Spruce Mountain 7,696′
Total Time: 4:00
Roundtrip Mileage: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,700′
Trailhead: Woods Creek Trail #307, pit toilets
Companions: Brian Joseph, Holly
Spruce Mountain Lookout is one of four fire lookouts in the Bradshaw Mountains above Prescott. Built in 1936 by the CCC, it is still staffed during peak wildfire season, and visitors are encouraged to climb the 55′ into the lookout to speak with the volunteer staffer and learn about fire prevention. Although there is a rough road to the top, most people reach the summit of Spruce Mountain via the very popular Groom Creek Trail, which can be done as an out and back or part of a longer loop. After the short scramble up Thumb Butte in the morning, I was enjoying the cooler weather and pine trees too much to call it a day. So after running through a couple options, I convinced the group to try the hike up through the shady pines of the Bradshaw Mountains to the lookout. From Thumb Butte, it was a 25 minute drive to the Groom Creek Trailhead, mostly full with horse trailers. We started up the trail as it briefly skirted the parking lot before switching uphill through the forest. Very early in the trail we passed a series of large boulders just off the trail know as the Groom Creek Boulders, a popular climbing/bouldering area with local climbers, although none were at the crag that day.
The trail slowly switched up through the pines at a very reasonable grade, the only negative being the ever present smell of horse manure from the handful of parties we passed along route. We could never really see the summit at any point along the hike as the trail wove up and around various ridgeline and false summits. Closer to the summit, there were a series of switchbacks with wooden pine railings. It took about 2 hours to reach the fire road that leads to the lookout tower, with a number of groups on horseback stopped at some picnic tables with a hitching post for horses. From there, it was only about another quarter mile to the summit and Spruce Mountain Lookout Tower. The lookout volunteer called down below for us to come on up, and we headed up the series of stairs to the single roomed tower. The volunteer was very friendly, showing us how to use the fire sight and pointing out various landmarks around the Prescott Valley and Bradshaw Mountains. While the views were incredible, I was most jealous of her vintage Smokey the Bear blanket….
Not wanting to take up more of her time, we headed down from the lookout and had a small snack at some of the picnic tables off the road. Being our second hike of the day, our conversation shifted to where in town we would get food/ beer, now justified by our physical activity. We hiked uneventfully back down the trail, getting back to the car in about 4 hours total roundtrip, including a nice break at the summit. From there, we headed back into Prescott for dinner at Prescott Brewing Company followed by another round at Granite Mountain Brewing before heading home.