The Mountains of Arizona •
Bishop Knoll • Mogollon Rim Foothills
• Tonto National Forest
• Gila County

Bishop Knoll, Arizona
Bishop Knoll as seen from the start of the hike.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
Closer in, about half way.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
Now on the "straightaway", coming in on the long ridge from the northeast.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
The knoll in all its glory.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
Summit cairn, old flagpole, and the Table Top ridge & cliffs.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
North view, Gibson Peak, and the Mogollon Rim way back there.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
East view, Sierra Ancha and Hellsgate Wilds.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
Southwest view, Mount Ord centered, Mazatzal Mountains to the right.
Bishop Knoll, Arizona
View of the Table Top cliffs as I exit.

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Date: March 28, 2020 • Elevation: 4,838 feet • Prominence: 318 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes • Gain: 940 feet (total) • Conditions: Blue skies, clear, cold at start


Bishop Knoll is a pointy hilltop that lies amid the long ridges trending down from the highlands near Payson to the Tonto Basin below. When travelling northbound on the Beeline Highway (AZ-87), Bishop Knoll is visible just north of milepost 242, almost perfectly framed between two hills where the highway passes through a roadcut. The hill has a trapezoidal shape, with one edge a little higher than the other.

Yesterday, the weather had been active, with strong breezes, clouds, and segments of rain, sleet and snow, although nothing in abundance and none of it stuck, except for small patches of ice in places. Then today started sunny, calm and clear, like yesterday's weather never happened. However, it was still very cold, at freezing until the mid morning.

I couldn't resist the beautiful weather and wanted to get out for a hike, and to practice my own form of social distancing which is to go places where I am certain no other person would be. I chose to hike Bishop Knoll, since it was a little lower in elevation (and thus, a tad warmer). I threw some gear together and left home about 8:30 a.m..

The knoll is best reached by a forest track (Tonto Forest Road 548) that leaves northbound AZ-87 between mileposts 244 and 245. However, there is no way to access it from the southbound lanes, since the two directions are entirely split for about five miles. So I had to drive all the way down to the base of the hills to the little town of Rye, then catch the northbound lanes and go right back up the highway. At milepost 244, the northbound lanes run straight for about a half mile. Where the highway then starts a gentle leftward bend, FR-548 starts behind a small road cut, not visible unless you are looking for it. I had studied this on my drives up the highway so I knew what to look for.

I eased to the shoulder then stopped, walking up the road a little bit to see how far up I could drive and park. The road is in great shape, for about 120 feet. It comes to a gate, then after the gate the road is heavily eroded for about 20 feet. Above that is a perfect platform to stash a vehicle, but there was no way I could get my car up that eroded section. Instead, I backed in the 120 feet and carefully parked along the edge, on the off-chance someone else needed access to the gate. My car was hidden by a small tree, and invisible to motorists driving up the highway who would never think to glance to their right at that very moment. As a result, I was not concerned about leaving the car where it was.

I was ready to go in moments. The day was sunny and clear, and still cool here but not as chilly as in town. I eased through the first gate, walked up that bad section of road, then came to a second gate just a few yards later, and got past that. Both were those wire-stick crumple gates, flimsy when not tensioned and difficult to close, but I was able to brute them both closed.

I started walking on FR-548. It heads east, then bends north and then begins a generally northeasterly tack, but bending and weaving with the lay of the land. It would drop in elevation, then gain, then drop, and so on. The track was narrow and rocky, with some sections of mud. I made good time, in no great hurry.

After just under a mile, the road comes to a Y-junction. Heading right (southeast) is FR-590 and one possible way up the knoll. It would be short but would require almost 700 feet of steep uphill hiking to get to the top. Staying left (still FR-548), the road aims northeast for a saddle about a mile away. This would put me a mile northeast of the knoll's summit but would mean less gain once on the knoll. Furthermore, I wanted to hike FR-548 because it also looks like a good way to get up another peak of interest.

I continued hiking on FR-548. The road gained steeply, wiggled a little, bent a little northeast again, then dropped into a draw, losing about 30 feet. It gained again and surprise, came to another Y-junction, neither branch signed with those Forest road marker "sticks". The straight went uphill, the right went downhill. I guessed and went right. This proved to be correct. Here, the road deteriorates and for long stretches is the bottom of the drainage itself. Later, it ascends out of the drainage and then achieves the aforementioned saddle, elevation 4,500 feet.

That uphill-trending branch of the road was a surprise because it is not shown on the map. Later, I viewed the satellite images and it just goes uphill, then bends back down hill, just ending apparently in the brush. The roads by now were rocky narrow paths, but there was a single-track tire print in spots, looking a few weeks old (it was "blurred" by the recent weather). I don't see a vehicle getting up here unless it's a tricked-out Jeep, but a motorbike could get up, it appears.

At the saddle, I turned and now aimed back southwest, the knoll's summit visible behind a couple foreground rises. The grade here is so gentle I assumed that some rancher or miner would have dozed a path up here, and sure enough, there was one. It was weak and overgrown but definietly a path, which helped me move quickly as otherwise the brush was starting to close in. By now, I was below a small hill, elevation 4,700 feet, immediately in front of the knoll. I went up and over this hill, dropping about 80 feet to the saddle below Bishop Knoll. I had about 240 vertical feet to go.

This last portion would be steep. I trudged upward and found a few lanes in the brush and low grass. About half-way up, the grade steepened and the brush grew thick. I was forced to zig-zag, moving right and left just as often as going up. I grunted up the last 50 feet through grass and moderate mountain oak, coming upon the base of the summit rocks. I still had to get past a few bushes, but soon was on top the knoll.

The top is rocky, with bare cliffs facing east (I would not have seen these coming up). A flagpole is on the summit but whatever flag was once there is gone, just tattered remains left behind. There was no sign-in register, but someone had thoughtfully placed a small sheet of stainless steel, onto which past visitors had scratched in their names using nearby rocks. There was a group here in 2019. I signed in, as "Surgent '20". It was too laborious to get any more detailed than that.

The views up here are outstanding, on such a clear day. Above me were the small cliff bands of the Table Top Ridge, Gibson Peak and way in back, the Mogollon Rim. Looking east were the rockier hills and peaks toward the Hellsgate Wilderness and the Sierra Ancha. To the south was Mount Ord, the Mazatzal Mountains, and the communities of Gisela (along Tonto Creek) and Rye (along the highway). I spent nearly a half hour up top, enjoying the views and the solitude, not catching me any covid-19.

I hiked down the same way, taking the steep parts slowly. I was soon onto friendlier grades and then the tracks. Back at the saddle, I took time to eyeball routes heading up to the Table Top Ridge, and determined this would be a good way to get up there. (There is a shooting range from the other side, and I could hear muffled gunfire nearly the whole hike from that range).

The hike out to my car went fast and I was back a little before noon, the car still there in good shape. I took time to get changed and relax, then drove back to the highway. By now, it was fairly steady with traffic so I had to wait until I had a good opening, because I was going to have to merge immediately into the flow, while going uphill. I was home quickly, and spent the rest of the day running small errands and trying to be productive.

The name "Bishop Knoll" is named for a bishop who oversaw the towns of Rye and Gisela when both were being founded as little Mormon settlements. This is from Will Barnes, who is quoting a forest ranger from that era (early 1900s). There is a Bishop's Knoll gold mine somewhere in here, and a few prospects scattered about, which may also explain that one road mentioned earlier. Google searches don't come up with much else, other than maps that point to it or general (vague) information about mine diggings in the area.

(c) 2020 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.