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.