Arizona Mountain Biking

Highline Trail: The 260 Trailhead, Payson

View Highline Trail 31 in a larger map

On Labor Day I rode the Highline Trail from the Two-Sixty trailhead to See Canyon Trail (just north of Christopher Creek) then back to the 260. It’s the third time I’ve ridden this particular portion of the Highline trail.

The trail was pristine.The Mogollon Rim is a mysterious place. The ancient trees, the changing color of the forest as the sun moves through the sky, and the still silence that breaks only to the sound of my freewheel.

The first time I rode the Highline was a few years back, on my 2000 GT Avalanche, a climbing machine. There were quite a few downed trees on the trail so I decided to do a little service for my fellow biker and pull some of the smaller trees off the trail…No sooner had I hopped off my bike, latched on to a tree and started pulling…I felt a couple of sharp pains on my ankle, my leg, my forearm…. “Bees! Bees! Bees in the car! Bees everywhere! They’re huge! They’re ripping my flesh off!”

I dropped the tree and started running… arms flailing ’round, back down the trail faster than I could have ridden if I’d been on my bike. This one bee wouldn’t leave me alone, he hovered around my red, white, and blue flag helmet like it was some gargantuous piece of fruit, so I kept running, another few hundred feet down the trail.

I finally lost that last bee, surveyed the damage and found five huge stinging welts scattered across my arms and legs. Thoughts of turning back surfaced in my head…but how could I explain that to my friends…I wasn’t going to let a couple of bees keep me from a ride…A ride that was about to turn epic…

I waited a little while, then crept back up to where I had left my bike, hopped on and rode like a madman, fueled with adrenalin, and aching with the pain and swell of the stings, I continued up the mountain.

From the See Canyon trailhead heading east, the Highline trail climbs pretty good for about two miles. This section has it all, rocky and technical, sweet slickrock, switchbacks, roots…Then you reach the Drew Trail fork. I’d read it’s better to go down Drew than up Drew, so I continued on Highline headed to the 260 trailhead.

More sweet trail, up and down continuously for four miles to meet with the 260 TH. Then the choice to continue up the Military Sinkhole trail. I went for it not even thinking about the time…I made it to the huge climb. There’s no way to explain it except for pain. I’d been climbing for over six miles and could not climb an inch more. So I headed back. I got to the 260 TH at dusk and wondered if I should continue on the trail or take the highway.

The darkness of a moonless night set in as I made my way down the highway. Nothing but the reflection of my shoes to warn the cars I was on the road. I was nearly hit more times than I want to remember, cars swerving not to hit me as I rode the edge of the white line.

Back in Christopher Creek I still had to make my way up the FS 284 to the See Canyon TH and my parked car. Two miles of stillness and a starry night to guide me up the forest road.

I didn’t ride that trail again for three years. Then over Memorial Day weekend, I set out to finish what I started.

I began at the 260 TH this time. Took care of the Military Sinkhole before the sun had time shine. At the top of the rim, I took some time to look out over the forest in triumph. I then continued on the Vista Trail singletrack until it turned into a paved walkway that dumped me out a few miles up on the FS300. Made my way up the 300 to the 9350 turn off, then found my way to the 291 for the Drew trail I had heard so much about. Short, steep, and sweet. No lie. Only a couple of logs and lots of rockin’ and rolling.

I was at the Drew/Highline fork in no time. Still feeling good I decided to ride down the two mile decent I had painfully climbed three years earlier. Cosmic Ray is right on when he calls this lower portion of the Highline the Hoot & Holler. I was screaming the whole way down. Down the rocks, down the slickrock, down the switchbacks, and down the roots. Past the bees and took a nice break by the creek.

The climb back went well and went fast. Before I knew it I was back at the car. My triumph of the Highline was complete. After three years I finally got the best of the mountain, instead of the mountain stealing the best of me.

260 trail head highline Mogollon Rim 260 Trail

Which leads me to my third ride, the reason I’m writing this post. I rode the Highline again on Labor day. This time skipping the whole Military Sinkhole/Drew portion and screaming right into the Highline to See Canyon. There were at least a dozen downed trees slowing the decent, but the trail was in such good shape after all the rains that is was so worth it.

I took a few pictures and a self-shot video riding off a small drop. I only saw two other bikers coming down as I was headed back up. They said I was taking the easy way… I was battling a slow leak in the rear tire; the low pressure helped me on the technical climbs but slowed me on everything else.

The Highline is now one of my favorites. Next time I think I’ll shuttle from the 291 to See Canyon. I’ve climbed this trail enough. It owes me a shuttle or two.


Gorp – Highline Trail Info

USDA Forest Service – Highline Trail Guide

Forest Service Map of Highline (PDF)

MTBR Trail Review: Highline 260

One thought on “Highline Trail: The 260 Trailhead, Payson

Comments are closed.