Directions: Willow Springs Lake Trail is a 7.8-mile loop trail in the Sitgreaves National Forest. You can reach Willow Springs Lake Trail via AZ-87 N (Beeline Highway) to Payson. Turn right on AZ-260 east until Old Rim Road (Forest Road 287). Travel on FR287 for 1 mile, then park. You can start the trail in either direction. This trail has an elevation gain of 229 feet.
About the Hike: I am rating this trail as moderate simply because navigating along the trail in certain places is tricky. The lake supports many activities ranging from fishing to paddle boarding or kayaking. I hiked in September during the monsoon season when storms can quickly come upon you.
A rainstorm came through earlier leaving water droplet's on the Ponderosa Pine trees.
From the boat dock the lake does not look large, but you quickly learn there are many alcoves to the lake that you will be hiking around. Today, I decided to start the hike on the right side away from the dam. I followed my husband along the shoreline weaving through the boulders towards the first alcove.
The brilliance of the forest came alive; vibrant colors and smells of mossy earth permeated around us following the rain shower.
Quieting my mind and connecting with the outdoors opens me to see many beautiful things I might otherwise miss. Nature delighted us with a robin taking a bath in a puddle along the trail.
The second alcove tucked back is surrounded by Ponderosa Pines. I had a feeling of foreboding as we continued as the low clouds floated across the boulders lining the shore.
A micro-climate exists halfway around the lake. Within this micro-climate, tall grass thrives along the shoreline.
I imagine the Heber wild horses, deer, and Elk frequent this lush area of greenery. Today, I did not enjoy sharing nature with any of these magnificent creatures but perhaps another time.
Concealed behind a cluster of Ponderosa Pines lives a lovely wooden bridge. The bridge is close to the 260 highway, but it is a perfect spot to take a break.
Somebody got adventurous building a miniature tepee. While the parents were fishing, a bored kid found a fun way to occupy herself.
Four miles into the hike, we were underneath towering ponderosa trees. Blossoming columbines sprinkled the forest floor with bright yellow splashes of color.
Chattering in the trees above drew my eyes upward, where I spied what I believe to be a white-tailed hawk.
Further investigation uncovered a nest and a couple of fledglings circling the nest. Mom swooped down quickly to keep her newbies in check.
A couple of kayakers were traversing through the third alcove. Many submerged trees provide an excellent obstacle course for them.
The sun's angle gave way to beautiful tree reflections shimmering across the water's surface.
The last stretch of the hike brought us across the dam. Happily nestled on the other side of the dam is a stand of healthy pine trees.
Climbing and agility are needed to navigate up over the dam's run-off system.
I was amazed at all the large flat boulders lining the shore. I envisioned us picnicking and fishing on top of one of those boulders on a sunny spring day.
I have read all types of reviews for the Willow Springs Lake hike, both good and bad. To me, this is the perfect workout hike because it is 7.8 miles. You will undoubtedly be ready for a nap after this hike.