From the trailhead along the Cave Creek Road (FR 42) to the junction with the Herb Martyr Trail, deadfall and much of the vegetation overgrowth was cleared by a volunteer crew in September 2018, as well as some intermittent treadwork. Tread conditions are still poor in some parts, and there are some narrow places along steep dropoffs where horses are not recommended, but the trail is passable for hikers.
Above Pine Park, the first 0.8 mile was cleared to some extent and had some tread repairs in September 2018. Above this, it has not been maintained since the 2011 Horseshoe 2 fire, and you can expect to encounter narrow and slippery tread, oak, ceanothus and locust growing into the trail, possibly the very occasional downed tree from the few that still remain on this slope post-fire, and washouts at side drainage crossings.
From Deer Spring to the junction with the Crest Trail, the trail was maintained in October 2014, with several logs cut off the trail and extensive tread repair and rebuilding through a thick grassy slope.
Length: 8.44 mi
The Snowshed Trail is accessible from four locations.
The lower-elevation northeastern terminus is located on the south side of the paved portion of Cave Creek Road (FR 42) next to Hidden Terrace Road, 100 feet southeast of where FR 42 crosses a bridge and turns into a dirt road below the Southwestern Research Station. (31.88138, -109.197102) This trailhead is marked with a sign a short distance from the start of the trail, which is visible from the road, but there is little to no parking space here. For alternate low elevation access, start at the Crystal Cave Parking Lot and follow the signs to the Snowshed Trail.
The Snowshed Basin Trail connects in at a signed junction (31.87564, -109.20999) 1.03 miles above Cave Creek Road and continues to the Crystal Cave Parking Lot, John Hands Campground and the lower end of the Herb Martyr Trail just above the Herb Martyr Campground and Parking Lot. This junction is signed but has been damaged by a bear and parts of some signs are now unreadable.
The Herb Martyr Trail climbs 3 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain from the Herb Martyr Campground and connects in two tenths of a mile below Pine Park. This trail is signed. (31.84736, -109.24021)
The Snowshed Trail was constructed, at least in part, by Ben Erickson—son of early ranger Neil Erickson—and John Hands in the early 1900s as part of the telephone line network that was implemented to link the fire lookouts, guard stations and ranger stations.1
From the Cave Creek Road (FR 42), the trail climbs to the southeast in parallel with the road for 80 feet before turning to the west-southwest. The trailhead sign is located at this bend. (31.88122, -109.19690) Now parallel to Hidden Terrace Road and a private land boundary fence between, the trail climbs gradually for a third of a mile before bending more southwest. After another 370 feet, a spur trail departs to the north heading for a private house. Another 0.28 mile and the trail crosses a drainage, (31.87755, -109.20717) switchbacking both at the creek bottom and partway up the opposite slope. 550 feet beyond, a smaller drainage is crossed, and 100 feet later a 0.2 mile long firebreak heads west, (31.87683, -109.20886) connecting to the Basin Snowshed Trail 1000 feet northwest of the signed junction ahead. The Snowshed Trail continues to the south from here for approximately 500 feet before heading west another 275 feet and arriving at the terminus of the aforementioned Basin Snowshed Trail, which follows the right fork to the northwest. This junction is signed but the signs are in poor condition. (31.87564, -109.20999) The Snowshed Trail takes the left fork.
Initially heading west for 500 feet, you begin climbing almost immediately, albeit somewhat gradually at first. The terrain remains mostly brush and oak at this lower level. A series of semi-infrequent switchbacks, with a drainage crossing midway between one pair, ensues over the next nearly three quarters of a mile, the ascent beginning in earnest shortly after the first. Shortly after passing a Wilderness boundary sign, the trail swings to the right and comes to a small, unnamed saddle. (31.87155, -109.21284)
The trail continues on the other side of the ridge for a while now, heading southwest along a barren, south-facing slope. This segment can be quite hot in the summer. After nearly 0.9 miles climbing along the side of the ridge, you will begin to enter some light tree cover and rise to the ridgetop again. A rough unofficial trail crosses the Snowshed Trail through here. (31.86436, -109.22242)
350 feet beyond, another switchback occurs and the trail changes course to the south-southeast, contouring along the slope below a different ridge. A very narrow stretch of trail lies along here, with a steep drop off to the north. The trail has been improved here as of April 2015, but the soil conditions are poor and it's likely further erosion will occur. It's a third of a mile beyond that final switchback to Cypress Saddle, (31.85970, -109.22132) whose eponymous trees were heavily hit by fire and are mostly dead. Here, the ridge curves to the south and the trail crosses over from the northeastern side to the western. Frequent contouring around multiple small drainages on this slope ensues.
After two tenths of a mile, the trail re-enters less heavily-damaged pine forest and begins heading roughly to the southwest, though the path itself curves very frequently here. The remaining 1¼ miles to Fossil Saddle remain on the same side of the ridge, only crossing to the top right at the saddle itself. Fire passed through this entire area, but a large number of tall pines and Gambel oak remain and there are some beautiful grassy meadows along this segment. The trail is overgrown in places with thorny locust saplings.
The sign which once marked Fossil Saddle is missing, though one can still see the bolts in the trunk of the pine tree which held it. (31.84711, -109.23498) The rough, unmaintained Fossil Spring Trail drops down from here to the south while the Snowshed Trail continues northwest.
75 feet out of Fossil Saddle, the trail appears to fork. Take the left fork; the right-hand path drops away and disappears fairly quickly. The trail heads roughly west for three tenths of a mile before bending sharply to the right. A patch of Gambel oak here line both sides of the trail and bend towards each other, forming a sort of archway you must duck under as you pass through. Less than 200 feet and a curve to the left beyond lies the upper terminus of the Herb Martyr Trail, which begins descending immediately via the right fork. (31.84737, -109.24021) Note that the signs here are out of date and refer to it as being part of the Basin Trail. The Herb Martyr Campground lies 3 miles down that trail, as does the Snowshed Basin Trail, which can be used as part of a loop back to the Snowshed trailhead or points between. The Snowshed Trail continues to the left, Pine Park only a tenth of a mile beyond this junction.
Heading roughly west away from the Herb Martyr Trail junction, the trail climbs slightly and passes between a rock outcrop before emerging shortly after at Pine Park. This saddle got somewhat burned in 2011 but still has a fair amount of living pines and remains a pleasant campsite aside from the lack of water. (Fossil Spring is generally not reliable.) Pine Park is marked by a partially burned sign. (31.84689, -109.24219)
The trail proceeds southwest out of Pine Park, emerging from tree cover a little more than 400 feet later as it resumes its climb and shortly after, curving northwest to contour around the terrain. The next 2.2 miles are more of the same: narrow, slippery, exposed trail climbing without switchbacks along a very steep and totally burned slope, ultimately heading southwest. There are incredible unobstructed views down into the South Fork of Cave Creek far below along this entire segment. Several major side drainages have large washouts where the trail crosses them.
Finally, at an outcrop of black rock, you will reach a switchback. (31.83402, -109.26655) After climbing northeast for 200 feet, a second switchback (and the last on the entire Snowshed Trail) is reached and the trail resumes going southwest, passing below another outcrop of black rock. Not far beyond you will cross a 450 foot wide scree field. Almost 300 feet after leaving that, you will be directly below Deer Spring, which is not marked by a sign but can be seen from the trail, about 30 feet away on the slope above. (31.83589, -109.27038) This spring is reliable, but has been damaged and the water flows out of it down the slope rather than filling its external box. The lid currently cannot be removed, so you'll need to either insert the hose of a pump filter through the broken side or collect running water.
Above the spring, the trail rapidly improves in quality. Initially heading almost west, it curves to the northwest and makes a straight shot up the remaining distance to Snowshed Saddle. (31.83887, -109.27581) The area around the saddle can get quite grassy after lots of rain and the trail can become obscured, but the tread is in good condition and can usually be found under the grass. This saddle is also a junction with two abandoned trails: the Snowshed Peak Trail leaves from here to the northeast and climbs to a beautiful summit with incredible views, and the currently unsurveyed Aspen Trail heads west to connect to the Crest Trail at Aspen Saddle. Neither trail is visible right at the junction and both are in terrible condition.
The Snowshed Trail, in contrast to the other two trails in this junction, is much more clear as it curves sharply to the southwest and begins gradually descending. After 300 feet, it heads south along nicely rebuilt trail in an area that had been narrow, covered with grass, and easy to miss. The remaining distance of the trail is easy to follow and pleasant to walk on. After 0.27 mile it crosses a rock outcrop (31.83437, -109.27612) and immediately after descends more sharply through a stand of young aspen, a sheer rock face on the uphill side of the trail, and after a little over 200 feet comes to its upper terminus with the Crest Trail at its uppermost switchback just above Juniper Saddle. (31.83381, -109.27650) This junction is marked by a sign mounted to a tree as well as a newly set signpost with no sign currently installed, and an old sign propped up nearby.
Juniper Spring lies just 90 feet southwest, and continuing on the Crest in that direction will take you to the Price Canyon Trail, South Fork Trail, and ultimately the southeastern terminus of the Crest Trail at its junction with the Baker Canyon Trail atop Sentinel Peak. Going west will take you to Eagle Spring, a steep climb a little less than a quarter mile away, the Chiricahua Peak Bypass and Ojo Agua Fria Trail at Aspen Saddle, and ultimately the other two legs of the Crest Trail system and the Chiricahua Peak Trail at Junction Saddle.
Last updated September 24, 2018.