We are starting the new year off with a bang! First, we did a 5.5-mile loop in Sedona, and this past weekend we went 6.5 miles. Wholly smokes. Let me back up. I knew we were going north on an adventure when we woke up on a Saturday when it was still dark. That’s the unpleasant part, but let’s be real, I sleep the entire drive up! Ha. Mom and dad, not so much. Anyway, this time we took the 69 off I-17 and headed toward Prescott.
We connected to the 89A toward Watson Lake, and then hung a left on Willow Creek Road. In a few miles, we saw signs for Willow Lake. When you enter, head toward the Heritage Zoo and park at the boat ramp (1497 Heritage Park, Prescott AZ). There is plenty of parking, but you will need to pay $3.00. The machine takes cash or credit cards, and the human restrooms are up on the hill above the parking lot. Dogs are allowed but let me be clear up front: this is a difficult hike and not suitable for out-of-shape dogs or humans. Small dogs would really struggle with the big boulders. You will NOT want to do this hike in the summer. The boulders would be scorching hot, and there is zero shade.
From the boat ramp, you can either do the difficult part first or the flat area. We highly recommend you go to the left on the difficult part first while you are fresh. This trail consists of 2.7 miles of challenging boulder fields, some of which you just scramble up, and 3 miles of flat, easy meadow walking—unless of course you get lost, like we did, and we added another mile!
The trail is well marked except for one part, and that is where we got lost. My dad recommends you download a topographical map or satellite view of the hike so you can check your progress as you go. The trail markers also have a map, so maybe take a picture of it so you can follow the right path. You see, the trail around the lake includes a lot of additional loops that go through the boulder fields. They are incredibly beautiful but tough and slow going. You want to stay on the lake loop, which means most of the time, you will have a view of the lake. If you start to veer away, you may have gotten onto a scenic loop.
I was so excited as the temperatures were in the 30s when we began. Yahoo! Mom didn’t like the wind, but as soon as we got into the boulder field, we were sheltered from it. She brought her hiking pole, and she was glad she did as it assisted with some of the steep climbs up boulders. As for me, I was in heaven. I just love bouldering, and I was going up those big rocks like I was two-years old. Woof!
If you have seen Watson Lake, Willow Lake is similar with enormous boulders surrounding a pretty lake. The water levels were way down, though, and we could see where the water should have been. Still, that didn’t stop people from fishing from the shore and from canoes. It was a very quiet day, overall, and we only saw a handful of people on the trail.
Like I said, this first section is the toughest as you climb on and over big rocks. You will follow the white dots painted on the rocks with views of Willow Lake on one side and gorgeous boulders on the other called the Granite Dells. The rock is sticky so human boots don’t slip or slide like Sedona red rock. Dad kept telling mom to trust her boots. There were some tricky and scary spots, but it didn’t stop me. I was having a blast.
We ended up missing one of the turns as I mentioned, and so we did one of the scenic loops. It was breathtaking, but it also added another mile to our journey. Glad we had plenty of water. We continued until we came to the east end of the lake, which is about the half-way mark. We were just about out of the boulders and decided to have lunch here by the water. I got to drink fresh water and take a quick dip. I must admit, I took a quick snooze. Bouldering takes lots of energy!
Mom and dad enjoyed some hot tea and resting their feet. But we still had lots of miles to go, and we got back on the trail. At the east end if the water levels are high, you will have to go completely around, but we were able to walk on the lake floor and cross. From this point on, the trail flattens out. It was interesting to walk on the lake bottom. It was squishy like sponges and had red plants.
Then we entered grassy meadows, and as we turned the corner to head back towards the boat ramp (still 3 miles to go), we were near civilization. A housing development was right across the street, and traffic on the trail picked up with folks just doing this easy section. We saw more doggies, but I bet they didn’t go bouldering like me!
We kept going and saw a baseball field. Apparently, there is also a dog park near the ball field. This meant we were getting closer. Mom and I were starting to tire out, and we took another quick break. As you turn the upper corner of the lake, you will have some shortcut options, and we encourage you to take them. Otherwise, you will add on more miles. For us. 6.5 miles was plenty!
We hiked for a total of three hours but had one-hour worth of breaks between lunch and a rest stop. Not too shabby in my book! You will need to allow plenty of time for this hike because you just can’t rush the boulder section. Although the second half is flat and easy, it gets long and boring. We were contending with the wind, too, which didn’t help.
We were all glad to get back to our vehicle at the boat ramp parking lot, and I think I lasted about five minutes before I zonked out. It was a good tired, though. I’m not sure mom would do this hike again, but dad and I would! Life IS a grand adventure.
My mom, Lorraine Bossé-Smith, is kind enough to help me share my Great Adventures, big and small. My mom is a motivational speaker, corporate trainer, executive recruiter, business consultant, coach, fitness expert, and author of nine published books. More importantly, she’s the best doggy mom ever!
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Get outside! You never know what you’ll discover, and our paths just might cross. Happy tails!