Casner Mountain Trail
Kachina Village, Arizona (Yavapai) Technical Rating: 2-4
Last Updated: 08-07-2016
Permit Required - Click Here
Coconino National Forest / Red Rock District
Casner Mountain Trail Highlights
The oldest known history of Casner Mountain is that it was used by the Casner family in the 1880s as a route for moving cattle from the Verde Valley in the Winter months to the top of the Mogollon Rim during the Summer months (or more likely the adjacent Mooney Trail). The off-road trail was developed more recently for use by the utility companies to build and maintain high voltage power lines. Much of the Casner Mountain Trail is squeezed in between the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness offering awesome views of both (and forcing you to keep your vehicle on the trail); along with the famous red rock country of the northern Verde Valley.
The Verde Valley encompasses about 714 square miles in the center of Arizona and has hundreds of miles of dirt roads and off-road trails throughout it. You'll have to drive some of them to get to or from the southern trailhead of Casner Mountain Trail. This entire area is the height of Arizona's physical beauty and you'll get an excellent view of it along the Casner Mountain Trail. While most of these off-road four-wheel drive trails are mainly within the control of Coconino National Forest, some also extend into Prescott and Yavapai National Forests; which you can also see parts of from this trail.
Technical rating: (2-4) Easy
Rutted and/or rocky road. No shelves but rocks to 9". Water crossings usually less than hub deep. Passable mud. Grades moderate, up to 15 degrees. Side hill moderate up to 15 degrees. 4WD under most conditions. No width problems, vehicle passing spots frequently available if less than two vehicles wide.
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Directions to Trailhead
From the south you'll turn off of 89A about half way between Sedona and Cottonwood onto FR 525 / Loy Butte Rd heading north. A few miles down the road take the left fork just after the cattle guard onto FR 525C. Continue on 525C until you reach the large high voltage power lines. Turn right onto 9529 and head north. The trail quickly turns into Trail 8 / Casner Mountain Trail.
From the north, you'll want to find you way through the maze of forest roads onto FR 538 and head south on it as it turns into Jerome Rd. The easiest way to find FR 538 is off of FR 231 / East Pocket Road. Continue south as Jerome Rd. turns onto 538B. This will eventually turn into Trail 8 / Casner Mountain Trail just past the intersection with FR 6271.
This skinny off-road trail takes you along the top of a mountain ridge and contains a few moderate hills; including a section of sharp switchbacks that take you through 900 ft of elevation change in just under a mile. The dirt road is fairly stable with a few spots of loose dirt and rock, and the occasional larger rock recently fallen from an adjacent ledge.
The nearly 8-mile stretch of off-road trail on the Casner Mountain Trail is only open to 4x4 vehicles during summer months, and will require a permit and a gate code; obtainable from Coconino National Forest Red Rock District Field Office (8375 State Route 179, Sedona, AZ). Be sure to ask for the actual forest Rangers as the information booth will likely only know about this trail as a hiking destination.
Most people seem to naturally want to take this trail from south to north; however, starting at the north and heading south may make it more enjoyable. The scenery will be different depending on which direction you go, and heading south will put the Verde Valley views in front of you instead of behind. You'll end the day taking the easy way home instead of still needing to wind your way through a maze of forest roads to find the highway. It also makes the switchbacks more thrilling as you make your way down head first as you to approach the sharp turns with the beautiful red rocks in front of you; instead of heading upwards and looking more at the sky.
1: Jerome Rd. / 538B & 6271 Intersection (8.0mi)
From this intersection you'll head south to get onto Casner Mountain Trail. This is the more difficult trailhead to find, and is advisable to have a good map or GPS coordinates to and/or from this location.
There are large power lines close by that can be used as a landmark to guide your way to this trailhead.
2: North Gate (7.3mi)
This is the northern gate to get into the restricted area of Casner Mountain Trail. You'll need a code to unlock the gate and you must obtain a free permit to get the code. If you are on an ATV or smaller vehicle that can squeeze around the gate, you don't need a permit.
3: Shade Trees for a good Lunch Spot (6.2mi)
There are some decent shade trees in this area that make for a good spot for lunch.
6: Ridge (4.3mi)
This ridge is over five hundred feet lower than the highest point on Casner Mountain Trail, but provides some of the most stunning views of both Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, and Secret Mountain Wilderness Area.
7: Top (3.0mi)
This is the highest point on Casner Mountain, but ironically it does not provide the best views.
8: Switchback Top (2.3mi)
While not the highest post on Casner Mountain trail, it is a great spot for some very scenic views as you are on the southern edge of Casner Mountain's higher elevations.
9: Switch Back Bottom (1.3mi)
You are about to start climbing up or just finished descending down some steep and very sharp switchbacks. Over the next mile of trail you're elevation will change by over 900 ft.
10: South Gate (0.4mi)
This is the southern gate to get into the restricted area of Casner Mountain Trail. You'll need a code to unlock the gate and you must obtain a free permit to get the code. If you are on an ATV or smaller vehicle that can squeeze around the gate, you don't need a permit.
If you plan to take a full sized vehicle (over 62" wide) you'll need a permit from the forest service Red Rock District which allows for a group of 3-10 vehicles between the middle of May to the middle of October. There are massive locked gates that close off a portion of the route requiring a combination to open. This code can only be obtained via a permit. Group size may not exceed 25 people, and only one permit is issued per week. Any one person can only get one permit per year. The Forest Service requests two to six weeks for permit processing.
While smaller vehicles, bikes, and hikers are allowed to go around the gate at any time during the year without a permit, snow can be expected during winter months.
Camping and Lodging
While overnight camping in the permit area is prohibited, there are plenty of camping areas throughout Coconino National Forest. For more details click here. The best places to camp in the summer time will be nearer to the northern trailhead, as you can find secluded dispersed camping along the Mogollon Rim. It'll be much cooler than in the Verde Valley and provide some amazing views.
You can also find hotels in cities throughout the Verde Valley, including the famous Sedona, and within Flagstaff.
Questions & AnswersNo questions have been submitted.
Offroaded on 08-07-2016
Low Temperature: 64° F
High Temperature: 88° F
Casner Mountain is a wonderful trail. It starts out in Cottonwood AZ and climbs up between amazing red rock canyon walls to a powerline switchback road that seems unclimbable from the bottom, but actually turns out to be quite easy. In fact, it appeared as the road surface had recently seen service. The first challenge though is the permit you had to acquire to do this road has the code to the lock on the first gate. A stout affair requiring to adults to operate once unlocked. No Code, no Casner Mt trail.
After climbing up onto the ridge, you ride the knife edge of the mountain with spectacular views out the passenger and driver windows with views of significant dropoffs on either side. There are parts that are about 2 x the vehicle width from each side to drop off. Once into the pine tree line, the road flattens out, still weaving through the power poles and the biggest obstacle becomes mud puddles.
There is a second gate, right at the tree line that will have to be unlocked and brutally opened as it must weigh 300 lbs of steel pipe welded into an imposing structure.
Once past the #2 gate, the going get's considerably easier through the forest. I lost count of how many good camp spots there were along the roadway. Evidence of the slide fire was encountered as we crested the plateau over Oak creek Canyon. As the road continued into the forest, more and more large groups of campers were encountered (In one spot there were at least 30). I found it odd that the families didn't spread out along the road so that it wasn't as crowded.
A final descent through the forest dropped us onto 89A with the switchbacks down into Oak Creek Canyon. Be warned though, on a Saturday afternoon, the traffic was heinous into Sedona.
I headed up Schnebly hill rd and camped up on top. Lots of nice dispersed stuff up there on to as well. No tent, no trailer, only the stars for a roof as I slept in my hammock. It was glorious.
Offroaded on 07-23-2016
Conditions: Partially Cloudy
Low Temperature: 64° F
High Temperature: 95° F
Camping GPS Coordinates:
34° 58' 40.24"N
111° 46' 48.19"W
Knowing I needed company to satisfy the permit requirements, I decided to make an event of this. I ended up with nine vehicles, and about twenty people showing up for this awesome adventure.
We started out at the Pick-N-Run Shell Station in Kachina Village - Exit 333 off I-17- to fuel up, talk about what to expect, what channel to communicate on, and hand out some swag I had collected form a few vendors and clubs, including:
- Bivouac Camping Trailers
- The Thrive in Life Book
- National Forest maps and information on the trails
- Someone from The Jeep Mafia was also there and added to the pile.
We had four FJ Cruisers who were all a part of the AZFJ Non-club, three Jeeps, and two Land Cruisers. Somehow we all managed to get along just fine.
We started out on some well grated dirt roads that took us along FR 237 through Fry Canyon on our way to 89A. We then headed up some mild switchbacks along FR 535 to get up into the forest just north of the Mogollon Rim. We stopped at Fry Lake along FR 536, which was more like an marsh full of cows and beautiful yellow flowers. We then hooked up with FR 231 (also known as Woody Mountain Rd. to the north, and East Pocket Road to the south), which took us to FR 231B. This was a truly rocky road that eventually hooked us up with 538D, and onto 538. This took us south along Jerome Road that eventually hooked up with Casner Mountain Trail.
Figuring out how to unlock the gate was a little confusing at first, as the lock was hard to open, and then we had to figure out that the chain also made it's way through a tongue inside the metal cylinder that keep the gate closed. Once we got it figured out, we headed through, locked it behind us, and where on our way up the mountain. The views on the way up were nice, but it wasn't until after we had found a nice place to stop for lunch that we truly learned the real beauty of this off-road trail.
Both Sycamore Canyon and Secret Mountain are full of beautiful red-rock landscapes and awe inspiring views. Seeing them from on top of Casner Mountain made them even more spectacular. Even the four wheeling got more exciting the further south we went. While none of it ever got too technical it still had some exciting moments and we drive along the top ridge of the mountain, and eventually down some steep sharp switchbacks. Both of these offered even more incredible views of the valleys below. Finally, a few of us heading onto Greasy Spoon afterwords for some more challenging off-road driving.
I would definitely recommend anyone who enjoys off-road trails for their ability to see things most other people never do, you have to come to Sedona, Arizona at some point in your lifetime. While your there do everything you can to get a permit, or go along with someone who can, to take this amazing off-road trail.