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★★★★☆ Mostly Easy / Prescott 

Explore rolling Granite Dells, hidden coves and a waterfall on this stunning loop hike. The Watson Lake Loop Trails circle Prescott’s largest lake on a series of mile-long sections. Each portion surprises with a totally unique character.


TRAILHEAD: Hillsdale ROAD, prescott    DIFFICULTY: easy (Moderate in spots)    DISTANCE: 4.8 MILE Loop •  APPROX. TIME: 2.5-3.5 HOURS RT    ELEVATION GAIN: 162 FEET (12 STORIES)  •  APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 624-720 •  BEST TIME OF YEAR: September – June  •  PETS: YES WITH LEASHES  •  KID FRIENDLY: 10 AND UP  •  FACILITIES: YES •  FEES: $3 day parking

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Northshore Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; azutopia.com; no use without permission.The wonderfully varied Watson Lake Loop Trails can be kicked off from a number of trailheads. And each sports a totally different character! Our favorite starting trail is the North Shore, for its granite surface, long views and hidden treasures. This slightly moderate, 1-mile long leg, meanders over the rolling Granite Dells that define Watson Lake’s unique beauty.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Northshore Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Watson Dam; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Kayakers; azutopia.com; no use without permission.After a half-mile on the North Shore Hiking trail, fantastic views of the Watson Lake dam appear. From the trail, it’s fun to watch kayakers approach and paddle the rim.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Northshore Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hiker; azutopia.com; no use without permission.Passing the dam, the hike leads to a seemingly endless stretch of eroded Granite Dells. These immense formations seem otherworldly – with their oversized bulbous shapes and bizarre layering. Kids of all ages will have a blast hopping around this part of the trail!

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Northshore Hiking Trail; Watson Dam; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.After a moderate descent, the North Shore Hiking Trail curves around to reveal one of the coolest features of the hike. Suddenly, the air is moist and cattails spring from a marsh! Crossing a small bridge, a short side trail leads to the back of the dam. Here a relief waterfall gushes out, spritzing the air.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Over the Hill Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Marsh; Hikers; azutopia.com; no use without permission.Exiting this lush area, the trail becomes the moderate, Over the Hill Hiking Trail. This section ascends back onto the Dells and meanders in and around them for the next mile.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Lakeshore Hiking Trail; Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.One particularly beautiful spot is Secret Cove, a large inlet with views out onto the lake. Here reflections of sky and stone, beneath the distant silhouette of Granite Mountain, just beg for social media posting.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Lakeshore Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.The path now becomes the Lakeshore Hiking Trail. True to its name, breathtaking views of the lake, its shores and the wacky rock formations that jut from the water, roll out from various high points.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Lakeshore Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; azutopia.com; no use without permission.As the trail exits the Dells, the path opens onto wide fields. In Spring and Summer these are filled with colorful thistle and wildflowers.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Peavine Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.A half-mile further on, the hike merges onto Prescott’s renowned Peavine Trail. This wonderfully wide, flat pathway was constructed atop a 19th-century railroad track. It’s a local favorite for evening strolls and family bike rides.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Discovery Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Cottonwood Trees; Hikers; azutopia.com; no use without permission.A right turn onto the Discovery Trail leads around the base of Watson Lake. Huge Cottonwood trees shade this section. And the temperature is refreshingly cool beneath the trees.

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Discovery Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.The Discovery Trail now curves northwards around the lake. Delicate wildflowers line the wide even path in this section. 

Watson Lake Loop Hiking Trails; Watson Lake Hiking Trail; Watson Lake; Prescott; Arizona; Central Arizona Hikes; Easy hikes; Lake; Granite Dells; Hikers; Kayakers; Paddle Boarders; azutopia.com; no use without permission.At the boat dock, the trail becomes the Watson Lake Trail. This 1-mile leg continues north, eventually reentering the Dells. Jaw dropping views of the lake roll out from the Watson Overlook. A quarter mile further and the hike reaches it’s original starting point – at the North Shore Hiking Trail.

The Watson Lake Loop Trails can be started from the Peavine, Discovery, Watson Lake or North Shore Trails. Wherever you opt to get going, you won’t be disappointed!

Total Nerdery

Watson Lake was created in 1900 when the Chino Valley Irrigation District built a dam on Granite Creek. It’s sister lake is Willow Lake, sporting its own lovely loop trail.

Resources

Click here to download a trail map. 

Directions From the intersection of 1-17 and AZ 69 (in Cordes Junction), take exit 263 onto AZ 69 north, towards Prescott. Drive 20.2 miles to Fain Road. Turn right / north onto Fain Road (which becomes AZ 89A) and continue 13.5 miles to the T-Intersection with AZ 89. Turn left / south onto AZ 89 and drive 3.5 miles to the traffic circle. From the circle merge onto Watson Lake Park Road. After entering the park, turn left onto Hillsdale Road and park at the recreation area. The North Shore Hiking Trailhead is a short ways further on the left side of the road, beside the boat dock.