Directions: Take 87N for 63 miles to Payson from Fountain Hills, AZ. In Payson, continue driving on 87N an additional 16 miles into Strawberry. From downtown Strawberry continue another 11 miles until you come to FR300 on your right. FR300 is a narrow dirt road that takes you along the top of the rim. Travel 12 miles along the dirt road until you see this monument off to your left. The Railroad Tunnel trailhead is directly across the dirt road from the memorial.
About this hike: You'll begin this steep 1.5-mile roundtrip hike at an elevation 7,820. The trail descents 790 feet to a ''Y" along the path. From here, you climb up towards the tunnel. I rated this trail moderately difficult because of the loose rocks along the route. The last portion of the hike has loose gravel that can cause you to lose footing.
In 1880, the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad Company endeavored to build a railroad from Globe to Flagstaff to transport ore. This required the workmen to excavate a tunnel through the Mogollon Rim. The Railroad Company ran out of money twice, and the project was abandoned, leaving a gaping hole in the mountainside that's become a favorite hiking destination for those interested in the history of Arizona.
The adventure begins as soon as you turn onto FR-300. It twists through the Coconino Forest, where random campsites are set up along the road. The road is narrow, so going slow is highly recommended. About 8 miles in, you'll find yourself at the top of the Mogollon Rim. The road is sometimes scary because no guard rails exist, so caution is highly recommended. The drop-offs along the right side of the road were sheer. But the views were spectacular, and there were places to stop and soak them in.
From the trailhead, follow the line of telephone poles down the slope. until you see the first sign-post.
The sign points left, but this is deceiving. Go a few yards past the sign-post and then turn left towards the bluff.
A little past the sign, go under the telephone phone pole wire.
Look for a second sign marker with a hiker leaning up against the cliff.
Along the way, I paused to gaze at the mountain range peaking over the top of the Ponderosa Pines clustered up and down the mountainside.
We hiked the first half-mile traveling the seven-hundred and ninety-feet down into the canyon. We were mindful to look for the 'Y' along the path. Right before the 'Y, we passed a cluster of flowering manzanitas bushes, turning the pathway into a magical place filled with pink flowers and dark red bark peaking through the foliage.
We paused, allowing three hikers to pass directly before a bird's nest. We were rewarded when the Mother Bird arrived and fed her young while we stood quietly observing nature at its finest.
You'll arrive at the tunnel trail marker a few yards past the Manzanita bushes. This is the point where you will begin ascending upward toward the tunnel.
The trail gently slopes upward for the first 1/16 of a mile, then you hit the steep incline leading to the tunnel. I was relieved I had hiking poles because they helped with the shifting gravel as I climbed the hill.
At the top, you'll climb over this fallen ponderosa pine, and the tunnel and remains of a building come into view.
The temperature cooled as we hiked into the tunnel. We estimated the tunnel went back about 100 feet. We both walked to the end of the tunnel to slap our hands against the back wall for fun. In my mind, I felt it was somehow symbolic.
From deep inside the tunnel, I shot a picture outward, trying to capture the magnitude of the tunnel's surrounding walls.
It was time to head back the short 1/2-mile to the rim. However, I also realized what goes down the mountain must go back up, so it would be a trek back to the top. I hiked the trail toward the rim, smiling and thinking the hike didn't disappoint. It was a climb returning to the top of the Mogollon Rim!