Summers in Arizona are hot! But that’s just the central and southern portions of the state called the Sonoran Desert Region. What many people don’t know is that here in Arizona even in the summer there are still plenty of beautiful and interesting places to go if you want to get outdoors and cool off for the day. So if you’re up for a new hiking adventure with the possibility of getting wet, then check out Poland Creek, in the Castle Creek Wilderness, Crown King, Arizona, and journey back through rugged wilderness beauty and into the real old west!
I have always been interested in taking a trip out to Crown King which is located south of Prescott and in the Bradshaw Mountains, bordering the Castle Creek Wilderness. If you have a truck or 4wd then you should do just fine because Crown King is only accessible by a 27 mile all dirt road. But I recently joined an excellent local hiking group called the TLC Hiking Group, and when they said they were heading out to Crown King to hike down into a place called Poland Creek to a 30 foot waterfall with a large swimming hole called the “Big Dipper”, I thought wow, that sounds pretty interesting and eagerly signed up.
So bright and early on a Saturday morning, I met the TLC Hiking Group at Anthem, just north of Phoenix at about 6:15am. Those of us with passenger vehicles car pooled with other members who had trucks, jeeps and 4wds. We were also advised to try and car pool together due to the limited parking available at the trail head. By 6:45am we were on our way to Crown King heading north on route I-17 until we reached the Bumble Bee exit, just past Black Canyon City. We exited the freeway and took a left onto FR 259. Most of FR 259 in the early 20th century used to be an old rail road line called the Bradshaw Mountain Rail Road and its one lane bridges are still being used today. We first passed through the small town of Bumble Bee, then on through an even smaller and much more old and rustic looking town, called Cleator. The drive on FR 259 is absolutely beautiful with scenic views all around as you slowly climb up in elevation and further into the rugged Bradshaw Mountains and Castle Creek Wilderness. Overall, I thought the road was in pretty good condition and in dry conditions would be very passable for regular vehicles if you took it slow enough.
We arrived up at the top, elevation 5500 feet, called Poland Vista Point, and our trailhead by 7:30am. It’s not an easily recognizable trail head from the road but at mile marker 25, watch for the small pull out and parking area on the left. After a couple of group photos, we set out on our hike by 7:45am. In order to reach Poland Creek, you first need to follow the Algonquin Trail. The views of Horse Thief Canyon from the Algonquin Trail are breath taking and the decent, although a total of about 1000 feet, is really quite gradual. After making our way down, we hung a left and headed down into the canyon and into Poland Creek. This is where the hike actually becomes a bit more strenuous as you begin hopping over huge rocks and boulders in the creek bed. We continued on for a short ways past various small swimming holes until we reached the falls area, what’s called the “Big Dipper”. Unfortunately though, the water level at this time was too low and no water fall was running. A small group ventured on in search of another possible swimming hole while the rest of us hung back and rested. When they had returned, they reported having seen a full grown Black Diamondback Rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock!
After about an hour or so, and with temperatures starting to quickly warm up, we decided to head back. The return trip back over the rocks and boulders in Poland Creek, then up 1000 feet in elevation on the Algonquin Trail felt more difficult by this time. However, the scenic views of the surrounding area were again absolutely stunning as I stopped here and there to catch my breath and take some photos. Most of us had arrived back at the hill top where our cars were parked by about 11am for a total round trip hiking distance of about 3 miles.
After collecting our group at the trailhead, we got back into our cars and headed two miles down the road into the old west town of Crown King. They had a lot of road construction going but after only a couple of minutes wait, we were allowed into town and immediately were personally greeted and welcomed. We were also invited to have lunch at “The Mill Restaurant” up on the hill, an old reconstructed Gladiator Mill built in 1893, and said to have the best food in town, and it did! The food was great and the service across the board, very friendly, personal with everything done with a homemade touch. Really excellent! After lunch we decided to check out the rest of the town of Crown King. The town originated back in 1875 after a prospector found gold and then grew for about 45 years after that as a gold mining town with the Bradshaw Mountain Rail Road to support the mining economy. However the mines were not productive, they say, and the rail road went out of business early in the 20th century. Today, they still have a few gold mines in operation and mining their own gold too. It’s definitely a very quaint town that hasn’t lost its “rustic” old west history or charm. Nestled in the pines at elevation close to 6000 feet, the temperatures on this August day were warm, but mild, in the low 80’s and with a slight cool breeze too. Perfect! After checking out the town’s old saloon, Prospector Mall and General Store & Post Office, we returned to our cars and left Crown King at around 2:45pm.
The drive heading back down in elevation on FR 259, was single lane with many switchbacks and tight s-curves. It seemed a bit more hair raising too with a lot of oncoming trucks and construction vehicles, all of whom seemed to be driving at a fast clip. We almost went head on with a dump truck! But thankfully, my good friend Dan was a great driver with a lot of experience behind his belt so we were in good hands. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the beautiful drive and arrived back at Anthem, where our cars were parked by 4pm.
In all, it was a great day of fun, amazing mountain wilderness scenery, an excellent “moderate level” hike with some really wonderful people and a very enjoyable visit to the old west town of Crown King. So if you’re up for a hiking adventure and a scenic day trip back into the old west, then I definitely would recommend checking out Poland Creek in the Castle Creek Wilderness, at Crown King, Arizona.