Payson, Arizona (Gila County)

Last Updated: 07/09/2021
3 / 5 ( 2 reviews )
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Typically Open: Year Round
Length: 12.78 miles
Highest Elevation: 5327 feet
Duration: About 2 hours, 30 minutes
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Payson
Nearest Town w/ Services: Payson
Official Road Name: 209
Management Agency: Tonto National Forest
District: Payson Ranger District


Highlight: Crackerjack
In his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens compared London and Paris and spawned the phrase, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Crackerjack is like that. The best of times comes early on Crackerjack. The winding trail passes through juniper, pinion, and sycamore forests, broken at intervals by towering grey and red stone bluffs. Campsites sit near the broad dirt road. A concrete bridge set just at water level with no side railings eases you across the humorously splashy East Verde River, lots of places to picnic or camp nearby. Someone's tow strap became a rope swing over a deeper pool. If your windows are down you'll likely hear laughter, smell someone's barbeque grill. The trail climbs along the river's canyon's northern wall, offering glimpses down into the river's rocky course, passing its namesake mine along the way. And then after the intersection with Cedar Flat, Crackerjack's mood changes. The best gives way to the worst. Turning away from the picturesque river, the trail tightens on itself, snakes uphill, begins to make your suspension groan, tosses passengers, and loose cargo, from side to side. There is little space between the bowling ball-sized embedded rocks. Rock shelves barricade the passage at intervals. It seems never to end. But it does. Just as in Dickens' novel, there is redemption at the end. And satisfaction, too. It was the best of roads. It was the worst of roads. But now you are through both.


Route Information

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1. Trailhead (0 mi)
The trailhead is near mile marker 256. There is room for several vehicles to air down or stage, though there is an extensive staging area .6 miles down the trail.

Directions to Trailhead

Starting Point: Payson

From the intersection of Highways 260 and 87 in Payson, drive 3.4 miles north on Highway 87 to the trailhead on your left. The trailhead is just past mile marker 256.



Trail Reviews (5)

Questions & Answers (0)

Writer Information

Wade May

Hi! I'm Wade. After 43 years as a pilot, split evenly between flying fighters for the Air Force and Boeing 737s for the airlines, my feet are firmly planted on the ground. Seems I spent a lot of my flying time looking out the cockpit window thinking, "Yep, I could drive that trail." My trips range from a few days to a month. Most are solo in my silver 4Runner named Bullit. We range over all the southwest exploring remote places and trying to get as much dirt under the wheels as possible. Occasionally I get in some hiking, backpacking, and bushcraft as well. My most ambitious Overlanding plans include a trip to Tuktoyaktuk and Dead Horse when travel restrictions permit. Sharing my experiences as a member of the Trails Offroad crew, instructing at Overland Expo, and hosting the Gaia GPS Offroad podcast are true pleasures. Hope to see you on the trail soon.
For individual use only, not to be shared.