The A.B. Young Trail is the only route (of which we know) that climbs the west wall of Oak Creek Canyon. From AZ-89A in the northern reaches of the canyon, you can spot the trail, which seems to zigzag endlessly – and vertically – up the canyon wall. So it’s no surprise that we put off hiking this trail for years until one day when we were feeling particularly adventurous. The trail climbs more than 1,600 feet in about 1.75 miles, and there’s no doubting its difficulty. But for us, crossing the creek at the beginning of the trail was even more challenging than the climb.
The trail begins at the Bootlegger Picnic Area. After you park, walk down a set of stairs and you’re standing at Oak Creek. The trail actually begins on the other side of the creek, thus the rub. There’s no official creek crossing, you just have to do the best you can to boulder-hop across the rushing water. Once on the other side, ignore the trail that parallels the creek, and look for the metal A.B. Young trail marker. The trail immediately begins to climb, and you lose sight of Oak Creek almost instantly. After climbing for less than one-quarter mile, the trail levels out slightly, and you’ll briefly hike through a clearing. Don’t get too comfortable, though. The route quickly begins another steep ascent, and this time it doesn’t let up until you’re at the top of the Mogollon Rim.
If you’re hoping for red rock views, you’re going to be disappointed with this trail. But if you crave that top-of-the-world sensation you get when mountain climbing, you’ll love this trek. After hiking 0.75 mile, you’re rewarded with views of pine-studded canyon walls and the orchards of Slide Rock State Park. The trail feels precariously close to sheer drops at some points, and it’s quite narrow so we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a fear of heights. You’ll hike through manzanita, shrub oak, prickly pear cactus, Parry’s agave and yucca plants before topping out in a delightful ponderosa pine forest. The trail continues to East Pocket Fire Lookout, but we chose to end our hike with snacks at the top of the rim where there are plenty of fallen trees and boulders that invite you to sit for a spell (our elevation maxed out at 6,803 feet). The west wall of Oak Creek Canyon is quite a bit taller than the east wall, which gives you an interesting perspective of the Mogollon Rim. You can also see all the way to the Apache Maid mountain from this vantage. Look at the strange circular shapes down below you. Those aren’t crop circles but evidence of slash burns conducted by the national forest.
Word to the wise: Don’t attempt this hike in the summer. We wouldn’t recommend this one in the snow, either. You’re best off tackling this trail in the spring or fall.