Saturday, February 6, 2016
Hike #50: Vineyard Trail #131, Tonto National Forest
Length: 7 miles (12 miles to terminus)
A drive to the Vineyard trail reminds one just how vast the Tonto National Forest really is! The Vineyard Trail starts at the edge of Roosevelt Lake, just north of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. Although not geographically that far from the East Valley, the dam and trailhead are a bit of a trek due to the lack of a (good) direct route. To reach the trailhead, there are three possible driving routes. The most direct it to take the Apache Trail from Apache Junction as it traces its way along Canyon Lake and Apache Lake. Although beautiful, the majority of this road is curvy, unpaved mountain passes - which make for extremely slow travel! The fastest (though longer) options are the take either the Beeline Highway north to SR 188 or the 60 east to Globe and connect to the SR 188 there. Either of these routes provide an easy (fully-paved) route that will take you directly to the trailhead!
Once you arrive at Roosevelt Lake, the trail parking lot is a small lot along the lakeshore directly north of the fairly-new Roosevelt Bridge. From here, you must cross over the highway, and walk back towards the bridge. Passing along the roadway between the bridge's guardrails and the mountainside, there is a small sign marking the trailhead and an obvious trail that ascends the mountain.
Surprisingly, the trail up Vineyard Mountain was a fairly easy ascent that rarely seems all that challenging - though that might have been helped with plenty of breaks to enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of Roosevelt Lake. The gravel trail continues upward through a desert thick with small cactus (especially prickly pears!) After reaching the top (where there is an abandoned reflector tower), you are rewarded with views of Roosevelt Dam before continuing along a much more level segment of the trail. As the trail gradually passes along the upper plateau, you begin to round the mountain away from Roosevelt Lake and instead enjoy glimpses of Apache Lake gleaming in the distances. Several larger boulders along this portion of the trail provide the perfect resting spot for a well-deserved break and a good view!
From here, the trail make a gradual descent and again turns so that you're facing Four Peaks in the north. Passing through a large grouping of saguaro cactus, the trail continues a level for at least a mile with little else to note. This was our turning point (since it was growing late in the afternoon), though the trail does continue for at least two miles (encountering a couple forest roads and a ridgeline walk.) Sadly, since the Vineyard trail is an out-and-back trail, we had no other option but retracing our steps back towards the trailhead; we had no problem with this, though we witnessed several people slipping on the loose gravel along the declines!)
To view more photos of Vineyard Trail, click here.