To say that the connected rail-trails of Prescott are oases in sun-baked, north-central Arizona is no exaggeration. Wherever water touches this arid landscape—and it does along the Peavine and Iron King trails—jade cottonwoods cluster, popping out against the desert's pale yellow and burnt brown palette. And, at 5,300 feet above sea level, with cool breezes tempered by hot sunshine, Prescott is an ideal place for trail trips in the late winter and spring.
The 4-mile Peavine Trail begins just south of Watson Lake at the gravel parking lot by the lush Watson Woods Riparian Preserve. The crushed stone and dirt trail runs through a sea of green as it traverses the preserve. Through the trees you may even hear the rush of nearby Granite Creek, swollen after a bout of rain.
A mile in, the trail leaves the preserve and curves around the southern end of Lake Watson to reach the Granite Dells, massive mounds of weather-beaten rock. This natural formation is a big tourist draw, and you'll see the majority of fellow trail users here. It's no wonder: As you pass through the cool cuts in the granite, you're enfolded in a kind of castle of desert stone.
All along this route water leaches from cracks in the rock walls and improbable, hearty flowers—red and yellow—pop from the crevasses. The temptation to scramble up the smooth, stony inclines for a scenic vista is keen, but no sight is more arresting than the perfectly framed view of far-off Granite Mountain over Lake Watson.
Once you've pulled your eyes and your camera away from the view, continue heading northward. The trail follows the former Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railway corridor that fed into Prescott, once the territorial capital of Arizona and famous for its copper mining. Wooden decking and railroad ties lie scattered along the trail. At mile 3 and the Point of Rocks, the railroad's ghost is impossible to miss. Here the trail passes through a cut made for trains in a tall, sheer rock cluster. A trailside historical marker shows a photo of the identical view, taken some 100 years earlier. In the photo a hulking engine chugs through the pass.
Beyond Point of Rocks, you reach a fork in the trail. Head left to continue on the Peavine Trail for 1 mile to its end point atop a gravel-covered railroad bridge. A two-lane country road runs beneath you, and private property spreads in vast tracts beyond. As tantalizing as the call of the open range might be, don't consider trespassing. Instead, head back to that fork in the road, turn right and hop on the 3-mile Iron King Trail.
There is a large paved parking lot at the trail's northern terminus at the north end of Side Road off Centerpointe East Drive. Take Pioneer Parkway/89A to Centerpointe E. Drive. To reach the southern trailhead, take Route 69 east out of Prescott and turn (left) north onto Prescott Lakes Parkway. Follow the parkway to Sundog Ranch Road and turn right. There's a large parking lot on the left. You can also take Route 89 north out of Prescott and turn right onto Prescott Lakes Parkway. Follow the parkway to Sundog Ranch Road and turn left.
There is a $2 fee to park at the Sundog Ranch Road trailhead, except on Wednesday, which is free. Use the machine, which takes credit cards. The northern trailhead is free.