On the Government Trail in Escudilla Wilderness
All 5,200 acres of the Escudilla Wilderness are immediately around the upper reaches of Escudilla Mountain, at 10,912' the third highest mountain in Arizona. Escudilla Wilderness was designated in 1984 and is the third smallest wilderness area in America. The last known grizzly bear in Arizona was killed here and Aldo Leopold wrote: "Somehow it seems that the spirit of the bear is still there, prowling the huge meadows, lurking in the thick stands of aspen and spruce, wandering the steep slopes that looking down from is like looking out of the window of an airplane." Escudilla Wilderness is now a primary resource for the reintroduction of the endangered Mexican wolf and wolves may be seen in the area. Escudilla is also being considered as a place to reintroduce grizzlies...
There are two main trails that access Escudilla Wilderness and the summit of Escudilla Mountain: the well-maintained, 3-mile-long Escudilla National Recreation Trail and the Government Trail. Hikers seem to prefer the Government Trail but, of course, the National Forest Service discourages its use. You won't find any water here but the views reach all the way to Flagstaff, about 100 miles away.
To get to Escudilla Wilderness: find Forest Road 56 on the east side of US 180/191 (20.5 miles south of Springerville and 5.5 miles north of Alpine). The road is well-signed and a couple of potential turn-offs along the way are gated. 2.6 miles in from US 180/191 you'll see a sign for a Wildlife Habitat Area with a nearby plastic blue diamond on a pine tree. This is the parking area and trailhead for the Government Trail. Go another 2.1 miles east to a signed fork in the road: right is the Terry Flat Loop, but go left 0.3 miles to the signed parking area and trailhead for the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.
Because of the small size of Escudilla Wilderness (and the lack of water), camping in the wilderness is discouraged. But you can camp-at-large nearby on the Terry Flat Loop, which continues on past the National Recreation traihead. Normal visiting season at Escudilla Wilderness is May to October, but some folks have been known to climb the mountain and ski back down...
There is a fire lookout tower below the summit that is usually occupied in the summer months. The view from the top is spectacular but you need to ask permission before ascending. And don't climb the metal tower in the rain.
On the Escudilla National Recreation Trail in Escudilla Wilderness
Escudilla Wilderness location map