For a true western experience that combines rugged high-desert terrain with refreshments in an authentic historic train-depot setting, Prescott, Arizona offers a classic duo: A strenuous hike in the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area, capped off with a fitting reward at the nearby Iron Springs Cafe.
Located west of the city, the wilderness area features a network of trails that zigzag through the granite boulders that make up the foothills of the massive Granite Mountain, Prescott’s largest and most prominent promontory.
And located conveniently along the way is the historic Hillside Depot building, which was moved to the spot decades ago, and now serves as the popular Iron Springs Cafe.
Among the most popular of the wilderness area’s routes is the Little Granite Mountain Trail, which begins from a trailhead located about eight miles from downtown Prescott along Iron Springs Road.
The trek is rugged and the climb is steep, but the payoffs are rich. Alligator junipers, agave cacti, and massive rock formations crowd the first mile or so of the trail.
And then, there are the views.
After passing through a gate at about the one-mile point, vantage points begin to open up, showcasing the massive and awe-inspiring Skull Valley spread far below.
I always marvel at the scaly bark of the alligator junipers, and the broad span of the ancient trees that dot a ridgeline overlooking the valley. Standing at the ridge’s edge, the view of the far-away highway and vast valley will take your breath away.Regardless of whether you choose a quick out-and-back hike or a lengthy loop that takes in the Clark Springs Trail, and the Granite Mountain Trail, hiking in the wilderness area will be strenuous.
And the Iron Springs Cafe offers the perfect spot for recharging.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a friend and I stopped by for refreshing cocktails (a Prickly Pear Rita Rocks and a Loaded Bloody Caesar), and a sandwich and salad. The cafe combines Southwest and Cajun for some interesting cuisine choices, such as turkey muffaletta sandwiches and blackened salmon tacos.
Granite Mountain is visible from virtually everywhere in Prescott, AZ – a mile-high city located about 90 miles north of Phoenix. Many other hiking options are available in the wilderness area as well, and information can be found on the U.S. Forest Service website.