West Cedar Mountain is a prominent mountain (Ranking #97 on the Arizona list) located in the rugged Verde River Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix. Here, the Verde River carves an impressive network of canyons as it heads south toward Phoenix and the deserts. The headwaters of the Verde River are west of Sedona, and in the old days, the Verde ran year-round and merged with the mightier Salt River and later, the Gila River. These days, it is dammed at Bartlett Dam, which creates Horseshoe Lake, a popular boating destination.
Within the Verde Valley are numerous bluffs and mesas, and the occasional prominent peaks such as the Cedar pairs, West Cedar (elevation 5489 feet, prominence 1769 feet) and East Cedar (elevation 5449 feet, prominence 1249 feet). The area is best accessed via Tonto Forest Road 24, which starts about 25 miles south in the town of Carefree. This all-weather road runs over the west flank of West Cedar Mountain, leaving a relatively easy hike to the top, albeit with thorny brush.
Backroads drivers love FR-24. It runs 33 miles total to where it connects with FR-269 (Bloody Basin Road). This junction lies north of West Cedar Mountain. A left leads back to Interstate-17, about 30 miles away and is suitable for most vehicles (see my trip report). A right on FR-269 leads down a rough track to the Sheep Bridge, which spans the Verde River and is a let-in point into the vast Mazatzal Wilderness.
|From Interstate-17 in north Phoenix, exit at the Carefree Highway and drive east about 9 miles to Tom Darlington Road. Turn left and proceed north about two miles to Cave Creek Road, then turn right and drive a little less than 7 miles to a Y-junction, with a right leading to the Bartlett Dam at Horseshoe Lake, and a left leading north into the hills. This is the start of Tonto National Forest Road #24. Zero your odometer here.|
FR-24 soon passes the Tonto Forest boundary, and about 4.5 miles, the pavement ends. A good, wide, all-weather hard-pack road continues north. Some sections are paved where it passes by vacation homes and small ranch properties. At about 12 miles, you pass through the Seven Springs Recreation Area, which features campgrounds and a lot of good hiking trails. Stay north on FR-24. After Seven Springs, the road drops a little in quality, being narrower and a little rougher in spots. You pass into Yavapai County at about 17 miles, achieve a highpoint on the road at about 19 miles where you get your first views of West Cedar Mountain. The road then drops steeply down two mesa sides, losing about 1,300 feet overall. At about 23 miles, pass the 51 Ranch. The road then gains toward a mudstone butte called CP Butte (or Roundtree Butte, depending on what source you are reading). A little past the butte, look for FR-612 on your right. My odometer read exactly 25 miles from the Y-split.
In dry conditions, FR-24 is a good road and most vehicles should be fine. Four-wheel drive is not needed, but because the road is a little rough in spots, higher clearance and beefier suspensions will make the drive more pleasant. On my drive, I encountered one stretch of deep (8-inch) ruts put in by someone while the road was wet. I would advise against driving smaller passenger vehicles up this far.
Park somewhere off the road near FR-612. If you plan to drive FR-612, you will need 4-wheel drive. This road is not shown on the topographical maps but does show up on the satellite maps. The elevation here is 3,680 feet.
If coming in from Scottsdale, follow Scottsdale Road north to the Carefree Highway intersection. Stay north, and the road changes its name to Tom Darlington. This is about 9 miles north of the exit from Loop-101.
|Follow FR-612 east uphill, passing a gate early on. The road bends north, curling clockwise around a lower foothill. A little less than a mile later, it achieves a flat area below a major set of power lines. West Cedar Mountain is directly above this point, due east. From FR-24 to this point, you gain about 600 feet.|
It's tempting to walk the road north as it parallels the power lines. I did this, and yes, it does get very close to the range crest near Trick Tank, about elevation 4,780 feet, a little less than two miles from FR-24. If you do this, then leave the road at the tank, head uphill a few feet and soon reach the range crest. The summit is then a 3/4-mile walk south along the ridge, about 700 feet higher. The brush is never more than knee-high, and the rock outcrops are minor, but the brush is very thorny and woody and trudging through it is slow-going. There are no real obstacles to the top, and if you follow this route, you'll probably make the top in less than two hours.
You can also attain the top by charging directly uphill from the flat area, a gain of 1,200 feet. I descended this way. If you do this, just follow your senses. You come to another stock tank, then just trudge uphill through grass, scrub and thorns. It's no better than the ridge, but it may save you about a mile.
The top features some small rock piles and the views are tremendous, with nearly 3,000 vertical feet down into the Verde River Valley to the east. East Cedar Mountain rises to the southeast, and looking west, you can see the New River Mountains and the Bradshaw Mountains. In the immediate area, you get a great view of all the bluffs, mesas and canyons of the Verde River Valley and its tributaries.
Red TapeThere is no red tape. No permits are needed. If you camp back at the Seven Springs area, it does require a fee.
Tonto National Forest