not from Arizona and don’t have all of the cactus names memorized (other than the famous saguaro, of course) this trail has informative plaques near the major types of cacti in the park. Leaving the parking lot via the west trail marked Slate Trail, this quick loop begins.

Slate on Slate Trail

Slate on Slate Trail

This trail has a few hills, but nothing more than a couple of hundred feet of elevation. You can easily see why this is named Slate Trail– large pieces of jagged slate stick out of the ground at random spots on the trail. Other than the geology, you’ll feel the difference hiking up closer to the top of the hills where you can feel the cool wind, and then roasting in the valleys below. The first turn on this loop is Quartz Trail, at .8 miles. Turn left (north) at the well-signed intersection.

Slate Trail to Go John Trail Intersection

Slate Trail to Go John Trail Intersection

Quartz Trail brings more hills to this hike. Slate Trail is pretty flat, but Quartz Trail makes the hike interesting. Look at the sides of the trail as you walk by to see fossils preserved in slate, shiny quartz, and the occasional piece of petrified wood. Don’t disturb these specimens, though; it is specifically forbidden to remove any rocks, plants, or historical artifacts from the park. Hiking up to the highest point on the Quartz Trail, you will see an intersection onto Go John Trail. Turn left (east) at this junction.

Saguaro Cacti are Tall!

Saguaro Cacti are Tall!

Taking Go John Trail down this last leg will go by quicker than you’d think. Although the section is nearly a mile long, the downhill course of the trail speeds up your pace. Take the time to stop and enjoy the view at least a couple more times along this trail. After .9 miles from Quartz Trail, Jasper Trail appears on the left. Turn left (south) at this well-signed intersection.

The Dreaded Teddy Bear Cholla

The Dreaded Teddy Bear Cholla

Jasper Trail is the shortest trail in the park at a quarter-mile. I can’t help but wonder why this trail even has a name. In any event, Jasper Trail runs back to the Slate Trail, where you will turn right (west). After another short quarter of a mile, you will see the parking lot where you started. This is the second shortest hike that I’ve traveled on in the Cave Creek Regional Park, but it’s still neat. The scenery is amazing, and this section of the park isn’t nearly as busy as the Clay Mine or Go John trails.

Directions to the Slate Trail Trailhead

Enter Cave Creek Regional Park (37019 N Lava Ln, Cave Creek, AZ 85331), pay your $8 entrance fee, and drive past the horse stables to the well-signed Slate Trail Trailhead.

Map to the Slate Trail Trailhead

 

 

 

27 May 2020

Go John Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park

Go John Trail

Go John Trail – Cave Creek Regional Park – Phoenix, AZ

Go John Trail

Go John Trail

The Go John Trail was my favorite trail in Cave Creek Regional Park. This trail is 6 miles long, giving you a decent bit of exercise (unlike the flatter Clay Mine and Slate/Quartz trails). My favorite part about this trail is the wildlife, though. This trail receives less traffic than the others in the park, so you’re more likely to see a rattlesnake or two. During my quick hike through Go John Trail, I was able to see deer as well, having otherwise eluded me over the previous three days. This hike starts at the north trailhead because the grade is easier; if you’re looking for a more strenuous workout, try hiking this trail in reverse.

One of the Many Saguaro Cacti Along Go John Trail

One of the Many Saguaro Cacti Along Go John Trail

Once you leave the north trailhead at the parking lot, it’s easy to stay on the Go John Trail. Starting up the trail, bear right to follow the inside curve of the trail. It’s practically impossible to get lost since every intersection is well marked. Loop hikes tend to give me a little bit of anxiety since you can add 10+ miles to your hike if you miss a turn. This happened to me on The Beartooth Recreational Trail ended up being an extra ten miles when I missed a turn south of Sawtooth Lake. Thankfully, Go John Trail won’t get you lost.  You should still hike this trail at a slower pace than normal. Not only is the scenery worth slowing down to appreciate, the wildlife isn’t as shy when you slow down.

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

Rattlesnake on Go John Trail

Keeping conversations and trail noise to a minimum will pay off on this trail. I hiked this trail solo after noisier groups, and the wildlife noticeably hides at the warning of these hikers. Frankly, I think that everyone should hike a trail in this manner, but to each their own. The profile of this trail is straightforward if hiked clockwise– there is a small hill in the beginning and middle, with a larger hill at the end. Many guides have categorized this trail as a “moderate” trail, but I cannot agree with them. Although one hill turns into a set of stairs, all of the hills on this trail are less than 300 feet high. Compared to the other hikes I have written, Go John is definitely an easy trail and changes less elevation than most. Bring plenty of water on this hike (I hiked this in February and ran through a liter of water), and take your time. The best part of this trail is the chance to see wildlife. Speak softly, step lightly, and maybe you’ll see a critter or two.

Deer on Go John Trail

Deer on Go John Trail

Directions to the Go John Trailhead

Enter Cave Creek Regional Park (37019 N Lava Ln, Cave Creek, AZ 85331), pay your $8 entrance fee and drive to the end of a loop.  You can’t miss the Go John Trailhead.

Map to the Go John Trailhead

 

 

 

20 May 2020

Langohr Creekside Trail: Gallatin Range

Langohr Creekside Trail: Gallatin Range

Langohr Creekside Trail

At the northern end of the Langohr Campground lies one of the easiest trails in Hyalite Canyon. If you thought that Palisade Falls was a quick stroll into the forest, the .3 miles of Langohr Creekside Trail offer just enough trail to settle your stomach after a campfire meal and is also a good choice for the elderly or toddlers. Most of the people that hike this trail are campers at Langohr Campground, giving you a unique opportunity to greet some of your neighbors, and exchange pleasantries. For a leisurely walk next to Hyalite Creek, pull into the spacious parking area and head down the trail.

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25 Feb 2020

South Cottonwood Creek Trail: Gallatin Range

South Cottonwood Creek Trail: Gallatin Range

South Cottonwood Creek Trail

South Cottonwood Creek Trail runs through the heart of a network of trails just outside of Bozeman.  Although there are numerous side trips and options that you have on South Cottonwood Creek Trail, the most popular option is a quick and scenic day hike through the forest, crossing over three bridges that lead over South Cottonwood Creek.  This quick hike is popular, while being relatively short– it is only 2 ½ miles to the third bridge.  That being said, most day hikers prefer to spend less time on this trail and only hike along it for one or two miles.  Regardless of which option you choose, the trail begins at the end of Cottonwood Creek Road.

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18 Feb 2020

History Rock Trail: Gallatin Range

History Rock Trail: Gallatin Range

History Rock, located in Hyalite Canyon

History Rock Trail is one of the few places where someone leaving a trace behind is acceptable. Settlers, old timers, and even a scout for George Custer all left their marks on this large outcropping, and it stands as a historical “guest book” of sorts, storing the names and dates of those who have passed along this trail. Located in Bozeman’s busy Hyalite Canyon, History Rock is a short 2.5-mile hike that is a perfect way to stretch your legs. Make sure to bring a camera along this hike– not only is the scenery beautiful, but the soft sandstone on History Rock won’t be along forever. This last reason alone should tell you that you should stop and hike along the quick trail to History Rock.

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23 Jul 2018

Red Lodge Creek Trail- Beartooth Mountains

Red Lodge Creek Trail- Beartooth Mountains

Red Lodge Creek Trail #14

Red Lodge Creek Trail #14 is a quick day hike through a mature forest. This hike is mostly traveled by local residents, so the traffic is usually lighter than other day hikes near Red Lodge. The trail traffic is exceptionally light in the late fall (where about half of the upper trail is inaccessible), which makes Red Lodge Creek Trail a nice late season or early season day hiking trail. If you’re looking for the possibility of an uninterrupted day in the mountains, Red Lodge Creek Trail might have what you’re looking for.

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10 Nov 2017

Grotto Falls- Gallatin Range

Grotto Falls- Gallatin Range

Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls, located in Bozeman’s scenic Hyalite Canyon, is a beautiful waterfall that can be reached within a half hour. Although the waterfall isn’t particularly tall, Grotto Falls makes up for that by its sheer volume. Hyalite Creek gushes over the falls into the pools below, creating perfect swimming holes to relax in after a hot day. Access to the falls is excellent, with the trail well groomed, and highly trafficked. Simply put, Grotto Falls should be on your must-see list if you are hiking towards Hyalite Lake, or even just in Hyalite Canyon for a day.

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02 Jul 2017

Rat Lake- Gallatin Range

Rat Lake- Gallatin Range

Rat Lake

Rat Lake, located just outside of Bozeman, MT, is a day hike that attracts many hikers, anglers, and tourists. The quick hike, combined with the close proximity to Yellowstone, Bozeman, and Big Sky, draw in many locals and tourists each year. The high traffic on this hike shouldn’t discourage you, though. Anglers will appreciate the trout fishing, hikers will be encouraged to hike further down the trail, and tourists will love the quick chance to stretch their legs. This trail even offers a chance to stay overnight in a US Forest cabin- Rat Lake Trail #416 offers everyone a quick trip into the Gallatin Range.

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12 Jun 2017

Tepee Pass- Yellowstone National Park

Tepee Pass- Yellowstone National Park

Tepee Pass

Tepee Pass is a scenic day hike that is located just barely outside of Yellowstone National Park, and although the trail isn’t technically in the park, you can still see vistas of the park and the surrounding mountain ranges. Tepee Pass provides one of those rare moments when you can see two mountain ranges in all of their glory- the Gallatin Range to your left and right, and the Madison Range in front of you. While you’re on this hike, you also have the opportunity to see some of Yellowstone’s famous wildlife- bears, moose, and deer. If you’re not afraid of hiking up a large hill, the hike up to Tepee Pass is worth your time.

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29 Nov 2016

Pioneer Falls- Madison Range

Pioneer Falls

Pioneer Falls

Tumbling 40 feet into a narrow gorge, Falls Creek creates the dramatic display that is known as Pioneer Falls. Pioneer Falls is mesmerizing to watch, as gallon upon gallon of pristine water tumbles its way towards the southern fork of Spanish Creek. Standing here, you have to appreciate the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, and the need for wilderness areas in this country. To be humbled by nature’s creation, you only have to hike a few miles from civilization. Many trail guides list this hike as a 7.5 mile hike, but that is not correct- the hike to the falls is only 3 miles, making the total trip length 6 miles.

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07 Nov 2016

Becker Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Becker Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Becker Lake

For a quick hike to a beautiful mountain lake that’s near Cooke City, there’s no better place than Becker Lake. The trail to Becker Lake is a bit lengthy at 9 miles, but the flat trail and numerous nearby lakes will work hard to help you overlook the distance. These 9 miles are also the flattest in the Beartooth Mountains, making the hike to Becker Lake a perfect hike for kids, and older adults. As such, you can expect to see other hikers on this trail. Thankfully, a few extra hikers won’t detract from the alpine beauty of this hike.

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27 Aug 2016

Margaret Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Margaret Lake

Margaret Lake

If you’re seeking a lake less than 3 miles from a popular trailhead, while at the same time looking for isolation from others, look no further than Margaret Lake. Although the trail isn’t as easy to follow as others (the last quarter mile is hard to follow at times), the fishing and solitude more than make up for the quarter mile of stumbling though brush. Located just a few minutes from Cooke City, you’ll pass many hikers on the way into Margaret Lake, but you’ll be almost guaranteed solitude once you arrive at the lake. This trail does lead through an area that is notorious for its bear population, so be sure that you know how to safely hike in bear country, before you leave the trailhead. This hike starts from the busy Clarks Fork Trailhead, easily accessible from Highway 212.

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19 Jul 2016

Vernon Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Vernon Lake

Vernon Lake

Located just 2 ½ miles from the Clarks Fork trailhead, Vernon Lake is a perfect day hike for travelers on their way to Cooke City, or Yellowstone National Park. The trail gains very little elevation, and offers the opportunity to see wildlife such as deer, moose, and yes- bears. Finding the trailhead is incredibly easy, since it is both well signed, and next to Highway 212. Although you’ll pass many hikers on the first mile of this hike, once you turn onto the Vernon Lake trail, the traffic diminishes greatly. Another feature of this trail is a side trip to the Flume Trail at the beginning of the hike, which offers an educational opportunity about the now-defunct hydroelectric dam that was built in 1916. This “trail” is wheelchair accessible, while of course the hike to Vernon Lake is not.

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11 Jul 2016

Meyers Creek Trail- Beartooth Mountains

Meyers Creek Trail

Meyers Creek Trail

Meyers Creek Trail #27 offers a chance to enjoy the outdoors on a well established trail, without the crowds. This trail is great for any hiker’s skill level, or physical condition. Rockhounds will be satisfied with the fossils and metamorphic rocks that are easily found on the trail, and hunters will find no shortage of wild game. For some, the trailhead is scenic enough, but to fully appreciate the trail, you’ll want to stretch your legs.

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01 Jun 2016

East Fork Boulder River- Absaroka Range

East Fork Boulder River- Absaroka Range

East Fork Boulder River

South of McLeod, MT, lies the East Fork Boulder River, a popular trail that leads to less than popular destinations. The trail runs 3.5 miles to the bridge over the East Fork Boulder River, where many hikers choose to fish, camp, or hike onward to the Lake Plateau. The camping at the East Fork Boulder River is excellent, with both firewood and trout in large supply. For a novice backpacker, the low elevation gained on this hike make it a good choice. In fact, the hardest part of this hike might be driving to the trailhead itself.

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08 May 2016

Ouzel Falls- Madison Range

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls, located in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity for a quick hike to a scenic waterfall. The South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River (which is a mouthful, to say the least) plunges over the falls, on its way to the Gallatin River. Ouzel Falls is located just .75 miles from the trailhead, making it a short hike after a long day of skiing, or an attractive detour on the way to Yellowstone. The low grade of the trail is easy for most hikers, although there are many side trips along the way if you want to stretch your calves. In winter, the trail to the falls, and the falls themselves, are the most scenic.

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01 May 2016

Cottonwood Road BLM- Pryor Mountains

Cottonwood Road BLM

Cottonwood Road BLM

Most people think of a beautiful lake or a scenic alpine view, when they think of hiking. They imagine a beautiful drive to the trailhead, where they might see a cascade of water rushing down the valley, or evergreen forests that surround the road. Most people overlook the Cottonwood Road area, which is equally beautiful in its own right. Covered only with sagebrush and a few juniper trees, Cottonwood Road’s beauty is something you have to hike away from the road to appreciate.

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01 Apr 2016