Hiking the West Side Story Trail in Prescott National Forest

While its name might imply an homage to choreographed gang brawls, the West Side Story trail is likely named for its location west of Prescott’s historic Whiskey Row.

The 2.75-mile single-track route in Prescott National Forest anchors the far west end of a cluster of trails in Spence Basin.

Surrounded by wooded subdivisions and tucked between the popular Thumb Butte and Granite Basin recreation areas on the outskirts of town, the creek-carved basin is laced with paths that can be looped up or tied in with the city-circumnavigating Prescott Circle Trail that connects the area with the Granite Mountain and Thumb Butte trail systems.

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West Side Story rumbles (pun intended) through a hilly parcel where views are bookended at the beginning and end of the trail. Surrounding mountain vistas are swallowed up in the trail’s midsection by a rolling series of gullies, drainages and creek channels.

An alligator juniper on the West Side Story Trail in Prescott, AZ.

The first half-mile of the route heads west through sunny scrub and juniper stands before swinging south (go left) at an unsigned junction.

Here, the trail makes its first substantial dip, into the water-ravaged groove of Spence Creek. Populated with an odd mix of moisture-loving willows, canyon grape vines and desert cactus, the creekside environment soon morphs into a patchwork of pine-oak woodlands and high-desert grasslands.

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The endlessly undulating trail alternates between long flowing lines and tight bends that boomerang around drainages. All told, the furrowed trail chocks up over 800 feet of accumulated elevation change.

Granite Mountain (center right) seen from the high point of the West Side Story Trail in Prescott.

The pivotal scene happens on a high ridgeline with the best views of the hike. The shadeless platform reveals the jumbled mound of 7,295-foot Granite Mountain, the golden plains of Williamson Valley and the rock-ringed Willow Dells. Farther along, the isolated form of 6,440-foot Thumb Butte rises over green woodlands.

The trail ends at the junction with the Waterline, Russ T. Fender and Missing Link trails.  This makes for a good turnaround point. Otherwise, use the trail maps posted at most intersections to customize a loop or alternate return route.

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