Thompson Trail A Proper Function that exposes the realities of living inside a dream. Discover the West Fork of the Black River!

The Proper Function

A River Runs Along It

Thompson Trail #629, named after the Thompson Ranch, was built in a combined effort with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, US Forrest Service, a grant from The Heritage Fund along with numerous volunteers. As you travel down FR 116, approximately 200 yards before the trailhead, you will see the foundation and fencing lying in the lush meadows and this is what is left of the old Thompson Cattle Ranch.

The trail begins atop an old railroad grade, a reminder of the very successful logging days that went on many years ago. The railroad, which ran from Maverick (ghost town) to Holbrook, was owned by Southwest Lumber Mills. When the land lease with the Apache Reservation became null, Maverick was essentially abandoned. From 1964 to 1976, the White Mountain Scenic Railroad operated passenger excursions from Cooley (now McNary) to Snowflake and Holbrook. As track conditions deteriorated, the excursions were cutback and finally ceased operation. With the use of a grant and money from ADOT, the railroad grade continues today as part of a large trail system for outdoor enthusiasts.



Is That Huck Finn?

Thompson Trail never strays from the West Fork of the Black River and provides a gateway into tranquility. The landscape is aligned with tall Douglas Fir, Wallow and white Aspen with sheets of tall grass waving in the wind. Purple and yellow asters, ferns, clovers and wild raspberries dot the area like freckles. In this moment, an Osprey glides overhead with a fish in its talons. If you’re seeking ambience and solitude  you’ve come to the right place.

“A good river is nature’s life work in song.

– Mark Helprin

As mentioned, the trailhead begins atop the old railroad grade, across from the valley where the remains of Thompson Ranch lie. As you continue down the trail, you will notice two large rock barriers (known as gabions), with the first barrier appearing at 0.4 miles. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1969, these barriers were installed to keep non-native fish from entering the stream and its tributaries. With the Apache Trout as being one of only two trout native to Arizona, the other being the Gila trout, it almost faced extinction in the mid-1950s. Early conservation work however was a success and the Apache Trout was downlisted in 1975 on the endangered list. This species is still considered threatened until 30 self-sustaining populations have been established in the area.



At this juncture, you may continue along the railroad grade or a footpath veers downward through an old gate on your left. If you wish to stay high for scenic views then course the old railroad grade, but if you want to hike the edge of the babbling mountain stream then take the departing footpath. Hiking the river trail can sometimes be tricky due to the rise and fall of the water, but stick with the flow of the river and you won’t be led astray.

The trail will continue into an open field with waist-high grass, asters, ferns and tall trees. If the water level is high it can get boggy in the meadow and you can expect to get your feet wet. The trail will continue for another 3 miles and will eventually meet up with the West Fork Trail #628 located on the east side of the river. Deadman crossing is the perfect place to have lunch should decide to turn around and head back up-river completing a 6.5 mile round trip hike.




Adventure calls on all the faculties of mind and spirit. It develops self-reliance and independence. Life then teems with excitement.” – William Douglas

Fly Fishing The Black River

The West Fork of the Black River is one of the few streams designated catch and release. As discussed above, it is full of native Apache Brown Trout and is never stocked. This is the perfect destination for the small stream angler who enjoys ambiance and solitude. Water levels can vary depending upon the time of year, but the pressure here is significantly less when compared to that of the East Fork.

  1. Rod: 3 to 5 weight, 7-1/2′ to 9′ with floating line
  2. Leaders: 5X, 7-1/2′
  3. Hip or Lightweight Waders.
  4. Flies: Hopper/Dropper. Nymphs: Flashback Pheasant Tail, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Stonefly
  5. Season: Spring and Fall is the best. Summer waters warm and low.

If you want to backpack and fish you can find camping areas along the trail at mile 1, 2 and 2.5 miles. I like camping at Deadman’s crossing, but other accommodations include Big Lake or Winn campgrounds. The closest town to rent an motel room or cabin is Greer.



Function Details

From Greer follow Rt. 373 to Rt. 260. Turn right toward Eagar and follow this road until you reach Rt. 261. Turn right and follow this road toward Big Lake until you reach 273. Turn left and follow this road until it turns into FR 249. Continue on this road to FR 249E (which circles Big Lake). Turn right and travel this road until you reach FR 116. Turn left and the kiosk and parking are located on the right side of FR 116. The trail begins on the south side of FR 116.

This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
State, RegionArizona,Northeast
Coordinates33.904084°, -109.495401°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
Time3.5 Hours RT