August 5, 2014

Woods Canyon Lake Loop

There has been a noticeable lapse in hiking over here at Our Hiking Mystery so I must confess to the reason. You see, hiking was foremost a way for the authors to cool off from the desert and the concrete jungle, and then last year, the authors put in a POOL and began to spend more time at home! However, although the pool was put underneath a 35 foot Mesquite tree, there is still an absence of TREES in the life of the Our Hiking Mystery bloggers. Therefore, a pact has been made to get back to hiking. There is something very invigorating about the solitude and time to commune with nature while getting some exercise.  Hiking is the best.

The best way to do this hike is to plan six months in advance, get a waterfront campsite at Spillway Campground, and then march down the 100 yards to the spillway dam and begin your counter-clockwise,  5-mile loop of the lake. This hike is extremely easy to follow since there are blue plastic diamonds nailed to the trees leading you around the lake. If you haven't scored a campsite, the hike can also be started from the marina parking lot or the day use Rocky Point trailhead parking lot. The lake is only a little more than a two hour drive from metro Phoenix so a day hike is certainly doable.

This is a fabulous summer hike to do if you are yearning for some green scenery. Woods Canyon Lake, at 7,500 feet elevation, is so heavily forested that it is reminiscent of an Ewok Village with the heavy tree cover. The whole area along the Mogollon Rim has the most densely packed area of Ponderosa Pines in all of the United States. After summer thunderstorms, as we have just had, the slopes along the lake are also covered in a green carpet of grass, and the ferns, skunk cabbage, and lichens are all moist and greener than usual.

Woods Canyon Lake, even midweek, is a busy place during the summer. There is a very strong fishing culture here so I didn't find it to be the best place to kayak for wildlife viewing. Kayaking was tiresome trying to avoid people’s fishing lines. There are some cool narrow arms to explore though. However, hiking was the opposite – none of the fishermen seemed to have any interest in hiking so the gorgeous perimeter trail was nearly empty on a Tuesday in August.

Along my hike, I saw chipmunks, squirrels, Steller’s Jays, Herons, a turtle, and a snake. The trail on the north side of the lake takes you past some typical rugged Mogollon Rim rock formations and past the site of a recent forest fire.

With the dense forest, it’s really easy to see why this area is so vulnerable to wildfire. There are a few steep areas on this northwest portion of the trail with some loose rock so be careful hiking through here.

The steep area leads out to two arms of the lake with a little creek crossing and some lush meadows and wildflowers. This is the most beautiful section of the trail.

From here, you will go uphill again, and if you are hiking during spring and summer, you will be re-routed away from the lake a bit on this southern portion because of bald eagle nesting sites. It gets a little confusing through here, but just keep looking for the blue diamonds on the trees and know that you might be going OVER some fallen trees that are blocking the trail. From here, you will come down to the Rocky Point trailhead (if you started there), or, following the road, to the marina, or back to the campground. This southern side has all of the activity and people. The other side is the place to be if you want solitude. I can't imagine coming here to this beautiful lake without going all the way around it, and seeing the whole thing along this fantastic loop hike.

Length: 5.5 miles (with the slight spring and summer re-route)
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Time it took us: 2.5 hours
Dogs: Yes
Fees: $5 day use fee or included in camping fee
Directions: From metro Phoenix take Highway 87, the Beeline Highway, to Payson. Then go east on Highway 260 towards Heber, approximately 30 miles, and turn north (left) on Forest Road 300 which is just past milepost 282, across from the Rim Visitor Center, and follow the signage to Woods Canyon Lake. 

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