Note: Woods Canyon Lake Park is closed from November - Beginning of May. This hike is within Woods Canyon Lake Park.
Military Sinkhole Trail is located approximately 91 miles east of Fountain Hills, AZ. Is it a 4.7 mile out and back trail. The elevation gain is 1025 feet. You reach the trail by heading east on HWY 89 (Beeline Highway). In Payson turn right onto HWY 260 until you reach the Rim Road (FR 300) on your left. Follow Rim road (FR 300) for approximately 2 miles. You'll see a parking lot for the trail clearly marked to your left. The trail begins to your right when facing the rim with this incredible view.
Military Sinkhole Trail is a moderate hike that I use for cardio endurance building. Military Sinkhole trail is different because you immediately begin descending down the side of the rim. As you make your descent you will go through several different micro-climates. The first micro-climate you'll experience will remind you of hiking in the Pacific Northwest. The forest floor is covered with lush fern groves. Back on July 4, 2015 my boxer, Rocky and I were hiking together when Rocky ran ahead and started barking and flushed a black bear cub out of the ferns. The cub scampered up the tree and started crying for his Momma. I screech Rocky's name at the top of my lungs injuring my vocal cords. Quickly we ascended back up the trail before Momma bear came back. You'll need to be extra diligent when it hasn't rained for weeks. The ferns are lushest between June through August so be cautious when hiking. The black bears come down closer to the campgrounds looking for water and food. I recommend carrying bear spray when hiking in this area for your safety.
Continuing your descent you'll move into the next micro-climate which is closer to hiking in the Rocky Mountains. The trail is nicely shaded with Ponderosa, Pinyon, and Bristle-cone pine trees. Growing beneath the pines is point leaf manzanita shrubs. During the months of April and May they'll have beautiful clusters of flowers accented by their rich reddish brown shrub limbs.
You'll have opportunities to capture beautiful pictures of wild flowers growing among the boulders or peeking out underneath the fallen pine needles.
Ranchers free range their cattle so occasionally you may encounter a cow or two. You might even come across a rancher looking for cattle strays who wandered away from the herd. I had the pleasure of meeting a Rancher in 2017 who was out looking for a couple of his cows that strayed from the herd.
As you continue hiking the area opens up displaying spectacular views; however, the third micro-climate is not shaded and during midday can be extremely hot from the sun beating down on you.
There's a few large boulders in this section making a perfect resting place to catch your breath and enjoy the views.
This tree is appropriately called the 'Hello Tree' because its yelling out a big hello as you cross underneath the tree on the trail. The tree is growing across the gateway into the next micro-climate which is very dry and similar to the lower-valley desert climates Phoenicians' have acclimatized too.
After hiking about a quarter mile in the sun you'll then go back into the woods for the remainder of the trail. The aroma of the pines will engulf your senses as you hike through the towering ponderosa pines sprinkled throughout with pinyon and bristle-cone pine trees growing underneath their canopy.
As you descend towards the 260 trail-head the canyon wall is on the right side. Early mornings the sun streams through the trees highlighting the most unusual parts of the forest. This brings beauty to what otherwise might be perceived as a spoiled grouping of trees damaged by high winds and lightening from monsoon storms.
Deep within the forest you'll see a lot of fallen trees from winter storms. It's a great place to examine the magnitude and girth of these magnificent trees. If you have time it's a fun area to explore the different bark textures with the kids. This area is a great outdoor laboratory for children to touch and feel and allow their imagination and curiosity to run free.
The end of the Military Sinkhole trail turns into the beginning of the 260 trail head that can be accessed from HWY 260.
From the Parking Lot across FR300 the Military Sinkhole trail continue for about 1/2 mile until you reach the start of the General Crook Trail or the crossing for the Meadow Trail or Rim Top Trail. This side of the trail does offer some beautiful views and a perfect picnic area among the large boulders to what the sunrise in the early morning.
This side of the trail leads you downward into the Ponderosa forest with ferns scattered across the forest floor.
The sun rises in the east peaking through the pines throwing shadows across the forest.
A couple of years ago a fire blazed through the area leaving it's scars behind. Mother Nature is doing her job slowly bringing things back to life.
The hiking path leads you up a small incline where you'll see the military sinkhole. This was used by General Crook Army as a waterhole many moons ago. The sinkhole is all dried up and hardly recognizable .
You can continue on your adventure hooking up with another trail.