Backway to Crown King
Take the 26 mile journey from Lake Pleasant to the old mining town of Crown King. Along the challenging trail, you’ll pass through obstacles, old mines, and great views as you climb into the Prescott National Forest.
Where to go:
From I-10 and Loop 101 in the West Valley, head north on Loop 101 for 14 miles. Take exit 15 (Union Hills Dr.) and turn left. Turn right onto 83rd Ave and follow it north for 1 mile. 83rd turns left into Lake Pleasant Parkway. Follow this north for 9 miles and then turn left onto AZ-74. Follow 74 west past Lake Pleasant for 5 miles and then turn right onto Castle Hot Springs. Continue north on Castle Hot Springs Road for 10.0 miles, ignoring side roads that lead to Lake Pleasant. The road turns to dirt and then crosses over Lake Pleasant. Follow the signs for Crown King by turning right onto Cow Creek Road. Staging is off to the right after 1.5 miles along an old dirt strip (33°57'2.21"N 112°18'40.38"W).
From the intersection of Castle Hot Springs Road & Cow Creek Road, head northeast along the wide and easy trail. The trail turns due north almost right away and passes the staging area at 1.5 miles. Stay left at 2.5 miles where a lesser trail leads to Tule Creek Homestead. At 5.7 miles, you’ll pass through an abandoned settlement along the banks of French Creek, which has a nice overlook just ahead. Stay straight at 7.2 miles where Champie Road goes left and connects to Castle Hot Springs Road. Use caution around 9.0 miles where the trail passes through a small residential area. Be sure not to kick up any dust here. Continuing on, the trail gently climbs up until 11.0 miles where you will reach the famous “CK Rock”. You’ll be turning right here but this is a traditional place to stop and take pictures off the rock or of your vehicle on top of the rock.
From this point on, the trail gets significantly rougher and requires high clearance and 4-wheel drive. The trail narrows as it begins to climb and wind its way north to Crown King. Along the way, you’ll pass many “obstacles”. Most have a bypass but there are still many rough sections. Bypasses/obstacles give people with more capable vehicles the chance to test their driving. You’ll pass the first one at 11.6 miles. Stay to the left at 13 miles where the trail leaves a wash and begins to climb the most difficult hill. Careful tire placement is needed and don’t be afraid to use the bypasses (easier routes) if needed/available. Use a spotter if you are going to attempt the obstacles. At the top of the hill at 13.5 miles, things get easier for a little while.
At 14.6 miles you’ll climb another difficult hill. At the top, it gets easier again and winds its way north, crossing in and out of creek beds. Stay straight at 16.8 miles and at 17.0 miles, cross over a cattle guard into the Prescott National Forest. Trail conditions will vary after this since local creeks and storms affect trail erosion. Shallow water crossings could be possible. Turn left off the main trail at 18.0 miles to see the ruins of Fort Misery, located in a scenic clearing which makes a nice break point. Fort Misery was the home of a local miner, Al Francis, who jokingly referred to his house as this. Just after this at 18.1 miles, the trail makes a hard right uphill. The trail follows up above a drainage until 19.8 miles when the trail drops into the creek bottom. Here things can be very rocky depending on the time of last maintenance and rain. Pick the easiest line through the creek. Water crossings/flowing water possible depending on the time of year. The trail weaves back and forth across the creek many times and at 20.9 miles, makes another hard right uphill.
Pass through the town site of Oro Belle at 21.9 miles as the trail begins to turn left uphill and climb. The trail climbs to a great overlook at 22.7 miles. Stay straight at 23.0 miles where a difficult side trail to the left leads to the Tunnel Mine (a neat place to check out if you have time). Just after this, another difficult trail that goes back and to the right connects a series of old mines and comes out near Oro Belle. The trail remains mostly easy passing the Tiger Mine before joining Senator Highway at 24.8. The trail ends in downtown Crown King, off to the left at 26.6 miles. Consider taking Senator Highway, the trail to Horsethief Lake, or Towers Mountain Loop while you’re up here. Crown King is a neat little town that has food, gas, and lodging available.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
Overall this is a pretty long and challenging trail. While the more difficult obstacles have bypasses, this still isn’t an easy trail. At the very least, you should have a high-clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Lockers and other modifications will help. This trail is rated an ‘7.5’ but may fluctuate from a ‘5’ to a ‘10’ depending on recent storms and the last time it was maintained. This trail is also very busy, one of the most popular in Arizona, and sees lots of traffic. Be careful around blind turns and keep an eye out for other traffic behind you. Expect large groups of Jeeps/riders if you take this trail on the weekend. Overall, this is a fun day trip that lets you challenge your vehicle and explore the southern Bradshaw Mountains.