May 2022
Hiking Yavapai
by
Stan Bindell

Watson Lake Loop

Watson Lake Loop Trail, which might be called the below-and-above-the-dam trail, is one of the more popular in the Prescott area.

This easy five-mile hike goes up and down some steep, rocky terrain as you scamper over the Granite Dells boulders, with white dots to show you the way. Hikers get to marvel about the rock formations, sometimes as they climb up on them.

The birds and the wildlife add to the allure of this trail. We were treated to an eagle sighting, along with an egret, herons and ducks. Deer and javelina are not uncommon on these trails.

Those who live here may take the spectacular Granite Dells for granted because we can see it every day. Lin Chao, one of the hikers on this day, said Watson Lake is her favorite lake in the state. That’s saying something considering she is president of the Arizona Trailblazers and hikes throughout the state.

I took this hike with the North Mountain Visitors Center hiking group out of Phoenix. Many among them had hiked this before, and loved coming back.

This trail includes parts of four other trails that all have access points to the Watson Lake Loop Trail, but the most common starting point is the North Shore Trail, not far from the park entrance. There is a $3 parking 

fee, offset by plenty of bathrooms and ramadas to relax or eat lunch in.

The elevation change is minimal, starting at 5,075 feet and topping out at 5,237,  though that can be deceptive because there are several small ups and downs.

Starting from the North Shore you quickly view the boulders, including Balancing Rock, where many practice their bouldering skills. In about a half mile you’ll come to a small overlook, and you can see the top of the dam, built in 1900, when the Chino Valley Irrigation District formed.

Soon after you begin the descent. Once you get to the bottom you’re looking up at the dam, among some wonderful streams with cattails and a nice riparian area. A small footbridge helps you get across. A side trail leads from the bridge to just under the dam. Sometimes a lot of water will be gushing from the dam’s spillpipe, but on this trip in late March it was just a small waterfall.

We went downstream just a bit before taking a prolonged snack break, then began the ascent. The Over the Hill Trail takes you back to the Dells, passing spectacular trails along the way.  One side trail leads down to Secret Cove for those who want to add just a little more mileage. You can see Granite Mountain in the distance.

Lakeshore Trail, Peavine Trail, Discovery Trail and Watson Lake Trail all come together to help the hiker complete this loop.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com