At 8,500 feet altitude, the mountain village of Greer AZ offers desert dwellers a delightful family vacation escape from the epic heat of nearby cities like Phoenix, Tucson, and Albuquerque. With high temps hovering around 75 to 80 degrees in Greer, you can actually spend the summer enjoying the outdoors rather than in “A/C lock down”.
So let’s say you’ve just arrived to your cabin rental in Greer AZ. You unload the car and settle in for a few days (or a week) of
relaxation and you’re determined to spend some time outside. Well, make sure to get the family hydrated (when visiting higher altitudes it’s best to boost water consumption), and a good night of sleep because tomorrow you’re going to tackle the GREAT OUTDOORS of Arizona’s Apache-Sitegreaves National Forest!
The Apache-Sitegreaves National Forest is part of North America’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest and is studded with lovely Aspen groves, Douglas Fir, and Arizona Yellow Pine. In the summer, tall billowing grasses and lots and lots of colorful wildflowers also adorn the landscape making you feel that you’ve just walked onto the movie set of Dances with Wolves or How the West Was Won (that’s old school, I know).
Those (like us) seeking an entry-level to moderate exertion hike within close proximity to the village of Greer AZ need look no further than Pole Knoll Recreation Area located off of State Route 260 just a few miles west of the 373 turn off to Greer. The area is actually better known as a Cross Country Ski Area during the winter months, but it’s ideal for hiking in the summer as there are well-marked trails and no motorized vehicles permitted. There’s plenty of parking and even toilets and picnic ramadas with basic BBQ grills. A map is posted at the trail head and you can plan your own adventure upon arriving—as we did.
We opted for the 6.2 -mile Poll Knoll Loop, heading southwest (clockwise) through the woods and skirting rolling grassy pastures where we spotted an antelope. Or did she spot us? We all stared at one another over a distance of about 100 yards before moving along. As we emerged from the woods, we saw herds of cattle grazing and heard them lazily bellowing to one another in the distance. We couldn’t help but laugh at the sound of their conversation! Or were they laughing at us?
Although we had intended to hike the Pole Knoll Loop, we made a series of ‘game time decisions’ which took us veering onto Grouse Trail and up to the Viewpoint Trail (yes, that means up, up, up)—but not very steeply thanks to the mildly graded switchbacks.
Turns out, we were glad we took this route– for many reasons! Although the Pole Knoll Loop is undoubtedly a beautiful (and easier) route, from the top of Pole Knoll (on Viewpoint Trail) we were rewarded with views of the Sunrise Ski Park ski runs wearing their summer greens– as well as its lakes and the surrounding meadows, rolling hills and flanking mountains—Mt. Baldy being the tallest with an elevation of 11,421 feet (the second tallest peak in Arizona). It is sacred to Native Americans and sits on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
From there we dipped back down into woods that can be described as both spooky and ethereal—a mix of Yellow Pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, and Aspen. Watch for bear scratchings in the sides of trees! We saw many old and new claw marks. And this is probably why we thought that the sounds of a large animal tumbling through the forested slope below us was… perhaps… a Black Bear (Grizzlies are LONG GONE from this area)!
Then, just before we emerged from this section of forest to the juncture with Summit Trail, an entire herd of approximately 40 majestic elk revealed themselves as they picked up their pace to rush by us down the other side of the hill. What a rush!!! It was an amazing sight to behold and made a fun story to relay to anyone we saw in the village later that afternoon and evening.
Next we took a right onto Summit Trail, which wound up for just a bit through a “Jackpot” Aspen stand—that might be the very reason this place is called Pole Knoll (it looks like a crop of white poles). Gorgeous. And yet I don’t think these trees could be very old. Were they teenage Apsens?
The trail sloped downhill through Ponderosa and larger Aspens to meet up with Pinejay Trail, where we took a left. The tall grass, wildflowers and light breeze made this portion of the hike the most lovely and peaceful. We just couldn’t help but comment again and again on just how beautiful it is there (while we wondered if we’d spot our elk herd again).
Aside from enjoying plenty of family photo opp’s in this lovely backdrop, if you pay attention along this section of trail, you may find other entertaining features. There are some out-of-the-ordinary carvings on some of the Aspens along the way (and I don’t mean someone’s initials). Despite the fact that I don’t agree with carving into trees, we couldn’t help but be somewhat impressed by the “artist’s” skill.
As we descended the Pinejay Trail and connected back to Pole Knoll Loop (taking a left toward the parking area) we discovered even more wildflowers and… a series of animal tracks in the hardening mud created by recent rainfall—deer, bear, coyote, lynx (bobcat)… !!! It was fun to pretend we were knowledgeable wildlife trackers—in addition to intrepid White Mountain hikers!
In the end, it was an exciting and memorable day in the great outdoors near Greer AZ and an excursion we’d recommend for fellow adventure seekers!