Route: I recommend doing it counter clockwise to get the best quality trails and easiest climbs when going up hill but to each their own. Maybe you will find it better doing it the other way...
Start at Humphreys Trailhead at Snowbowl Ski Area. Link trails in this order:
Humphreys Trail (3.5 miles)
Weatherford Trail (...follow trail on top of ridge and then onto right side of ridge to start Weatherford Trail from Humphreys Trail Junction. Don't follow trail trending to left side of ridge.) (2.5 miles)
Inner Basin Trail (2.3 miles)
Waterline Road (...turn left on it going north) (5 miles)
Abineau Trail (2.3 miles)
Forest Service Road #9723J (about .5 miles)
Forest Service Road #418 (...turn left on it going west) (about 1.5 miles)
Arizona Trail (...turn left on it going south) (6.5 miles)
Aspen Nature Trail (...on Arizona Trail look for first trail you can take a left onto. It will have a 'TH' sticker on the sign pointing up the Aspen Nature Trail which may be unmarked otherwise.) (.8 miles)
Distance: 25 miles
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: Gain +4,580 ft. and Loss -4,800 ft.
Highest Elevation: 12,055 ft. on Weatherford Trail
Lowest Elevation: 8,250 ft. at Arizona Trail/Forest Service Road #418 Junction
Water Source: seasonal water source at Inner Basin Trail/Waterline Road Junction (check with Forest Service to see if water is available before relying on it!)
Best Time to Do It: July to October (go early in the morning to beat thunder showers during summer!)
Finally! I had been licking my chops at the opportunity to run this loop ever since they finished the AZ Trail section that links it a couple years ago. I would have done it last year but the Inner Basin was closed due to the Schultz Fire so I had to be patient.
Starting up the Humphreys Trail I wasn't sure if the weather was going to cooperate but the forecast was for clear skies so I decided to let it all play out.
I was running the loop with my Nathan Pack and a hand held water bottle just in case the water was off at the Inner Basin Trail/Waterline Road Junction. About a 1/2 mile up the trail, just to make things more interesting I guess, I set my water bottle down to adjust some things and never picked it back up! I got a mile or so farther up the trail before I realized my mistake. Crap. Hopefully, there was going to be water at the Waterline Road...good chance, but it's not completely reliable.
When I reached the start of the Weatherford Trail the weather had already started clearing, I got a little sun on my face and I could just about see Humphreys summit poking through the clouds.
The Weatherford was a pleasure to run, as always. I just love running above tree line on The Peaks. I love the rugged alpine environment and the spectacular views of The Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon and the Painted Desert.
(Looking ahead at an awesome section of the Weatherford Trail as it traverses above tree line. This is the good stuff!)
When I reached the Inner Basin Trail I got extra psyched. I haven't been in the Inner Basin in years due to the fire and I just love it in there with it's big meadows and aspens...just awesome.
I will have to admit that the trail quality on the upper half of the Inner Basin is pretty crappy but it's all worth it as you role out into the meadow and take in all the views.
At the Inner Basin, I went immediately to the faucet to top off my Nathan Pack and found that the faucet wasn't on. Say what!?! I have never been to this faucet in the summer with it turned off.
Luckily, I didn't have to go into rationing water mode as around the back of one of the buildings next to the faucet there was a pipe with water pouring out of it. I filled up on this and knew that I could now gulp water 'at will' the rest of the run. Nice.
From the Inner Basin/Waterline Trail Junction I took a left and followed the old road north. I was really excited to explore this next section. I had never been on this section of the Waterline Road and had, also, never been on the upcoming Abineau Trail. I knew these sections were going to be super beautiful as I have seen many sweet photos of 'em.
I wasn't let down. It was pure joy running through the thick Aspens, Fur, alpine flowers, tall grass and ferns. Everything was super lush on the Waterline Road section. I felt like I was in Colorado or Washington running. The old road had degraded to a wide, smooth trail feel adding to the enjoyment. Good stuff.
(Simply stunning place to be! Wow! This was a few hundred yards from where I picked up the Abineau Trail.)
When I reached the Abineau Trail I had to stop and take it all in. This spot on the mountain was just breathtaking. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't in the San Juan mountains in Colorado. I did not feel like I was in Arizona anymore. The north side of the mountain most definitely has a different feel than the other sides. Much more lush and wild feeling. To top it off I had not seen a soul up to this point adding an 'out there' feeling (I only saw one person on the entire loop. Amazing.). More good stuff.
Once I started down the Abineau Trail I realized that I was yet again on an awesome section of the loop. There was a big avalanche that went down Abineau Canyon many years ago and laid all the trees down flat. Running down the, rebuilt yet barely there, trail taking in the impact of the powerful avalanche damage was just another added bonus to an already great run. Can it get much better than this?
After a few miles of mandatory dirt road running, I reached the Arizona Trail and I was right back in bliss mode. The Arizona Trail from here to the Humphrey's Trailhead is really amazing. Not only is it extremely smooth and fast but it wanders it's way through some HUGE Aspen groves. A really special trail.
(Saw some fire as I neared the Humphreys Trailhead...got scared, then later realized it was just Snowbowl burning some crap. Whew!)
To finish up, I went left onto the quaint Aspen Nature Trail to link back up with the Humphreys Trailhead. Done.
Looking back, I really don't have a bad word to say about this loop except maybe the 2 miles of dirt road. I think it is completely worth the dirt road action to link the rest of these spectacular trails. I truly believe that this is the best side of the mountain to do a loop if you are looking for the most wild and remote side of the mountain and want to sample all the zones that the mountain has to offer. Can I say enough about this loop? Probably not! If you do the regular Peaks loop and are looking for a little variety and and a whole lot of wild and beauty then check this loop out...you won't be sorry. Simply classic.
Oh yeah... I didn't get my water bottle back. I went back up the Humphreys Trail to retrieve it and someone had already snaked it. Poop. Great run though, so who cares!
Yesterday: 6 miles (on Urban Trail to Schultz Pass Road and back)
Today: 26 miles (Peaks North Loop + 1 extra mile on Humphreys looking for my water bottle. Did the loop in 5 hrs 50 minutes and really took my time to go super easy on the foot and see what time I would put in going at a snails pace (good gage for Leadville...). I also took a serious amount of photos adding to the slow pace. As a result, MY FOOT FEELS GREAT!, physically I feel good and I have a ton of photos. GREAT DAY OF RUNNING!!! It's good to be back doing some longer runs.)