Mid-October is usually prime color on Mingus Mountain, and though some sporadic color may be enjoyed from the highway and some of the hiking trails, by far the most spectacular color is only accessible by Jeep or other high-clearance 4x4.
We enjoyed a jaunt up Mingus Mountain this past Sunday, October 18, and it was definitely in that perfect 10-day window of the most vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and golds.
The trail starts in Cottonwood, Arizona from Mingus Avenue. Take Mingus Avenue past the airport and stay on it as it turns to bumpy dirt and gravel road. This is now FR 493 in the Prescott National Forest. Follow 493 as it winds up the mountain and gradually gets narrower, steeper and rockier.
Pass the Copper Chief Mine (be careful to stay on the main forest road, not wander onto private property--respect signs and gates), which was a very rich copper mine from the turn of the century until the mid-50's, but gets very little historical note due to the fact that the much bigger and richer Jerome lies just over the rise. With the rise of metal prices, this mine has recently been reopened and you can see signs of more modern mining amongst the historic footing of the old operation.
About 5 miles up, you will come to a T at FR 413, but not before the trail tests your resolve with a half-mile of extremely rocky trail. This last 1/2 mile before FR 413 is the toughest part of the whole trail and definitely requires a high-clearance 4x4 with tough tires and a driver who knows how to pick a line. Experienced Jeepers in well-built rigs will walk right through this section without much thought, but a novice in a stock SUV will gasp at the sight of 12-16" rocks sticking up in the narrow trail.
For the best color, turn left (southeast) on FR 413. The red and orange maples and yellow walnuts will cluster in the canyons for the next few miles as the trail winds southeast and climbs gradually toward the top of Mingus Mountain. In addition to gorgeous flora, visitors are also rewarded with expansive views of the Verde Valley and the red rocks of Sedona.
Follow FR 413 all the way to the pine forests on top of Mingus Mountain. As you get closer to highway 89A, note many great campsites in the area. Come to a T at a (sometimes marked) road, where left takes you to the highway, and a right takes you to the Mingus Mountain overlook and hang glider launch area.
About 18 miles total, from Hwy 89A in Cottonwood and back to Hwy 89A on the top of Mingus Mountain. You climb 4000 feet in elevation, from 3500 to 7500 feet above sea level. Allow 3-4 hours with stops. This trail is not recommended in wet weather and is usually closed at the top in the winter.