The Knoll Trail is a beautiful 1.9-mile trail with an approximate 50ft elevation gain running North/South along the base of the Rainbow Mountains between Pine Creek Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon. It’s the Southernmost of 4 trails that run along the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains in Red Rock Canyon. From North to South these are:
Taken together, these trails offer the experience of hiking all the way along the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains between the Willow Spring area and Mt. Wilson. It’s an amazing experience of both Red Rock Canyon and the Rainbow Mountains that border the West side of the Canyon. Incidentally, you can also hike far above South/North along the Upper Crest Ridgeline of the Rainbow Mountains. Both routes put you in another world, but the lower baseline route is a good place the start vs. the far longer and more challenging Upper Crest Ridgeline.
Take the Highway 159/Red Rock Canyon exit off I-215. Take a right onto the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop. Circle the scenic loop past the high viewpoint, Willow Spring Turnoff and Ice Box Canyon Trailhead. Park at the Pine Creek Trailhead. The Knoll Trail is a left turn about 1/2th mile into the Pine Creek Canyon Trail.
Alternately, the Knoll Trail is a right turn about 1/2th mile into the Oak Creek Trail whose trailhead is just one parking area beyond the Pine Creek Trailhead.
Knoll Trail Northern Stretch Adventure Video by 4/14/2023; Southern Stretch a Few Weeks Thereafter
I’ve divided The Knoll Trail into a Southern and Northern stretch. The shortest, most popular stretch between Oak Creek Canyon and Juniper Canyon is The Arnight Trail, which bypasses the Southern portion of The Knoll Trail. The Arnight Trail connects with the Northern portion of The Knoll Trail in the Juniper Canyon area, where The Knoll Trail then continues Northward into Pine Creek Canyon.
On the other hand, people only traverse the Southern portion of The Knoll Trail if they want to specifically experience that stretch. Otherwise, it’s out of your way if you’re heading for Rainbow Mountain or Juniper Peak. However, to its credit, the Southern stretch of The Knoll Trail is closer to the base of The Rainbow Mountains and so offers that unique experience.
From The upper (West) end of the Oak Creek Canyon Trailhead, take The Oak Creek Canyon Trail West toward Oak Creek Canyon. In about a half-mile, turn right (North) onto The Knoll Trail.
The Southern stretch of The Knoll Trail is an “orphan trail”. This refers to the fact that it is out there in isolation. Its starting point off The Oak Creek Canyon Trail is not a “trailhead hub” like so many other trailheads. There is no parking at the trailhead. And all the potential destinations along the way (Rainbow Mountain and Juniper Peak climbing destinations) can be reached more directly by other trails.
This is basically to say that the only reason you’d be on the Southern stretch of The Knoll Trail is that you specifically want to be on that stretch of trail for its own sake. If fact, while traversing that stretch I did come across a couple regular “South stretch” hikers who were shocked to see someone else on the trail!
However, the very isolation of this stretch of The Knoll Trail is a benefit. There is a rugged beauty and solitude to the Southern stretch of The Knoll Trail. And, the spectacular views are non-stop all along the way. Red Rock Canyon and its surroundings are in view from Blue Diamond Hill to the South to the La Madre Mountains cliffs to the North. To the East there are The Calico Hills, Turtlehead Peak and Damsel Peak. And, you’re skirting the impressive towering Eastern cliffs of Rainbow Mountain.
In addition, there are unique views of Mt. Wilson and its Eastern and Northern rock climbing destinations. At one point you can almost see all the way up Oak Creak Canyon to where it rises up to meet The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline. There are unique views of the Southern and Eastern cliffs of Rainbow Mountain. And, there are beautiful and very unique views of the Southern cliffs of Juniper Peak along with the entire summit approach.
And all these spectacular views are yours in complete blessed solitude while you’re traversing a stretch of trail feeling as if you’ve stumbled upon a hidden, secret trail.
There are isolated trails that come with concerns about what to do if you get lost or injured. You are not likely to experience those concerns on the Southern stretch of The Knoll Trail. All along the way you can see trailheads on either end, along with the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive only a mile or so to the East. So, this is solitude with safety. And the route is always clear with nice trail markers along the way. Being closer to the base of The Rainbow Mountains than many other trails, it gets rocky in places and you need to be aware of the possibility of turning an ankle on the stones in the trail. But that’s not a major issue…just watch your footing as you’re enjoying the spectacular views.
Eventually you’ll reach The Arnight Trail intersection in Juniper Canyon. Here you have a choice: You could continue onto the Northern stretch of The Knoll Trail into Pine Creek Canyon and on North along the other Rainbow Mountains Eastern Baseline Trails eventually ending in Willow Spring. Alternately, you could head up to The Eastern Cliffs of Rainbow Mountain on a good rock climber’s approach trail or head up Juniper Canyon, experience that wild canyon and possibly summit Juniper Peak.
The Northern stretch of The Knoll Trail begins at its intersection with The Arnight Trail in the Juniper Canyon Area. Start by heading North on The Knoll Trail across Juniper Canyon, then along the base of Juniper Peak toward Pine Creek Canyon.
You’ll see a large pointy reference boulder not far up Juniper Canyon to the left of The Knoll Trail. The reason I point this out is that there is a fainter trail that runs parallel to The Knoll Trail and above it along the very base of Juniper Peak before it reconnects with The Knoll Trail at the edge of Pine Creek Canyon.
Both the lower and higher version of The Knoll Trail (the lower version is the main trail) are fairly easy class 2 trails that feature spectacular views of Red Rock Canyon and its surroundings. In addition, you’ll experience a close-up view of the Eastern base of Juniper Peak.
As you reach the Northern edge of Juniper Peak’s base, the 2 parallel trails will meet up at the upper Southern edge of Pine Creek Canyon. This is one of the best viewpoints of Pine Creek Canyon, looking to the canyon opening at the base of the Rainbow Mountains with the impressive Mescalito Pyramid formation dividing the canyon into Southern and Northern branches. Across Pine Creek Canyon there are the towering cliffs at the Southern base of Bridge Mountain. Both Mescalito Pyramid and the Bridge Mountain base cliffs are world-class rock-climbing destinations. Looking carefully along the base of Bridge Mountain beyond Pine Creek Canyon, you might notice a line of red rock bluffs. This is a premier bouldering destination.
As you look down into Pine Creek Canyon, notice the lush strip of pine forest lining the canyon floor nearly all the way down to The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of a number of reference points in Pine Creek Canyon:
So, take a moment to look around and view the scenery before descending on The Knoll Trail into Pine Creek Canyon!
If you were to continue circling around the base of Juniper Peak, hugging the upper South edge of Pine Creek Canyon there, you could descend into the Southern branch of Pine Creek Canyon and ascend come of the side canyons along the base of Juniper Peak there. But that’s another future adventure — waterproof footwear recommended!
If you’re interested in observing rock climbers scaling the vertical cliffs of Mescalito Pyramid and the base of Bridge Mountain, there’s a good rock climber’s approach trail that branches off the upper end of The Pine Creek Canyon Loop Trail and heads up the Northern edge of Pine Creek Canyon’s North branch.
Upon descending into Pine Creek Canyon, take a right onto The Pine Creek Canyon Loop Trail. After passing through a marshy area, that trail will lead to the intersection with The Pine Creek Canyon Trail and the Northern trailhead of The Knoll Trail. Take a right onto the Pine Creek Canyon trail and shortly you’ll reach the Wilson’s 1920’s homestead foundation. Look around and imagine the spectacular view they would have seen from their front door and the windows in their home! Then, continue on The Pine Creek Trail to its intersection with the Southern Trailhead for Dales Trail.