I recently saw a bumper-sticker that read, “Nature is my Church.” So Easter Sunday, I decided to spend all day in ‘church’ and hiked the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area. Probably the two most recognizable physical landmarks in Prescott, Arizona are ‘Thumb Butte’ and ‘Granite Mountain.’ From just about anywhere in Downtown Prescott you can see the imposing nature of both Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain. At only 7,600 ft elevation, Granite Mountain is not the tallest mountain in the area but since it stands alone, it looks quite impressive. The 9,600 acre ‘Granite Mountain Wilderness’ area was designated a ‘Wilderness’ area by an act of Congress in 1984. This ‘status’ protects the area from any further development and thus protects the mountain lions, pronghorn antelope, javelina, peregrine falcons and other animals that make the ‘Wilderness’ their homes!
The ‘Wilderness’ is often referred to as an ‘Urban Wilderness’ because of its proximity to town. It’s located only about 8 miles from downtown Prescott and is easily accessible by paved road. A simple Google search will give you the only way into or out of the area by vehicle. The Metate Trailhead parking lot is probably the best place to park your car in order to explore the ‘Wilderness.’ After you pay the $5.00 park day use fee, you can top-off your water bottles at the water-pump located next to the pit-toilets before your hike! In order to see the most diverse landscape the ‘Wilderness’ has to offer, I recommend hiking trail # 261. It’s an out and back, 7 mile hike to the top of Granite Mountain through some really beautiful terrain. At the top of Granite Mountain you have incredible views of Williamson Valley and the town of Prescott.
The first mile and a half of the hike takes you along a small piñon pine and white oak lined seasonal creek. This time of year, the creek is flowing steadily, bringing life blood to the many wildflowers you will encounter.
As you ascend out of the creek-bed the landscape changes quickly, the massive granite boulders surround you as the trail zigzags up the mountain.
Make sure you stop along the ascent and look at the massive granite cliff rock-face off to the right. It’s home to nesting peregrine falcons, and you will probably see a few of them demonstrate their aerial acrobatic skills only a few hundred feet above you!
You really can’t get lost as the trail is well worn by the thousands of hikers who summit the mountain every year. As I crested the mountain just beyond the long series of switchbacks, I came face to face with 3 pronghorn antelope enjoying a breakfast of green grass in a clearing. I was more startled than they were…they just slowly walked away into the adjacent pine forest, but not before I was able to snap a few pictures.
Once on top of Granite Mountain, there is still about a one mile walk to the best View Point overlooking the entire route up the mountain and the town of Prescott. Bring your lunch and sit a top one of the massive boulders and enjoy the view, before you tackle the downhill portion of your hike! Hiking at an easy pace, the 7 mile out and back route took me about 4 and 1/2 hours to complete. It was perhaps the most peaceful Easter Sunday I’ve ever had!