The Four Peaks Loop offers scenic beauty, shade, and excellent three-season hiking, including winter snow trekking for you Fido.
In fact, fans of winter hiking who have dogs that enjoy bounding through snow should plan to bring step-in crampons for traversing the steeper segments at higher elevations on this hike. Once your dog is watered and leashed – pack in the water you will need for the day – head onto Four Peaks Trail 130, which is a left turn from the trailhead. Your loop runs clockwise and initially southeast.
Almost immediately, you cross into Four Peaks Wilderness Area, a pristine, if well-traveled, pinyon-juniper-oak woodland south of the Mazatzal Mountains. The trail itself is a combination of paw-pleasing gravel and packed forest floor.
Though the first two-thirds of this loop gains more than 1000 feet of elevation, you begin with a gentle and shady descent through alligator junipers, pinyons, and oaks. But before 0.25 mile, your climb begins and is rewarded early on with views to the east of Roosevelt Lake’s turquoise waters and sneak-peeks through the trees at the distinctive crags Brown’s Peak. At 0.6 mile, you have approximately 1.5 miles ahead of you with nearly full exposure – be sure to take this into account when planning water breaks.
Just before 0.75 mile, you begin to see signs of the 1996 Lone fire and pass amid charred fallen branches and tree boles. The trail is easy to pick up by heading along the ridgeline to your left and keeping to your easterly route.
At just over one mile, you arrive at Amethyst Trail 253 junction, and it is time for a fast zoom on Brown’s Peak as your climb intensifies. Fortunately, there are some welcome shady spots at the beginning of the Amethyst Trail from towering trees and shade from the peaks during parts of the day.
Winter hiking here is spectacular because only parts of these trails keep snow on the ground for any length of time. Dogs love the slushy snow, but the slush can also turn to ice. You will want to bring crampons because this is a hike that touches the bottom of the snowfall range for Arizona, and the snow-melt-freeze cycle can produce icy patches on the trail. Check your dog’s pads occasionally to see that she is not collecting painful clumps of snow and grit between her toes. Watch her for signs of hypothermia and put on her vest to keep her warm along shadier patches.
At 1.5 miles, a particularly stunning side of Brown’s Peak comes into view. The mountaintop keeps you company all the way until the Brown’s Trail 133 junction, where you take a right and head downhill.
Here again, you see signs of the Lone fire. In a typical mosaic burn, fire skipped over some areas, leaving patches of trees behind, but shrubs dominate this landscape for now. As the wind rises, listen to tree branches that act like bows and strings, filling the air with odd squeaks and groans.
As you wind around to the north and northeast on the Brown’s Trail, rock formations close in on your path. Past the 2.5-mile mark, you pass an unsigned trail junction – continue downhill and to your right to stay on the Brown’s Trail. You have descended below the burned-out area and are again walking through a pristine woodland that will shade the rest are again hike. Several excellent rest break and picnicking spots cluster of around your and the 3.5-mile mark, tucked in and among the boulders. Take time for you and your dog to relax in shade before continuing the last 0.5 mile of this woodland loop to the trailhead.
Round trip: four miles; hiking time: three hours; difficulty: moderate-difficult; high point: 6800 feet; elevation gain: 1160 feet. Best time of year: late September through late April.
Getting to Four Peaks Loop: From the Phoenix area, take Shea Boulevard to the Beeline Hwy (State Hwy 87) and head northeast toward Payson for 20 miles. At Four Peaks Road (Forest Road 143), take a right. The next 19 miles require a high clearance vehicle. At the Brushy Basin/Cottonwood Camp sign, take the left fork. Continue on FR 143 about four miles; you will again veer left at a fork. At 18 miles, turn right on FR 648 where you will see a sign for Lone Pine trailhead. FR 648 ends in one mile at the trailhead.
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Located in Seattle, Mountaineers Books, publisher of Best Hikes With Dogs series, was established in 1960 by volunteers of the Mountaineers Club to encourage people and their pooches to get out and enjoy the wilds of Arizona and beyond.
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about the author
Renee Guillory, a freelance writer for the Arizona Daily Sun, has served in leadership capacities for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club. Sparky, a female husky mix, has more than a decade of experience on the trail; Artemis is young female Akita-collie mix. Together with Renee, they have hiked more than 700 miles together in Arizona, sharing their favorite trails in Best Hikes With Dogs Arizona (Mountaineers Books) and here at CityDog Magazine.