Travel Hooray – Arizona Hiking: Crackerjack Road


The FR 209 crossing of the East Verde River

From its
source on the Mogollon Rim near Washington Park north of Payson, the East Verde
River flows southwest through Tonto National, feeding a gorgeous swath of
greenery before merging with the Verde River. 

The first part of the hike follows Ash Creek

Over its 34-mile length, the central Arizona waterway cuts through a
transitional landscape where the desert creeps up against sheer rock
escarpments at the edge of the Colorado Plateau trickling down from an
environment of tall pines and forest lakes into high desert scrub and rugged
backcountry of the Mazatzal Wilderness.  

Milk vetch is a common bloomer along the hike

the tributary stream wraps around Houston Mesa Road at its confluence with
Ellison Creek, the Water Wheel group of recreation sites attract anglers,
bathers and hikers. 

Riparian corridor of the East Verde River

Those who don’t mind
crowds, noise and hefty day-use fees will have a blast at these splashy,
easy-access hot spots.  But for a less congested
look at the waterway’s midsection, take a stroll on a nearby back road. 

FR 209 crosses Ash Creek several times

More plod than plunge—don’t bother packing a swimsuit–
this moderate hike follows Forest Road 209 that’s also known as Crackerjack

Sycamore and chiseled cliffs line FR 209

The dirt track, which is part of
the Payson OHV Trails system, begins 3 miles north of town off State Route 87.  From the highway, it’s just over a 3-mile
hike to the East Verde, but it’s the stuff in between that makes this walk

Crossing at the East Verde River

Seeds of an ash tree

The road traces the course of
Ash Creek, crossing it several times as it makes a gentle descent through pine
woodlands.  The first mile passes by many
campsites used by OHV enthusiasts but soon leaves the party scene behind and
enters a stunning, canyon-bound riparian corridor. 

Shaggy, green-white bark of an AZ sycamore

Lined with sycamores, cottonwoods and the
eponymous ash trees, the trip unpacks amazing views of sculpted cliffs and scoured
ravines.  At the 2-mile point near where
some powerlines cross the route, the road emerges from the deep woods around
Ash Creek and heads uphill where the gaping gorge of Horton Canyon stand out to
the south.  

Fresh sprouts on an ash tree

At the top of a rise, first
glimpses of the river’s emerald entrenchment winding past the East Verde
Estates community come into view.  To the
north, peeks at the distant flat-topped Mogollon Rim barely rise above a
terrain of endless gullies, hills and juniper flats.  From this point, the road dips downhill paralleling
the river’s flood plains.

Vegetation thrives along Ash Creek

The road heads uphill near Horton Canyon

by colorful stone embankments rubbed smooth by running water, the East Verde
River crossing is a beautiful little place with room to explore along its banks. 

Gregg’s ceanothus shrubs smell like lilacs

Still pools, clear cascades and tumbling mini
waterfalls reflect russet rock walls and leafy fringes for many perfect photo

The hike
turnaround point is where clumps of reeds and samplings encroach upon a concrete
slab that spans the water and a Salt River Project water monitoring station
stands near a massive cottonwood tree. 
For a longer albeit dryer and hotter hike, follow the road another 4
miles to the Crackerjack Mine site, otherwise, backtrack and enjoy the
watershed in reverse.

Peaceful scene along the East Verde River

6.4 miles round trip to the river and back.


4,389 – 4,831 feet (1,083 feet of accumulated gain)


From the
State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go 3 miles north on SR 87 to Forest Road
209 at milepost 256 on the left.  Park in
the dirt turnout or continue along FR 209 to one of the many parking aprons and
campsites along the road.  The road is sedan-friendly
for about one mile.


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