Our Top Picks for How to Spend a Sunny Day in Arizona’s White Mountains
When most people think of the White Mountains in the winter, they think of snow, but this is Arizona and we have more than our fair share of sun! Thousands of people call this beautiful forest home because we have more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, motorized-vehicle trails, and more than 400 species of birds and wildlife. Every day in the White Mountains is a day of nature—come up and see for yourself and see why Pinetop-Lakeside was voted America’s #1 cabin region by Cabin Life Magazine.
Does fly fishing get your motor revving? If so, put a weekend trip on the calendar to the White Mountains. Year-round, this is the destination for putting your casting techniques to the test—but come with your best game. The White Mountains boasts several state fishing records set in our pristine freshwater lakes and streams.
Anglers of every skill level will surely find a stream perfectly suited for a day in the water. With a little luck, you can snag a brown, rainbow, or brook trout—or go all out and set your sights on a large- or small-mouth bass, catfish, or sunfish.
No matter what you hook, you’ll be hard pressed to surpass the beauty of a day in our pines with just you and your line. At an average of 25 to 30 degrees cooler than the desert floor, your White Mountains vacation will leave you feeling cool and refreshed—with bragging rights whether or not you caught a fish.
Don’t forget the permit! To fish in the White Mountains, you must have a valid Arizona fishing license. These are issued by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and can be purchased online or from an approved dealer.
If you plan to fish on the White Mountain Apache reservation, they have licenses available online or at area merchants.
Fishing, Boating, and Paddling
If water sports are your bliss, the White Mountains will be your new favorite vacation destination. With more than 50 lakes and dozens of streams and small rivers, the area is ideal for both motorized and non-motorized water sports and activities, including fishing, ice fishing, boating, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, knee-boarding, picigin, rafting, rowing, sailing, sailboarding, stand-up paddle surfing, tubing, and windsurfing.
Temperatures in the Arizona White Mountains average 25 to 30 degrees lower than those found in the Phoenix and Tucson desert areas, making for a cool escape, and close enough to get away—if only for the weekend.
Coming to fish? You’re in the right place! Most lakes and streams have trout species including rainbow, brown, and brook, but there are other species as well. Many of the lake areas have campgrounds, well-maintained picnic facilities, hiking trails, small convenience stores, equipment rental, and docks or shorelines for launching kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes. Many of the White Mountains’ lakes impose a 10 HP limit for boat gas-driven motors and most prohibit swimming, though there are exceptions. Be sure to check the lakes before launching a motorized boat, or diving in for a few laps around the perimeter.
For more information, visit: www.azgfd.com
If on foot is how you enjoy the forests, the White Mountains Trail System has just the ticket. Centered primarily in the Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside area, there are more than 200 miles of trails at an average elevation of 7,000 ft. If you’re sea-level dweller, our thin air and heights will likely have you feeling breathless and thirsty.
The trail system has been carefully planned. Primary trails are loops, which vary in length and difficulty, and most trails are joined by connector trails, or have shortcuts, providing you a range of choices.
The White Mountains Trail System is for non-motorized use. You are likely to come across fellow hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and, in the snow, cross-country skiers and snowshoers—all sharing the forests’ beauty filled with immensely diverse wildlife.
The trails were originally built and continue to be maintained by a 350+ member volunteer organization—TRACKS—with approval of the US Forest Service. TRACKS works hard to ensure the trails are safe, even for casual hikers. The volunteers have installed white, reflective trail markers every quarter mile on all 200+ miles of trails, and each marker contains its GPS coordinates.
Whether you’re out for an after-dinner walk, or a serious hike, the White Mountains Trail System provides you an idyllic adventure and chance to enjoy our wildlife and beautiful forests.
For more information, visit: www.tracks-pinetop-lakeside.org
You prefer two wheels over two feet? No problem! The White Mountains Trail System is made up of more than 200 miles of non-motorized, multi-use trails—mountain bikers of all skill levels come here to single-track trails and the natural beauty within the pines.
The TRACKS website has downloadable, topographical maps of the entire trail system, which will help you to plan your ride in an area suitable to your skill level. At an average elevation of 7,000 ft., the trails can be a challenge even for the locals. Before you head out, fill your water bottles and pack a first-aid kit and cell phone. The trails wind casually and not-so-casually through natural forest; jutting rocks and roots are common and so are the spills associated with most mountain biking excursions.
Most of the trails are well traveled, but if you’re riding alone and do meet the turf unexpectedly, look for a diamond-shaped trail marker. You’re never more than an eighth of a mile away and each one has a special code to provide GPS coordinates to emergency responders.
If you have a bit of competitive spirit, join us each fall for the Tour of the White Mountains when 700 riders discover the challenges of our single track at the foot of the pines in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest.
For more information, visit: www.tracks-pinetop-lakeside.org or www.epicrides.com/events/tour-of-the-white-mountains/event-guide/
Spend the day on horseback and take in the vibrant, live forest on safe, non-motorized and marked trails of the White Mountains Trails System.
Your family’s day in the mountains will be made all the more spectacular when you take a short, half-day, or all-day ride over the river and through the woods of the cool-weather White Mountains. Bring your own, or rent a gentle ride from one of our local equestrian facilities.
The White Mountains offer a diverse habitat for birds, making this a popular birding area. The marked trails of the White Mountains Trails System also provide safe, non-motorized paths for your entire family to enjoy this year-round pastime.
Look closely in the sky, trees, grasses, and water and you will find a variety of jays, grouses, hummingbirds of every imaginable color, and even birds of prey, such as the eagle, hawk, and owl. Lakes attract nesting, migratory, and wintering species of waterfowl as well as bald eagles.
Zone 1: Colorado Plateau.
Zone 2: Round Valley and Greer; includes Wenima Wildlife Area.
Zone 3: National forest south of Eagar; includes the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.
No matter where you are in the White Mountains, an opportunity to view wildlife in its natural habitat abounds. In our region, there are more than 400 species—from common critters such as the black squirrel, to reclusive wolves and shy mountain lions and goats.
Some animals and birds make their home year-round in the White Mountains, while for others, our region is a resting place during their seasonal migration.
Watching wildlife is a learning experience and helps us to appreciate the creatures with which we share resources. Learning about wildlife can begin at any age and everyone can participate—whether it’s just to keep an eye on the bird feeder outside your window or to sit in a quiet meadow for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare, migratory bird.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest provides some of the best wildlife viewing in the state, perhaps in the nation! We have nearly three million acres of forests, meadows, mesas, lakes, streams, and brushland—each with its own indigenous species.
Viewing wildlife in their natural habitat leaves the watcher with a positive, unforgettable, and personal experience. It often drives people to be more caring toward wildlife and seek ways to participate in wildlife and habitat conservation and preservation.
With an ever-increasing population, and ever-decreasing natural habitats, fostering concern and action on behalf of the animal kingdom will serve to benefit all who live on this planet—no matter what type of animal you are.
For more information, visit: www.azgfd.com or www.whitemountainnaturecenter.org/arizona-wildlife
Motorized Trail Riding
The Maverick Trail is a motorized vehicle trail used by off-road motorcycles, ATVs, and OHVs in the summer and snowmobiles and OHVs in the winter. Roughly 60 miles in length, the trail opened between Clay Springs and Pinetop-Lakeside in 2010. For the most part, it is rugged and hard-packed terrain.
The Maverick Trail has five trail heads: Sky-Hi, Timber Mesa, Panorama Trail head, Burton, and Clay Springs. Trail heads provide a staging area and direct access to gated trails, most of which are limited to machines less than 50 inches in width, though some trails can accommodate machines as wide as 60 inches.
The Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division issues OHV decals, certificates of title, registrations, and license plates. The U.S. Forest Service enforces rules and regulations to ensure safe use. A local volunteer group, the White Mountains Open Trails Association, collaborates with the forest service to construct and maintain trails and extensions as they are added.
WMOTA is an adult-oriented group committed to the creation and preservation of trails, promoting ATV riding as a safe and enjoyable adult-oriented activity, and disseminating information to the public about safe and ethical use of OHV trails.
For more information, visit: www.fs.usda.gov or www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/outdoor_recreation/ohv/atv_brochure.pdf
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is home to many animals for which permits are issued to hunt including elk, deer, antelope, javelina, bear, turkey, sheep, mountain lion, squirrel, and various waterfowl.
The Arizona Game & Fish Department schedules seasons for each type of game, permits and a hunting license are required. The Apache tribe schedules hunts on Indian lands and their seasons may differ. The tribe issues permits and licenses for hunting on the reservation.
Trophy elk can be found in the White Mountains both on and off tribal lands and hunters pursue this prize game with archery, muzzle-loading rifles, firearms, and trapping.
The State of Arizona licenses hunting guides who can be hired to assist you in locating and taking game. A licensed guide that knows the area can mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful hunt—so be sure to assess their knowledge of the area carefully.
The White Mountains area was included on Outdoor Life magazine’s list of the Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
For more information, visit: www.gf.state.az.us.
Camping (Primitive or Luxury)
There are more than 100 designated camping or RV parking areas in the White Mountains region—from lakeside densely populated camp areas to remote, primitive campgrounds. Whether you’re camping for the night or the season, you have numerous options in climate and landscape.
Though the White Mountains weather is typically 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the desert valleys—or more in the winters—campers enjoy our area year-round. Cross-country skiers and backpackers hike snow-packed trails to reach the solitude afforded by high-country camping.
Many RVers pull up stakes in favor of warmer climes at the first sign of fluffy flakes, but return each year with the warm weather. This exodus of the snowbirds leaves behind a slower, more relaxed atmosphere.
Many RV campsites have full hook-ups, for those without, local merchants provide water and dump sites.
Reservations are suggested for both camping and parking, especially at the lakeside campsites in the summer months. These sites typically have showers, toilets, convenience stores, and equipment rentals, and are a hot commodity to our weekend visitors.
If you’re an astronomy or animal enthusiast, head for the hills where you can lie under the stars of the deep, dark forest and enjoy all the ample bird and wildlife viewing opportunities within.
For more information, visit: www.go-arizona.com/White-Mountains/Camping/
Pinetop-Lakeside has dozens of hidden gems in the form of local shops. Businesses here take pride in family ownership and providing locally crafted products as well as one-of-a-kind gifts for family and friends not luck enough have been able to join you on your White Mountains holiday. Take a tour of our little town and discover for yourself everything from quilts to souvenirs, home fashion to collectibles, and boutiques of every imaginable sort. For a complete directory, visit www.pinetoplakeside.com
Dining in the White Mountains is a widely varied experience, but never one to be missed. Start your day at Darbi’s Café or Picnic Basket for a wonderful breakfast of traditional fare, or go for something uniquely White Mountains. For casual midday diners, we have several chains, including Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Subway, Little Cæsar’s, and KFC, as well as locally owned Empire Buffet, La Vie Marketplace & Café, El Rancho Restaurant, Annie’s Bistro, R&R Express Pizza, the Pasta House, Red Devil Restaurant & Bar, and a number of other small-town escapes. Meet your fellow hikers over at Pinetop Brewing Company, the only in-town microbrew, or go for wings and a beer at Lion’s Den. Dinner offers nearly everything you can imagine to satisfy your palate after a day in the mountains. Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse and Porter Mountain Steak House cook up some of the best beef anywhere, and Salt Restaurant & Wine Bar provides a fine dining experience like none other—be sure to stop in on Wednesday for live music as well. For you night owls, check out the buffet at Hon-Dah Resort & Casino and play some slots, indulge yourself at a pig roast at Moose Henri’s Grill & Tap, or play some pool and grab some snacks at The Lodge Sports Bar & Grill. One thing is certain: you won’t go hungry in Pinetop-Lakeside!