Trek Southwest - Hiking and Camping the Desert Southwest

Granite Basin Recreation Area – Prescott, Arizona

in Arizona

Our family went up to Granite Basin Recreation Area in Prescott, Arizona for a picnic and a hike last month. I wasn’t sure what to expect since the area offers a wide variety of activities – hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, and boating. I had visions of a very crowded lake with a small ring of hiking trails around the lake. But I’m happy to report that I was dead wrong! Granite Basin Recreation Area is absolutely beautiful and there were no crowds.

Granite Basin Recreation Area

We started out at the Playa Picnic Site for our picnic. Playa offers a paved parking lot with water, vault toilets, and picnic tables. (You can get a map of the whole area here.)

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Parking Lot

 

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Parking Lot

The restrooms were nice and clean and there was running water. My kids loved it because it’s an old fashioned pump.

Granite Basic Recreation Area - Restrooms

Day use fees do apply ($5) and are payable at the self service pay station. If you’re heading here mid-week – there was a note that said Wednesdays were free. If you happen to have an America the Beautiful or Interagency pass – these work at this site as well. Or if you happen to have a fourth grader – you can get an Every Kid in a Park pass for FREE.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Playa Day Use Area

The best part is that the picnic area is down by Granite Basin Lake so you get to eat with a lovely view. We saw only a handful of people the whole time we were there. There’s also a decent view of the Boat Launch Day Use Area from the very first set of picnic tables you encounter on the trail (you can see the red truck parked at the Boat Launch area in this picture.)

Granite Basin Recreation Area - View of Granite Basin Lake

Here’s a shot of the trail leading down from the parking lot.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail from Parking Lot

And here’s the picnic table we settled on. There’s another picnic table immediately to the left of the one we’re at, and there were several more just a short distance up the trail.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Picnic Area

Once our picnic was done and packed up, we got hiking. The area has quite a few trails, but we were looking for something around 3 miles. We settled on a combination of Balancing Rock Trail #349 and West Lake Trail #351. From the Playa parking lot we walked up the paved road until we got to this sign.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

Nearly immediately as we were walking along the road, we saw the Metate Trailhead (which provides access to the Granite Mountain Wilderness) and its parking lot.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Metate Trailhead Parking Lot

We continued on and soon were on a dirt trail instead of the paved road.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

 

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Correct Trail

The paper map we had with us was pretty tiny (from the USDA website) so we got a little mixed up at this point. We were on Trail #261 but ended up choosing the wrong fork and got pointed towards Trail #40 and #37 rather than #349. Luckily, we realized our mistake quickly and got turned around and on the right track. This is the sign we saw that made us go “oops!”

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Wrong Sign

After we got righted, we walked by this area where the ground was absolutely covered with juniper berries. The ground was so covered it looked like it had hailed berries.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Juniper Berries

The wildflowers that were still in bloom were amazing. We stumbled across this Palmer’s Penstemon that was just gorgeous.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Palmer's Penstemon

Palmer’s Penstemon

The trail continued on with lovely fall leaves turning.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

We nearly missed this sign, but I’m glad we spotted it because it finally let us know we’d found our way back to the correct trail.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail 349

The trail continues on with little slope and lots of turns. Plus we got to see a bunch of fall colors which we don’t see much of back home.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Fall Colors

I was a little paranoid that we’d get lost because I questioned how much signage we’d find, but from then on there was great signage.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

We nearly stepped on this little Tussock Moth Caterpillar. Isn’t it just beautiful?

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Here’s the first view of Granite Mountain that we could see from the trail.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Granite Mountain

And more signage!

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

As we started to climb in elevation just a tiny bit, we got some great views of Granite Mountain with little tree obstruction.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Granite Mountain

Here’s a shot looking the opposite direction of Granite Mountain.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

The trail was smooth and easy to handle – even with small kids.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

We were excited when we got to the balancing rock! Isn’t it just awesome?

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Balancing Rock

And I nearly stepped on this guy too – a Grand Canyon Black Tarantula (Aphonopelma marxi). Lesson learned – really look at the ground in this area because there’s lots of wildlife on the ground.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Grand Canyon Black Tarantula

Grand Canyon Black Tarantula

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Autumn Leaves

This shot shows you how forested the area is – but with lots of big boulders just sticking up.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Mountain Shot

Notice how many juniper berries are just laying on the ground – they were everywhere!

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

 

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Mountain Shot

I couldn’t figure out what this bird of prey was, I’m guessing a raptor of some sort.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Bird

Then you cross the road and continue on Trail #349. Also, in case you were wondering dogs are allowed on these trails (on leash.)

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Dogs Allowed

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail SignAnd you cross another road!

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Crossing the Road

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Shot

I couldn’t figure out what this purple wildflower was either. Did some hunting on the internet, but no conclusive evidence. But it sure is gorgeous isn’t it? (If you recognize it, let us know in the comments below)

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Purple Wildflower

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

This is the point at which we changed direction and turned towards Cayuse Trailhead (which would connect us to Trail #351.)

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Cayuse Trailhead Sign

Here’s a shot of the parking lot at Cayuse Trailhead.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Cayuse Trailhead Parking Lot

And here are the vault toilets at the Cayuse Trailhead.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Cayuse Trailhead Restroom
And then on to Trail #351 officially.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail Sign

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Trail 351
From Trail #351 we went back to Metate Trailhead in order to return to Playa Picnic Area.

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Metate Trailhead Sign

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Granite Mountain
And another Grand Canyon Black Tarantula on the road as we were heading to the car. We’ve never seen two on one trip before. It was super cool!

Granite Basin Recreation Area - Grand Canyon Black Tarantula

Grand Canyon Black Tarantula

Our family had a great time exploring the Granite Basin Recreation Area. We hiked for about 3 1/2 hours and estimate that we went around 4 miles. It’s a gorgeous area with a ton of views and wildlife!

For more information – please visit the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service site for Granite Basin Recreation Area.

Bradshaw Mountains - Prescott National ForestWant to explore more of the area?

Put a copy of the National Geographic – Trails Illustrated – Bradshaw Mountains/Prescott National Forest Map in your backpack. These waterproof maps are a must have for anybody venturing very far from civilization. Don’t forget your compass.

RobinGuest Post by Robin Laulainen. Robin writes about camping and other outdoorsy stuff at Trek Southwest, pets every dog she meets, and drinks more coffee than she should. She blogs about her other passion - creating - at Make It Yourself Girl.

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