“Amazing high-elevation scenery, some of AZ's best aspen stands, and quality riding.
— Almonzo Wilder
This route uses the Arizona Trail to climb up into the San Francisco Peaks and then roll through high meadows and aspen stands to a small lake. The scenery and riding are first-rate.
This area is popular, especially on weekends, and especially during leaf season (the area around Aspen Corner draws crowds). Be ready to share the trail.
This route is described as an out-and-back, starting from low on Snowbowl Road. For an easier alternative, the trail can be accessed from Aspen Corner, which is higher up Snowbowl Road. This alternative makes for a ride suitable for beginners, trims 4.8 miles off the route (each way), and eliminates most of the difficult climbing (and fun descending).
This ride starts on a recently completed section of the Arizona Trail that doesn't yet appear in most maps or guidebooks. It is inconspicuously marked by trail signs along Snowbowl Road, and parking is unmarked. The first 4.8 miles of the ride ascends nearly continuously on a well-engineered trail that manages to avoid ever being too steep or too rocky. As the trail gets higher it starts to get more difficult, or maybe its just the altitude. Regardless, the forest turns to aspen and mixed conifer, and its downright beautiful.
At 4.8 miles you'll cross the access trail for Aspen Corner. A quick detour to the left here will lead to a picturesque water tank that usually holds water and has great views of the San Francisco Peaks. A right turn leads up (steeply) to the Aspen Corner parking area.
Continuing straight on the Arizona Trail the grade eases considerably and the trail breaks out of the aspen to cross Hart Prairie. Outstanding views in all directions continue for miles as you alternate between meadows and aspen stands. When fall colors are blazing, the scenery is mind-blowing.
At 7.9 miles there is a signed turnoff to Bismark Lake, which is the turnaround for this ride. The lake itself is a bit underwhelming, but there is often wildlife around and the views of Humphreys Peak are great.
With the descent from Aspen Corner to look forward to, the trip back is a pleasure.