With rising temperatures and record breaking heat in the Arizona desert, the summer months are the perfect time for heading up north to higher elevations, 7000ft or higher, where the temperatures are cooler and you can get outdoors again to enjoy more of the natural beauty and diversity that is state of Arizona and its terrain. For a quick and easy summer day trip and a quiet, less crowded, easy-moderate hike with breathtaking panoramic views of Arizona, I recommend hiking the Woodchute Trail, in the Woodchute Mountain Wilderness, near Jerome.
Starting out from Phoenix, you’ll want to take I-17 north till you reach the exit for Route 260 West, Cottonwood/ Clarkdale & Jerome. We started out around 8:30 am on a weekday so the traffic and road conditions were pretty good. We noticed there seemed to be a lot of Arizona Highway patrol cars everywhere so be very careful to watch your speed. After a few short stops along the way, we arrived in the small town of Cottonwood at around 10:30am, made a left onto route 89A South, and followed the signs for Jerome. On 89A South, you’ll begin a winding ascent up in elevation from 3000 feet up all the way up to 5000 feet, with some really beautiful views of the surrounding Verde Valley behind you.
We arrived in the historic town of Jerome and after a short break to stretch our legs, we continued on our journey heading south on 89A, now called the “Mingus Mountain Scenic Byway”. With many tight twisting, hairpin curves and a winding ascent up in elevation now from 5000 feet to 7000 feet, the views along the way are absolutely spectacular! This very scenic drive from Jerome to the top of Mingus Mountain is roughly about 8 miles. Once you reach the top you’ll see a sign for “Mingus Recreation Area” off to the left. Turn right, then drive a short ways until you come to FR 106, then take that for about a mile until you come to the Woodchute Trail. The road is all dirt but good and passable for regular vehicles if you take it slow. However, if you have a high clearance 2WD or a 4WD, that’d be better.
After arriving at the trailhead by noon we set out on our hike on the Woodchute Trail. It was a really nice, quiet and serene hike which wound through thick ponderosa pine forest. The elevation ranged from 7000 feet to roughly 7600 feet with only a moderate, gentle climb. The temperature was roughly in the low 80’s with a light breeze to keep you cool. Starting out on the trail we noticed some signs of a burn, though not too bad. What I liked best about this hike was the spectacular panoramic mountain top views it offered. Only a short ways down the trail and off to your right you’ll see the view down below of 89A winding up to the top of Mingus Mountain, but as well, looking up and beyond you’ll see amazing views of the entire surrounding geographic area of Arizona such as the Verde Valley, the Red Rocks, the Mogollon Rim and off to the distance almost dead north you’ll even see the tops of the San Francisco Peaks! Then a little ways further down the trail and off to your left you’ll reach another ridge where in the distance you’ll now see amazing views of the Prescott and Chino Valleys, making it almost a completely panoramic tour of the northern state of Arizona!
We continued hiking the Woodchute Trail for several miles then returned back to our car by about 2:30pm to head back down to Jerome again via 89A. Once we arrived, we had a little time to spare so we decided to stop in at the very well known “Giselle’s Bakery” on Main Street and after getting some wonderful pastries to take home with us, we then drove up the street to check out the famous, “Jerome Grand Hotel”, which they say is Arizona’s most haunted hotel. It’s a very beautiful and historic hotel that has a lot of reports of paranormal activity and was even visited recently by the Ghost Adventures paranormal investigators team from the Travel Channel which aired earlier this year. We stopped in for an hour or so and ordered a nice cold locally brewed micro beer in their restaurant & lounge called “The Asylum”. We did not see any ghosts while we were there but were told that if you really want to see ghosts, you can come back anytime and they’ll take you on a real live Ghost Hunting Tour of your own!
After a quick tour of the first floor and main lobby of the hotel we left Jerome around 5pm to return back to Phoenix by 7pm. We really enjoyed this trip to the Woodchute Mountain Wilderness and our visit to the old historic (and haunted) town of Jerome. It was a really nice, quick and easy summer day trip and hike that’s not far from Phoenix at a high elevation of 7000+ feet and with temperatures perfect for getting outdoors. Plus, this very easy-moderate hike had gorgeous scenery and views that will absolutely take your breath away. I highly recommend it. We look forward to returning again soon in the near future and possibly staying a night or two at the haunted Jerome Grand Hotel!
Laura K. Halik is a writer and published author with over 20 years experience of outdoors travel throughout the state of Arizona and the western region. She is passionate for nature, the outdoors, travel and adventure. Laura enjoys hiking, canyoneering, white water rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, writing, and photography. She is also a co-hiking leader and organizer in a hiking and outdoors adventure club for advanced and experienced hikers.
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