WOODS CANYON LAKE, Ariz. - As we pulled into the parking lot at Woods Canyon Lake, an eagle was staring down at us. This hiker has seen several eagles in northern Arizona, but not usually this close or at a tree in a parking lot with loads of people.
This seemed like a good omen. The eagle was telling us that this was a good hike. He wasn't lying.
Moments later we came upon a trio of blue jays before hiking down below the dam. The trail below the dam demands crisscrossing the stream a remarkable amount of times. It calls for some bushwhacking. The rock crossing can sometimes feel jarring on the feet.
But it's well worth it. The further you go down the trail the more challenging it gets, but also the more you see.
One elk saw the hikers and scampered off. One butterfly flew from hiker to hiker. One large hawk frequently flew over voicing its opinion that it wasn't happy that we were so close to the nest.
Higher elevation, cooler temperatures, clouds and periodic August rains can be the elements of a good hike during the summer to cool folks off.
Woods Canyon Lake, on the far western edge of the Mogollon Rim, offers all of that. This lake sits at an elevation of 7,500 feet so it will offer far cooler temperatures than Payson, which is 30 miles west of there.
The 55 acre lake offers great recreational activities for fishing and boating. Hikers and mountain bikers can take the five mile trail that winds around the lake. Upon arriving in the parking lot, the view of the lake is great, but the best hikes are not the ones seen from the parking lot, but to the far right and far left of the lake.
However, all the hikes start from the parking lot. Taking the trail to the right, it meanders past the dam and the Spillway Campground. But an easy trail takes hikers down below the dam and that is where the fun begins.
This is a paradise for those who love birds, butterflies and flowers. Yellow Columbine was among the beauties, but there were also blue, white, purple and other yellow flowers.
The elevation cools hikers off. Clouds made it even cooler. Mid-afternoon downpours don't seem to bother fisherman and boaters.
The monsoon rain can hit suddenly so raincoats are advised. Plants and trees line the Spillway canyon hike. The hike around the lake has even more trees. This is part of Sitgreaves National Forest. The heavily wooded area includes Douglas fir, oak, ponderosa pine and aspen. Large red and orange toadstools are found along the trail. Chipmunks are also abundant.
Part of the lake is sometimes closed off to protect the eagles. Some of the hikers spoke of seeing the next near a large orange net, but somehow we missed that bright net.
This rim lake is part of a series of small lakes along the rim; Willow Springs Lake is about a 10-15 minute drive further down Highway 260. Woods Canyon Lake is the first reservoir upstream from Chevlon Canyon Lake. It was formed by an earthen dam to impound the water from Chevlon Creek so people would have recreation opportunities.
During the winter, the lake may be closed off due to snow. Forest Lakes is the closest community where folks may want to check the weather before heading up this way.
Directions: From Payson, go 30 miles east on Highway 260, at the top of the rim turn left onto Forest Road 300, after five miles turn right onto Forest Road 105 and it will lead right into the parking lot, although camping areas are off to the side on the way in.