Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

The rugged mountain country of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest make it one of the most special places in Arizona. With high elevation and cool, summer breezes, it’s easy to see why so many people love exploring the forest every summer. For fishermen, the forest is home to prime water. It has over 680 miles of streams and rivers, more than any other National Forest in the southwest. Apache-Sitgreaves is actually two separate forests that are managed as one unit.

Pione Forest on Mount Baldy in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Pine Tree on Mount Baldy in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest – Photo by Jack Stovall on Unsplash

Apache and Sitgreaves combined are well over 2 million acres. Apache National Forest is named after the tribes that settled in the area. Sitgreaves is named in honor of Lorenzo Sitgreaves, who conducted the first scientific expedition across Arizona in the 1850s.

Apache-Sitgreaves is home Mexican Gray Wolves. These wolves are one of the rarest subspecies of North American Gray Wolf. At one time, these wolves were common throughout the southwest, but in the 1970s, they faced extinction. In 1977, the Forest Service began conservation efforts. In 1998, they released them into the wild in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

Wilderness Areas in Apache-Sitgreaves

The forest is home to four wilderness areas—Mount Baldy, Escudilla, Bear Wallow and Blue Range Primitive Area. The Wallow Fire in 2011 had a large impact on most of these areas. By the time it was over, this wildfire burned over half a million acres.

Blue Range Primitive Area

The Blue Range Primitive Area is the last Forest Service land still designated as a primitive area. Thanks to a network of trails, it is accessible, but remote. Rugged canyons and steep ridges fill the landscape—the elevation ranges from 4,500 feet to 9,100 feet. This vast difference in elevation creates unpredictable weather. High wind and sudden rainstorms are commonplace.

Bear Wallow Wilderness Area

Bear Wallow Wilderness Area is 11,080 acres remote, rugged terrain. Beautiful rivers and evergreen forests cover the wilderness. Wildflowers are plentiful in the wilderness. Ponderosa Pine trees once dominated the landscape. Apache-Sitgreaves is a reminder of this. The largest virgin forest of ponderosa pine trees in the Southwest is within the forest.

Bear Wallow Creek valuable habitat for the threatened Apache trout, which is endemic. Bear Wallow Creek, named for the many bear wallows found by early explorers is a valuable habitat for Apache trout. The threatened Apache trout are endemic to this area.

Escudilla Wilderness Area

Escudilla Wilderness Area encompasses the upper ranges of Escudilla Mountain. Aldo Leopold referenced Escudilla in his famous “Thinking Like a Mountain” article. Leopold also wrote about the last grizzly bear in Arizona being killed in these mountains. “Somehow it seems that the spirit of the bear is still there, prowling the huge meadows, lurking in the thick stands of aspen and spruce, wandering the steep slopes…”

Escudilla Wilderness is accessible by two trails—the Escudilla National Recreation Trail #308 and Government Trail #119. The Escudilla National Recreation Trail leads to the highest fire lookout tower in the state. Government Trail #119 runs along Profanity Ridge from the base of the mountain to the summit.

Recreation in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Apache-Sitgreaves has a host of day-use and recreation areas for picnics, fishing, biking and more. The forest is also home to over 1,000 miles of trails. The 13.8-mile West Baldy Trail or the 13-mile Los Burros Trail are fantastic trails to get a taste of the forest. The Los Burros is in the cooler, higher elevation mountains, and is mostly shaded. There are also four National Recreation Trails in the forest—Eagle, Blue Ridge, Escudilla, and General George Crook.

There are quite a few campgrounds throughout the forest. A few have RV hookups, but most do not. If you’re visiting the forest in an RV, be sure to do your homework. Most of the campgrounds are primitive, and many offer dispersed camping. The Forest Service also permits dispersed camping throughout much of the wilderness. If you camp in the backcountry, please respect the land. Pack it in, pack it out and follow leave no trace ethics.

Visit the Forest

It’s time to see one of the Southwest’s best kept secrets for yourself. Fish in Luna Lake, Hike the Eagle National Recreation Trail or find solitude in Mount Baldy Wilderness Area. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest will be waiting for you.

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