When you get out of your car in the towering ponderosa pine forests surrounding the town of Pinetop-Lakeside, Ariz., you’ll feel much farther away from the desert than the few hours you just drove. At 7,000 feet in elevation, this mountainous escape feels light years away.
Take a deep breath.
“It’s so quiet, but the trees make so many sounds in the wind,” says tourism marketing coordinator Annie DeRosier. “There’s just a freshness up here, and the trees give off a really special scent.”
The forest blends with civilization in Pinetop-Lakeside, making it easy to slow down and really enjoy nature. Rent a cabin at Lake of the Woods Resort at 2244 W. White Mountain Blvd., and you’ll be sleeping under the trees, next to a private lake where you can canoe or kayak. You’ll be able to easily access both the town’s incredible trail system and dining and shopping even though you feel tucked away.
Start your day at Cycleogical Coffee at 850 E White Mountain Blvd., where you’ll find great coffee, a cute backyard patio and breakfast burritos and sandwiches to fuel up. This bike-themed shop also sells gear like jerseys.
Set out on the Blue Ridge Trail, a 9.1-mile loop right in town that winds along a creek. You’ll be hiking or biking through the forest and get an incredible sense of solitude, even though you’re minutes from town and still have cell service—the best of both worlds. Wander just a section or the entire loop. If you’re on a bike, you can join miles of other trails from here. The possibilities are endless.
Not traveling with your mountain bike? Rent from Pinetop Bike Shop at 857 E White Mountain Blvd., where the staff can give you all the information about the best rides while you sip a cup of coffee from the coffee bar.
If you’re looking to get a bit farther out of town, drive 40 minutes east to the Mt. Baldy Trail. This long hike is 15 miles roundtrip and is stunning in the fall when the aspens begin to change. You’ll climb to Arizona’s second highest point and get incredible views. The actual summit is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation and only open to tribal members. The hike will bring you to the same elevation, but please respect the reservation closure.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe also runs one of only two tribally-owned ski lodges in the United States, located 40 minutes from town. Sunrise Park Resort is an incredible recreation area whether you’re visiting in the winter to hit the slopes, or the summer to mountain bike or take advantage of the resort’s other adventure activities from a climbing wall to a zipline. Special events include archery tournaments, rodeos and concerts.
With a name like Pinetop-Lakeside, it’s no wonder that this region has a shocking number of lakes for Arizona. Enjoy a stroll around the one-mile, paved, ADA-accessible Woodland Lake or rent a stand-up paddleboard from M&M Kayaks at 1488 E White Mountain Blvd., to take a serene paddle.
For a really unique lakeside experience, visit June 24-26, 2022, for the 5th annual White Mountains Balloon Festival. Post up on the shores of Rainbow Lake in the early morning to see 20-plus hot air balloons do a splash and dash over the lake. The rest of the weekend is filled with concerts, food and retail vendors and an incredible evening balloon glow where the hot air balloons are inflated and lit, choreographed to music on the ground.
For a perfect end to your day, head to Wine MountainsTasting Room & Wine Bar at 1746 E White Mountain Blvd. to enjoy a glass of Arizona-produced wine and tapas like flatbreads and charcuterie.
Learn more at www.visitpinetoplakeside.com or stop into the Visitor Center at 325 W White Mountain Blvd.