A walk on the wild side
Saddle Mountain Wilderness is home to a small population of Apache trout. The fish are small and skittish, and the casting windows range from tight to impossible. Unless you enjoy nettles, snags and fishless days, leave the fly rod in the truck. This is a place to hike.
The wilderness is on the eastern edge of Grand Canyon, with views of House Rock Valley. It’s a couple hours from Lees Ferry, where the fishing is a lot better, and it’s a great place to appreciate the Colorado Plateau’s diversity, but it’s not an easy walk.
There are a few ways to get in there. One is the East Rim Trail, number 7 on the old maps. It’s listed as short, about a mile and half, but it drops hard and quick, from to aspen to oak and juniper. Coming out can be a bit of a beatdown if you’re not in good shape. And if you’re not in shape, consider hiking elsewhere.
Another way is North Canyon Trail, number 4 on the old maps. It’s longer and a bit more gradual, but the result is the same: lots of elevation gain and loss. The highlight is North Canyon Spring, which flows out of the cliff and trickles down into the canyon, sheltering those Apache trout until it dries up.
The two trails meet at the bottom, at the tail end of the spring, where it dries up and becomes North Canyon Wash. At times there may be water in there, but I wouldn’t count on it – bring water or tank up at the spring.
Since the two trails meet at the bottom, it’s possible to do this as a loop hike. Take Trail number 7 to the junction with number 4. Take Trail 4 past the spring and out. Once you reach the top, take the Arizona Trail along the East Rim back to the Trail number 7 trailhead.
The nitty gritty
Access: Saddle Mountain Wilderness is located in northern Arizona. From Phoenix, head to Flagstaff and continue north on Highway 89 toward Page. Take the 89A loop to Lees Ferry and the North Rim. Head south on Highway 67. Turn left on 611 and head toward the East Rim viewpoint. You can also access the wilderness from House Rock Valley.
Details: fs.usda.gov/Kaibab. There are not many services in the area and the wilderness is generally not well traveled, so come prepared. You can find lodging at Jacob Lake or at Lees Ferry Lodge.
Best time to go: spring, summer, fall.
Maps: Kaibab National Forest. USGS: Dog Point.