Highline Trail Restoration Initiative

The Highline Trail traverses more than 50 scenic miles of open vistas through brushy hills of Manzanita and stands of Ponderosa Pine just below the Mogollon Rim, a steep escarpment defining the southwestern ridge of the Colorado Plateau. The historic route was cut in the late 1800s and was believed to be used as a travel corridor to connect homesteads and communities around the towns of Payson and Pine, now just a 60-minute drive from the Phoenix metro area.

The 51-mile route began to lose its day-to-day use value when the Civilian Conservation Corps built Forest Road 64 in the 1930s. This posh-by-comparison road provided an alternative to the precariously situated dirt trail traversing fall lines and drainages. No longer needed to run cattle and wagons, the trail was repurposed into a sporting destination and designated as the Highline National Recreation Trail in 1978, also sharing 17 miles with the Arizona National Scenic Trail.

National Recreation Trail designation is an honor given to existing trails that connect people to local resources and improve their quality of life. The Highline Trail is now an iconic destination spot, cool in the summer heat, and a busy recreation spot year-round.

Because of its idyllic contouring along the Mogollon Rim, it travels through every single canyon or drainage that comes off the Rim, of which there are many. In many cases, these crossings occur on the fall line of steep slopes, creating erosion and ruts where several major re-routes are required to create a more sustainable tread. Several fires in recent years have caused further damage to the trails, and many sections of trail need heavy maintenance. The Tonto National Forest and the NFF are collaborating on the Highline Trail Improvement Project to address these needs and ensure the Highline Trail continues to provide a high-value, sustainable recreation opportunity for hikers, bikers and equestrian users. The goals of this project are to:

  • Provide a single-lane, non-motorized trail that can accommodate moderate to heavy use for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders with intermediate skill level and experience,
  • Slow and prevent erosion,
  • Improve watershed health and water quality in the Salt River system,
  • Increase user safety, and
  • Reduce deferred maintenance and long-term maintenance requirements.

Because of the maintenance and trail sustainability needs, the Tonto National Forest nominated the Highline Trail Renovation Project for the Summer of Trails funding program through the National Forest Foundation. At the same time, many partners have been working together to evaluate the proposed trail maintenance, rerouting and rehabilitation along the entire 50 plus miles. The NFF is working with the Forest and partners on Phase 1 – from Washington Park to Pine Trailheads - to secure funding, to generate excitement, and to get more people outside!

Continuing to connect people to the local resources and including quality interpretation will play a big part in future generations learning to care for and respect their public lands.

How can you help?

Photos by Arizona Trail Association, Flagstaff Trails LLC, and Cassandra and Matthew Roberts


Rebecca Davidson, Southwestern Regional Director and Youth Programs Director, at 720.749.9008 or rdavidson@nationalforests.org