Pine Mountain is an isolated peak topping the Pine Mountain Wilderness Area stretching across the amazing Verde Rim and overlooking the Verde River Valley, in eastern Yavapai County. Its profile remains low due to its remoteness and lack of visibility from major state highways. A long and somewhat bumpy dirt road also conspires to keep the casual visitors away. As a result, the range sees little visitation and those who do make it out there probably did their research just like you did. The summit(s) are easily accessed by a fine network of trails amid mature forest of pine, oak and some aspen. All junctions are well marked and navigating the trail network is a breeze. Visitation is low during the summer due to the heat, and winter due to the cold and potential wet-road closures. Spring and Fall are best.
For list-chasers, Pine Mountain pokes in on the Arizona 2000-foot Prominence list with 2,054 feet of clean prominence. Beware: there are at least six "Pine Mountains" in Arizona, including two more within a 30-mile radius of this Pine Mountain, which is why I appended the Verde Rim moniker.
To actually see Pine Mountain from a distance requires a little patience and timing. It is visible from a few points along Interstate-17 roughly north of the Sunset Rest Stop (about MP 251). Look east and you may see a darker-colored ridge with 4 distinct bumps on it. This is Pine Mountain. You may be forgiven if it doesn't jump out at you with a high "wow" factor. It is also visible from points along AZ-260 between Cottonwood/Camp Verde and Payson. Pine Mountain is really just the highest point along the east edge of the raised "Yavapai Highlands", a plateau defined by the Verde River to the east and north, Phoenix and the deserts to the south, and the Bradshaw Mountains to the west. Most people zip through this bit while traveling between the deserts and Flagstaff, Sedona or Prescott. The land up here is mostly BLM with some large private sections, mostly undeveloped rangeland, although the relatively new Agua Fria National Monument stretches along for a good bit along I-17 on its east.
Panorama of the Verde Valley from the Summit of Pine Mountain, October 2006
Exit Interstate-17 at Exit-268, Dugas Road. Note that Dugas Road heads east and Orme Road heads west. You want to head east. Cross a bridge and note a sign reading 'Dugas 7 miles'. Pavement ends after 2 miles, and the Prescott National Forest boundary is reached not far off the highway. The road is well graded for the 5 further miles into the locale of Dugas, which is just a ranch complex (The Dugas Ranch), a few other active homesites and some ruins. Come to a Y-junction and go left, fording a stream which may have water in it even during the dry months. Proceed 3 more miles to a junction (10 miles from I-17); turn right, now on Forest Road 68. The road becomes a lot rougher here. Two more miles come to another junction and turn right again (at each junction just follow the signs to Pine Mountain). Stay on this road about 6-7 miles as it winds up and down over high rolling terrain. Toward the end it will descend into a canyon, pass the Double-T Ranch, and a mile later, end at the Salt Flat camping area.
My odometer had the mileage at just under 19 miles one-way. If you go by the signs it's 20 miles, or 25 all the way to Pine Mountain (but there is no road...).
The Pine Mountains appear low on the drive in.
High clearance is recommended, but 4wd is not needed in dry conditions. A hardy passenger vehicle like a Subaru Outback could handle the road okay. I did see one person laboring their low-slung sedan over the road, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'll find the road to be bumpy, some ruts, generally okay but some small sections where it gets kind of tricky. In wet weather don't bother; the mud and clay will stop you in your tracks.
Allow about 60-75 minutes to make the one-way drive.
Gas and grub:
There are no services at the Dugas/Orme exit. If coming south from Phoenix, there is gas and food at exit 259 (Cordes Junction). From the north, the last exit for goodies is the AZ-260 junction in Camp Verde (exit 287 I think). From Phoenix the Dugas Road exit is about 70 miles.
There is none. No fees. You have to abide by the Wilderness Rules - i.e. no motorized vehicles on the trails.
At road's end is the Salt Flat camping area, with room for about 5-6 parties. There are some fire rings and two scary toilets.
There are also good camp spots along the road in from I-17. I found some good ones around mile-marker 3 to mile-marker 5. There are other places along the road where you could pull to the side behind a small rise, and have a somewhat open camp, probably to yourself.
External LinksPrescott National Forest link to various hiking trails
My Pine Mountain Trip Report (www.surgent.net, 10/21/06)