Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Directions: Woods Canyon Lake Trail is a 3.7-mile trail in the Sitgreaves National Forest. You can reach Woods Canyon Lake Trail via AZ-87 N (Beeline Highway) to Payson. Turn right on AZ-260 east until Rim Road (Forest Road 300). Travel on FR300 for 3.3 miles, turn right on Woods Canyon Road, driving 1.6-miles to the parking area. You can start the loop trail with an elevation gain of 154-feet from the parking lot or in the day-use area.
The trail is not accessible between November 1st through May 1st because the Woods Canyon Lake park is closed.
About the Hike: Keep your eyes open for the herd of Heber wild horses. I was lucky enough to catch them on my way to the hike. The best hiking time is sunrise when the animals are active.
I started doing this hike in 2007, loving it as much today as the first time I hiked it. The trailhead is easy to find from the parking lot directly in front of the country store. The trail is to the right when facing the lake.
The first part of the trail is heavily shaded with ponderosa pines growing along the lake's edge. There are lots of family activities, picnicking and trout fishing.
Early one morning, a muskrat was on the trail running straight at me, looking for an early morning treat.
The forest is alive, with beautiful blue jays feeding on pine cones.
The area opens up to flat rocks that are equally popular with kids and dogs because of the easy access to the water's edge. From here you will continue across the dam. In mid-August beautiful yellow flowers (Broom Groundsel) is sprouting along the waters edge.
After crossing the dam you are on the upper plateau above the lake. The trail is shaded with ponderosa pines; a nice view of the lake is on the right side.
Aspen leaves begin to change colors for a spectacular show starting in late September through early October.
As you progress onward, there is a burn area from a 2015 forest fire. My friend Carol and I were hiking one late afternoon when we came across a hot-shot crew fighting a fire. They ordered us to turn around, but first, we watched them fight the fire. It left me with a genuine appreciation of their dedication to keeping our forest safe for future generations.
Mother Nature's cycle of life flows seamlessly as a butterfly pollinates
Life --> Death --> Rebirth --> Regeneration
Continuing on a mile, the hike opens into a meadow along the water's edge. This was a favorite spot for my boxer's Bella and Rocky. They both loved to jump in for a drink and to cool off. In the summer, the butterflies flutter among the ferns and water lilies.
This area is also a favorite spot for elk to graze.
You ascent upward into the forest canopy running along the moss covered bluffs.
Take your time to closely survey your surroundings to uncover hidden gems begging to be discovered under rocks and trees. I found this hidden wild mushroom gem in August.
Light filtering through the trees further up the trail creating the perfect growing conditions for wild columbine and other wild flowers.
In another half mile is the Woods Canyon Lake day-use picnic area. Stay on the road until you come to a place with large rocks. Wind your way through the rocks towards the water edge. Hike up the ravine to the country store for a snack and refreshing drink.
Eating among the rocks was a young juvenile elk. The children fishing and picnicking with their parents were so excited.