4 Fabulous Hikes at Watson Lake Prescott Arizona

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Out of the six lakes I visited around Prescott Arizona, Watson Lake is my favorite for hiking. Walking in and around and on top of the Granite Dells is an Arizona experience you shouldn’t miss.

What are the Granite Dells? The Dells, as the locals call the area, consists of granite rock formations with smoothed edges from weathering creating interesting shapes and boulders of varying sizes.

Watson Lake is a manmade reservoir created in 1915 by the Granite Creek Dam. The city of Prescott purchased the reservoir and more land to preserve it for recreational purposes.

In this post I’m sharing the best hiking trails around Watson Lake.

When I first saw photos of Watson Lake and the rock formations around the water, I knew I wanted to spend some time in Prescott AZ.

There’s some great hiking in Prescott! And while you’re here check out 5 gorgeous lakes near Prescott where you can go hiking. Or enjoy a beautiful waterfall hike at Wolf Creek Falls.

Watson Lake Hiking Prescott AZ

Watson Lake Hiking Trails

Watson Lake offers many hiking choices. From the big Watson Lake Loop hike around the entire lake to the shoreline trails where you can take in the mesmerizing view of the Dells.

There are several shorter hiking trails that are part of the Watson Lake Loop, for instance the Discovery Trail, North Shore Trail, and Over the Hill Trail.

All the trails are well marked with white dots on the rocks. And there are maps at regular intervals along the trails so you can orient yourself and decide how far you want to hike.

Boulders Granite Dells Prescott AZ

Watson Lake Hiking Trails Map

In the photo of the map of the hiking trails at Watson Lake you can see there are various hikes along the shoreline and into the Granite Dells for spectacular views.

At the bottom of the map you’ll see the elevation changes at various points along the trail.

Watson Lake hiking trails map

Here are four fabulous hiking trails at Watson Lake for you to enjoy .

Peavine Trail

  • Duration:  12 miles
  • Elevation gain: 60 ft
  • Type of Hike: Out and back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: Allow 3 – 4 hours
  • Fee: $3 parking fee at south Peavine trailhead (FREE parking on Wednesdays)

Note: There is a north trailhead and a south trailhead parking lot. I hiked from the south parking lot, closer to Watson Lake.

The address to the south trailhead parking lot for Peavine Trail is 1624 Sundog Ranch Rd.

Free parking is available at the north trailhead on Hwy 89A at Side Road. But this parking lot is not as close to Watson Lake as the Sundog Ranch parking area.

Peavine trailhead marker and pay station

This Rails to Trails hiking route is relatively flat and makes for an easy hike for all skill levels. The Peavine trail was originally a railroad track built by the Santa Fe Railway in 1893.

You will see views of the lake quite early in the hike. If you are not up to doing the full 12 mile hike you will still enjoy wonderful views of Watson Lake if you only walk the first 2 – 3 miles (or as far as you like) and turn back. Beyond the 2.5 miles mark the Peavine Trail is north of the lake anyway.

Note that Peavine Trail is a multi-use trail with hikers, cyclists, and horseback riding along the trail. Stay to the right of the trail so that other hikers, bikers, and horses can pass easily.

Trail etiquette is thus: Walkers/hikers yield right of way to horseback riders, and cyclists yield to both pedestrians and horseback riders.

Horseback riding Watson Lake Prescott


Flume Trail to Watson Dam

  • Duration:  2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  130 ft
  • Type of Hike:  Out and back
  • Difficulty:  Moderate
  • Time:  Allow 1- 2 hours
  • Fee: $3 parking fee (FREE parking on Wednesdays)

Waterfall Watson Lake Flume Trail to Dam

The trailhead to Flume Trail is on Granite Dells Road north of Watson Lake. At the time I hiked this trail only one route existed due to a detour on one of the trails.

Flume Trail starts out hiking among the granite dells and continues into the forest and back into the dells. When you get to the stretch by the creek and beautiful views of Over the Hill trail you are close to the Watson Dam.

Once you reach the dam this is an excellent place to stop for a picnic and enjoy the sound of the waterfall. I sat and watched a mama duck with her six ducklings swimming and diving into the water.

Another waterfall hike near Prescott is the Wolf Creek Falls trail in the Prescott National Forest.

Hiking Over the Hill trail Prescott

Lakeshore to Watson Dam

  • Duration:  1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain:  135 ft
  • Type of Hike:  Out and back
  • Difficulty:  Moderate
  • Time:  Allow 1 – 2 hours
  • Fee: $3 parking fee (FREE parking on Wednesdays)

Watson Lake kayaking

On my first visit to Watson Lake I did the Lakeshore to Watson Dam trail. The trail begins near the boat launch so you’re walking right alongside the water for a short bit. After rainfall or early spring be prepared to get your shoes wet at this part of the trail.

Quickly into the hike you start gaining some elevation and hike onto the dells for spectacular views of Watson Lake and a few rocky islands.

There are other trail routes besides the one to Watson Dam so check the signage along the trail.

At one point you have the option of Steep versus Steeper route. I took the steeper trail on the way to the dam and not so steep one on my return.

And once you get to the dam enjoy the waterfall and some shaded areas to relax. Walk across the footbridge over the creek to get closer to the waterfall.

If you want to hike the Over the Hill trail go left after you cross the footbridge. The trailhead is marked about 100 yards or so from the footbridge.

A foot bridge leads across the creek to the waterfall

Watson Lake Loop

  • Duration:  4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 160 ft
  • Type of Hike: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: Allow 2 – 3 hours
  • Fee: $3 parking fee (FREE parking on Wednesdays)

View of the Granite Dells from Watson Lake Loop hike

Because this is a loop trail you have several options as to where to start your hike around Watson Lake. Here are three trailheads you can park at to hike Watson Loop.

Watson Lake Park has several parking lots on the west side of Watson Lake. All require a $3 parking fee (FREE parking on Wednesdays).

South Peavine Trailhead is an option if you want to start from south of Watson Lake. But you’ll have an extra .75 mile walk to/from the Watson Loop Trail. There is a $3 parking fee (FREE parking on Wednesdays)

Watson Lake Vista is a free parking lot along Hwy 89 where you can hop on the Discovery Trail and hike around the entire Watson Lake or as far as you like.

Or walk to the South Boat Ramp to rent a kayak or canoe and go paddling in Watson Lake.

Granite Dells Watson Lake Prescott

Jumble of boulders Watson Lake trail

Watson Lake Prescott Arizona

The Dells Prescott Arizona Watson Lake

What to Bring Hiking at Watson Lake

Wear hiking shoes or sneakers with good grip on the sole. The rocks are slippery after rainfall.

Bring your refillable water bottle – I always bring two stainless steel water bottles. One is small so I also have a reserve 40 oz water bottle in my backpack.

Insect repellent – or the mosquitoes may enjoy a picnic lunch at your expense. I have tried the non-DEET stuff and it didn’t work at all. So I went back to using the DEET insect repellent. Remember that using DEET insect spray also protects against ticks!

Sunscreen – especially on sunny days but also for overcast days too – protect your skin from UV rays. In Central Arizona the UV Index is often at 9 or 10.

Sunhat or baseball cap is always a good idea when hiking – protection from the sun, rain, and ticks.

Pack something to eat at the lake or along the trail. I like to bring pumpkin seeds as my snack – great nutrition. I also bring beef jerky, crackers, fruit, and cookies. Sandwiches are also a good choice.

Bring a small backpack to carry your picnic lunch and other supplies for the hike. It’s best to buy a waterproof backpack or bring a large plastic bag to cover the backpack if it starts raining during your hike.

View of the Granite Dells from Watson Lake Loop hike

Whichever trail you choose at Watson Lake you are sure to enjoy spectacular panoramic views.

Enjoy the outdoors in Prescott Arizona!

If you have any questions or tips about Watson Lake leave them in the comments below.

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Prescott Arizona Hiking Watson Lake

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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