Photo by Cindy Barks.
Tale of the Trail
Length: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy in places, highly technical in others
Prominent features: White dot trails through massive granite outcroppings; sweeping views of Willow Lake; flat grasslands and stands of cottonwood trees.
Why it’s great right now: With this fall’s relatively low water levels in Willow Lake, the entire loop trail is accessible for the first time months.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Daily Courier “Trails of the Month.”
It’s urban, yet secluded. Leafy and shady, yet rocky and scenic.
While the Willow Lake Loop trail is sometimes overshadowed by the showier Watson Lake trail system nearby, its 5.7 miles are arguably more varied, more accessible, and just as picturesque.
In fact, the Arizona State Committee on Trails (ASCOT) recently designated the Willow Lake Loop as one of its first “Premier Trails” in the state.
“This trail is so close to town, yet seems so far away!” states the listing on the Arizona State Parks Departments website.
It adds: “The Willow Lake Loop Trail is a nearly six-mile adventure that can create a feeling of solitude for users as they become absorbed in the seemingly remote area beauty.”
The Willow Lake Trails is one of nine trails that ASCOT designated since the inception of the “Premier Trails” program earlier in 2017.
Others on the list include: Kartcchner Caverns Trail System near Benson; the Hotshots Journey Trail in Yarnell; the White Mountains Trail System in Pinetop-Lakeside; and the Red Rock State Park Trail System in Sedona. (A complete listing is available at: https://azstateparks.com/recently-accepted-trails).
Chris Hosking, the City of Prescott’s Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator, notes that the city chose to nominate the Willow Lake Loop for a number of reasons.
“Because it’s a loop, and it has a ton of variety —riparian areas, grasslands, the Dells,” Hosking said of the trail’s main attributes.
In addition, Hosking pointed to the Willow Lake Loop Trail’s variety of access points. Users can jump on the trail from: a parking lot along Willow Lake Road, at the Willow Creek Dog Park (both free), and from the Willow Lake boat ramp (a $3 parking fee) near the Heritage Park Zoo.
Plenty of users have taken note. Hosking said a total of 86,000 have been recorded at the various trailheads (58,000 at the dog park; 16,000 on Willow Lake Road; and 12,000 from the zoo area).
Because of the loop’s variety of trailheads, “It’s a little more urban,” Hosking said. “It gets a lot of people walking dogs, working out, and using the trail from Embry Riddle.”
While many users choose to hike or bike the loop in sections, Hosking points out that the entire loop is accessible for the first time in about eight months. The East Bay Trail, which was submerged by lake waters throughout much of 2017, is open once again.
The reedy path skirts the southeast section of the lake along Willow Lake Road, leading to a stunning stretch of the Granite Dells where a series of white dots lead users over and through the rocky terrain, and toward the Willow Lake Dam.
For those hikers who do choose to tackle the entire loop, Hosking suggests allowing three and a half to four hours.
For cyclists, Hosking cautions that while some stretches of the loop are “very easy,” other sections — especially through the Dells on sections such as the Red Bridge Loop — are “very technical.”
Along with the loop, the trail offers a number of side jaunts that lead to stunning views of the Dells and the lake.
Hosking points out that the system features numerous signs with maps, but he noted, “It relies a little bit on people reading the maps.” For those who want to follow the loop around the lake and avoid the side trails, Hosking suggests choosing the routes closest to the lake.
Among the highlights of the trail, according to Hosking, are: the high vantage points overlooking the lake on the east side; the riparian area below the dam; and the canyons and ridges of the Red Bridge area.
More information is available on the city’s website at: http://www.prescott-az.gov/services/parks/trails/?id=38.