Prescott is situated on the edge of a wide expanse of high plains with the pine forests of Prescott National Forest at its back. Within the national forest are lakes, campgrounds, and many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. My favorite hiking and biking areas in the national forest are Thumb Butte (west of town) and the Granite Mountain Wilderness (northwest of town).
Thumb Butte, a rocky outcropping that towers over the forest just west of town, is Prescott's most easily recognizable natural landmark. A 1.2-mile trail leads nearly to the top of this butte, and from the saddle near the summit, there's a panoramic vista of the entire region. The trail is very steep but paved much of the way. The summit of the butte is a popular rock-climbing spot. An alternative return trail makes a loop hike possible. To reach the trail head, drive west out of town on Gurley Street, which becomes Thumb Butte Road. Follow the road until you see the National Forest signs, after which there's a parking lot, picnic area, and trail head. The parking fee is $5.
The Granite Basin Recreation Area provides access to the Granite Mountain Wilderness. Trails lead beneath the cliffs of Granite Mountain, where you might spot peregrine falcons. For the best views, hike 1.5 miles to Blair Pass and then on up the Granite Mountain trail as far as you feel like going. To reach this area, take Gurley Street west from downtown, turn right on Grove Avenue, and follow it around to Iron Springs Road, which will take you northwest out of town to the signed road for the Granite Basin Recreation Area (less than 8 miles from downtown). There is a $5 parking fee here.
Both of the above areas also offer mountain biking trails. Although the scenery isn't as spectacular as in the Sedona area, the trails are great. You can rent a bike and get maps and specific trail recommendations at Ironclad Bicycles, 710 White Spar Rd. (tel. 928/776-1755; www.ironcladbicycles.com), which charges $24 to $48 per day for mountain bikes.
For maps and information on these and other hikes and bike rides in the area, stop by the Bradshaw Ranger Station, 344 S. Cortez St. (tel. 928/443-8000; www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott).
North of town 5 miles on Ariz. 89 is an unusual and scenic area known as the Granite Dells. Jumbled hills of rounded granite suddenly jut from the landscape, creating a maze of huge boulders and smooth rock. In the middle of this dramatic landscape lies Watson Lake, the waters of which push their way in among the boulders to create one of the prettiest lakes in the state. On the highway side of the lake, you'll find Watson Lake Park, 3101 Watson Lake Rd. (tel. 928/777-1122; www.cityofprescott.net/services/parks), which has picnic tables and great views. Spring through fall (weather permitting), you can rent canoes and kayaks ($15-$20 for the first hour and $10-$15 per hour after that) at the lake Friday through Sunday from 8am to 4pm. Reservations aren't accepted, but you can call Prescott Outdoors (tel. 928/925-1410; www.prescottoutdoors.com) to make sure they'll be at the lake with their boats. There's a $2 parking fee in the park.
For hiking in the Watson Lake area, I recommend heading to the scenic Peavine Trail, which is one of the most gratifying easy hikes in the state. To find the trail head, turn east onto Prescott Lake Parkway, which is between Prescott and the Granite Dells, and then turn left onto Sun Dog Ranch Road. This rails-to-trails path extends for several miles through the middle of the Granite Dells and is the best way to fully appreciate the Dells (you'll be away from both people and the highway). Although this is a fascinating, easy hike, it also makes a great, equally easy, mountain bike ride that can be extended 7.5 miles on the Iron King Trail. Also accessible from this same trail head is the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, which has some short trails through the wetlands and riparian zone along Granite Creek. There's a $2 parking fee at the trail head.
A couple of miles west of Watson Lake you can hike in Willow Lake Park, 1497 Heritage Park Rd. (tel. 928/777-1122; www.cityofprescott.net/services/parks). Parking areas on Willow Creek Road provide access to several miles of trails that lead through grasslands and groves of huge cottonwood trees adjacent to Willow Lake. The trails eventually lead to the edge of the Granite Dells. There's great bird-watching in the trees in this park, and there are even great blue heron and cormorant rookeries. The trail head on Heritage Park Road provides access to the Willow Dells Trails network. These trails meander through the jumbled boulders of the Granite Dells and are some of the most fascinating trails in the state. There's a $2 parking fee at park trail heads.
If you want to explore the area on horseback, try Granite Mountain Stables, 2400 Shane Dr. (tel. 928/771-9551; www.granitemountainstables.com), which offers guided trail rides in the Prescott National Forest. A 1-hour ride is $35.
Reasonably priced golf is available at the 36-hole Antelope Hills Golf Course, 1 Perkins Dr. (tel. 800/972-6818 or 928/777-1888; www.antelopehillsgolf.com). Greens fees range from $30 to $45.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.