Woods Canyon Lake

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

I can't believe he let me get this close!
I can't believe he let me get this close!

I haven’t been up in Rim Country nearly enough this year. Only once, six weeks ago, on the Pine Canyon-Bearfoot Trail. Usually, I do 3-5 Mogollon Rim hikes a year. This week, I set out to redress the imbalance.

I’ve hiked Woods Canyon Lake twice before, most recently in 2013. Which is a shame, because it is such a beautiful, peaceful, lake. (Despite the large, and often packed, campgrounds.)

Woods Canyon Lake is just off AZ-260, a half hour east of Payson, where the highway crosses the top of the Mogollon Rim. At only 55 acres, it is small. There must be a speed & noise rules, as the only folks you see out on the lake are mostly fishing, with some kayakers and the occasional pontoon. No jet skiers or drunken bozos. Lots of folks fish from the shore. There is a bait shop, with cold beer and two entire freezers full of ice cream bars.

Despite the name of the lake, there is no actual canyoneering, or even bushwhacking, hiking Woods Canyon Lake. The hike is certainly no East Miller Canyon! It’s not even in a canyon, but rather around the lake.

The Woods Canyon Lake "marina".
The Woods Canyon Lake “marina”.

No idea why, but all three times I’ve been to Woods Canyon Lake, I’ve hiked it counterclockwise.

From the bait shop, you can either head east along the shore, or take the paved path past the ampitheater towards the Spillway Campground. I’ve done both. Either way, you end up at the campground, which is adjacent to its namesake and the earthen dam which holds back the lake’s water.

The spillway appears to be controlled by a large mechanical screw. On the west side of the dam, next to the campground, is overflow channel filled with large, flat, boulders bolted into the ground. In 2013, I saw a Great Blue Heron there. This time, I spotted a chipmunk. I took my first picture standing up. When I realized the chipmunk hadn’t spooked, I got down on my stomach. He was still calmly munching away, so I was able to crawl within three feet of him. Living near the campground, maybe he was waiting for a handout? Either way, pretty neat!

The trail across the dam is wide and smooth. Indeed, that is true for most of the loop around Woods Canyon Lake. One of the exceptions is the “climb” up from the dam. “Rocky” here, and rocky elsewhere, are a matter of scale. Here, in 2013, even my non-hiking wife with bad feet was able to complete the loop. Oldsters and urban canal walkers would have no problem enjoying the shade & scenery.

The bluest flower I've ever seen.
The bluest flower I’ve ever seen.

The “climbs” at Woods Canyon Lake are all of the 30-50 ft. variety. The total AEG is less than I get on Charles M. Chistiansen Trail #100 in Phoenix!

Woods Canyon Lake is densely wooded — thus the name šŸ˜œ — but many trees are marked for thinning with an dayglo orange stripe. There is very little underbrush.

The trail is not right on the lake shore, but typically 50-100 yards up slope. You can catch glimpses of the lake through the trees, or follow one of the washes down hill for a better view.

There are two stream crossings, at Woods Canyon Lake’s west end. Both are marshy areas, but can easily be crossed dry. There are many sinkholes on the Mogollon Rim, and one is conveniently located on a small hill between the two creek crossings.

There’s plenty of good sitting rocks along the trail, and one large log with two seats carved out, if you get tired. (My wife took advantage of the log, back in 2013.)

Woods Canyon Lake is one of those trails where you would have to try really hard to get lost. If you are hopeless with directions, just follow the metalllic blue diamonds that are nailed into the trees.

Creek on the west end of Woods Canyon Lake. The crossing was dry.
Creek on the west end of Woods Canyon Lake. The crossing was dry.

There aren’t a whole lot of flowers on this hike. Just about all of them are in the video. However, there was one blue flower that I saw fairly often. My crappy pocket camera did not do them justice, their blue was so rich. The only other time I’ve seen blue like that was mine exploring Copper Creek.

I had much more trouble than normal with smooge’s on the camera’s lens. Smooge’s don’t affect distance shots as much as closeups. (I’d say “macro”, but on a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5, macro is more a wish than a mode.) Despite regularly wiping the lens, I didn’t wipe it often enough. I know I lost some flower shots as a result.

After I enjoyed a post hike beer and strawberry shortcake ice cream bar, my wife & I took off for the day’s main activity: Driving FR 34 and AZ-99 from the Mogollon Rim to Winslow. Yes, there is a highway between the two. I had hoped it would be dirt all the way, but it was paved north of the Chevelon Work Center, a small forest ranger community on West Chevelon Canyon, at Sand Point.

To do the drive, continue west on FR 300 / Rim Road. Six miles west of Woods Canyon Lake Rd., turn north on Wallace Rd. / FR 34. There is ample signage, so getting lost should not be an issue. Both Rim Road and Wallace Rd. are easily car drivable dirt. Rim Road is actually much smoother at the east end, than it typically is at the west end, off AZ-87, north of Strawberry. There’s no washboarding, and only a few potholes.

What constitutes a "climb" on this hike has stairs.
What constitutes a “climb” on this hike has stairs.

The paved part, north of the Chevelon Work Center, is where I believe AZ-99 starts. It’s actually more potholed than the dirt portion. Once the road leaves the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, near Chevelon Butte, it becomes the responsibility of Coconino County, and gets smoother.

The foliage gets shorter and less dense, north of the Chevelon Work Center, until it becomes wide open plains. The only terrain features of any kind are a few distant mesas: The previously mentioned Chevelon Butte and East Sunset Mountain.

Arizona is an open range state, and there’s a good chance you will encounter cattle on AZ-99, especially near one of the many roadside dirt tanks. One 10,000 gallon metal tank & pump well was covered with graffiti. That’ll go on a future graffiti video!

As AZ-99 nears Winslow, the terrain remains flat, but becomes scrub land, with occasional outcroppings of flat red sandstone boulders.

My wife and I had lunch at a Mexican place in Winslow. It was okay, but no beer, no plug.

Afterwards, we were too sweaty & tired to stand on the corner, so we drove home on AZ-87. Both the drive on AZ-99 and AZ-87 were pleasant, with little traffic, until I began to encounter Phoenix Asshole Drivers south of Pine. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Speed Up When Somebody Tries to Pass!)

Graffiti-covered tank in the middle of nowhere south of Winslow.
Graffiti-covered tank in the middle of nowhere south of Winslow.

Directions: From Phoenix, head north on AZ-87, the Beeline Highway, to the main intersection in Payson. Head east on AZ-260. Just east of Payson is the hamlet of Star Valley, which once was an infamous speed trap with three speed cameras in only a half mile. That ended in March, 2016, but the speed limit is still 45 mph. In 29 miles, just after AZ-260 tops the Rim, turn left onto FR 300, aka Rim Road. In a mile, turn right onto Woods Canyon Rd., following it to the end at the bait shop. The entire drive is paved, but if you continue west on Rim Road, it is car drivable dirt.

GPS File:Ā Woods_Canyon_Lake

Distance:Ā 4.78 mi.

AEG:Ā 434 ft.

Time:Ā 1h 53m


HikingĀ Video

DrivingĀ Video

2 Comments on Woods Canyon Lake

    • Guy I chat with on the internet is fostering a couple of abandoned baby squirrels. Makes me want to adopt. šŸ¤—

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