After a particularly stressful week at work, I needed a little diversion – something to take me to another place. What I needed, I decided, was a hike with a bit of a bite.
And I knew just the place. The Yaeger Canyon Loop Trail in the Mingus Mountain range between Prescott and Jerome has long been my go-to hike for a strenuous, quick workout in a beautiful setting. And some serious seclusion!
Maybe it’s my North Dakota country upbringing, but whenever I feel the world closing in, I want to head for the hills. Or, in this case, the mountains.
The entire Yaeger loop is six miles, and includes a steep climb up, a beautiful high-elevation hike through ponderosa pines, and then a gradual downhill with great views of the Lonesome Valley spread below.
Since I had only a couple of hours to hike that day, I decided to do the hike up, and then turn around and return the same way. With a nearly 1,200-foot elevation gain in just over a mile, the scaled-back hike still packs a punch.
And the quick elevation change ensures plenty of diversity in terrain. From the trailhead off Highway 89A at the base of Mingus, the route starts by meandering along a dry creek, shaded by lush, leafy trees. Even though it runs parallel to the highway for a time, the trail feels a world away.
After a relatively gentle rise for the first half-mile, you begin an unrelenting climb along a series of switchbacks. Oh, and goodbye, shade! The trail snakes up the mountainside, with little relief from the sun.
Even so, the scenery is stunning. As you turn onto each switchback, the views of the valley below keep getting better and better. And the random mishmash of pine trees, alligator juniper, and prickly pear cactus showcases the best of Arizona’s high-desert vegetation.
But the real star of the Yaeger Canyon trail might be the huge white rock outcropping near the top. Visible from far below, it serves as a measuring stick as you make your way up the mountain. Then, suddenly, it’s right before you: Craggy quartz rock, perched precariously on the side of the mountain.
I love the weathered old dead tree that marks the spot. Gray wood, white rock, and blue, blue sky – for me, they combine to make the climb totally worth it. The spot also serves as a beautiful rest spot before heading straight up for the final quarter-mile of the hike.
After passing the rock outcropping, the trail suddenly gives way to heaps of reddish volcanic rock. It’s a lovely sight, because you know you’re almost there.
At the top, the terrain changes again to a peaceful mountain scene. The elevation tops 7,000 feet at this point, and the crisp mountain air carries the scent of the towering ponderosa pines.
I always stop at the top for a rest on a huge exposed tree root. With the winding Highway 89A visible far below, it really does feel like you’re on top of the world. Just what I needed to transition from the hectic workweek to a fun holiday weekend!