Woods Canyon Lake: Not just for fishing

Arizona has arrived at the ‘dog days of summer.’ Most Arizona metro streets are almost desolate on weekends. Every Arizona city-dweller with an RV, trailer, tent, cabin or hotel reservation escapes the heat, and heads out of town for cooler temps in northern and east-central Arizona (or any elevation over 6000 feet). Many campers will likely be on their way to Woods Canyon Lake.

Woods Canyon Lake is so popular during the summer for many obvious reasons. It has a beautiful location. It’s an easy two-hour drive from the Valley. You don’t need a monster mud truck to get to the site. It has great fishing, camping, hiking — and yes — it’s at least 15 degrees cooler. But there’s much more to Woods Canyon Lake than most people realize.

For instance, not everyone knows that Woods Canyon Lake has day-use facilities for lakeside picnicking. Don’t let the “campground full” sign deter you. You can still get in a day of fishing and picnicking. Rocky Point Picnic Area is located immediately adjacent to the lake, just northwest of the marina and store area. For a $5 day use fee, picnickers can enjoy a meal while watching trout fisherman float around the coves and inlets or gazing overhead for a chance sighting of one of Woods Canyon Lake’s large bird species, such as osprey or bald eagle. Just beyond the picnic area, you may spot one of the eagle nests high in the treetops.

Another popular attraction for visitors to Woods Canyon Lake are several hiking trails and nature paths in the vicinity. The main Woods Canyon Lake Trail makes a 5.5-mile circumference of the lake. It’s an easy walk of 2-3 hours. During summer months, you’ll see a variety of lush ferns and grasses growing from the forest floor under a canopy of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and oak. Watch for green meadows speckled with bright yellow wildflowers and steep, rocky ravines. If you start your hike southeast (to the right) of the lake’s marina, you’ll walk past people fishing offshore and over the earthen spillway. Soon you’ll be in a dense woods. Careful, now: Arizonans from mid-western and eastern states could get sentimental.  An easier walking option is the Meadow Trail, a paved path that short cuts through the campgrounds to a string of three Mogollon Rim overlooks along FR 300. Check the HikeArizona.com site and Woods Canyon Lake facility map for other nearby hikes.

Don’t forget to bring your bikes with you to Woods Canyon Lake. Many of the hiking trails nearby are also rated for mountain biking. These include the Rim Vista Trail 622 and FR 235. Just be alert for lightning as well as fast moving trucks zipping around the curves. Some people may think they’re still on the four-lane sections of State Route 260. Log on to everytrail.com to see more bike trails.

On summer Saturday evenings, families will have the opportunity to sit around the Woods Canyon Lake amphitheater and listen to one of Ranger Bob’s nature programs. This season the focus is wildfires – how they start, prevention and tools firefighters use to extinguish the fires. It’s both education and entertainment for the entire family. Programs start at 7:30 p.m. Don’t forget the snacks, hot chocolate and a blanket – for those chilly Rim country evenings.

Only non-motorized boats are permitted on Woods Canyon Lake and as you would guess, most are fishing boats. But that doesn’t stop other outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the lake for kayaking, canoeing or floating in an inflatable raft. You may even seen a small pontoon boat floating around the lake perimeter and coves, fishing, watching for wildlife — just enjoying those cool, mountain breezes and blue skies. Take a look at the Desert Mountain Paddlers meetup site to watch a fascinating slide show from the group’s adventures at Woods Canyon Lake last October.

If you’re going to Woods Canyon Lake to camp during summer months, know that these sites are scooped up quickly. Sites can be reserved online, and also, there are a few that are available on a “first-come, first served” basis.  Obviously on non-holiday weekends after the school year starts, sites become more available.

Handy links:

Woods Canyon Lake camping

WoodsCanyonLake.com

Woods Canyon Lake facility map

Apache – Sitgreaves National Forest

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Don’t miss Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery near Payson

tonto creek fish hatchery

Visiting a fish hatchery may not sound very exciting, but a stop at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery will add both fun and a learning experience to your next family weekend getaway in Payson’s Rim Country. All ages will enjoy a tour of the hatchery and the fish feeding demonstration

Stop at the visitor center. You’ll learn the entire process of raising trout that eventually will be stocked into Arizona’s fishing waters. Rainbow, brook, brown and native Apache trout have been produced here over the years. The site has undergone numerous upgrades since its opening in 1937. At the visitor center, storyboards, posters and scaled models explain the fascinating fish growing process.

Bring quarters for fish food. Don’t forget to carry some quarters to buy handfuls of fish pellets to drop into adult trout pond. Younger children will especially enjoy this activity.

tonto creek fish hatchery

Watch feedings by hatchery staff. During weekend afternoons visitors will have a good chance of seeing hatchery workers make their presentation about the hatchery operations while feeding the fish. Watch the “feeding frenzy” by the young trout as they splash wildly in the raceways — those long, rectangular fish tanks. Trout will spend their first 15 months at the hatchery.

tonto creek fish hatchery

Explore the grounds. Spend some time exploring the area. Take plenty of photographs. Find out about other wildlife in the area. Learn how those sturdy canopies over the raceways not only provide shade, but also keep the young trout safe from predatory birds.

rainbow trout

Make a whole day of it. Combine your hatchery visit with a three to four hour day hike on Horton Creek Trail or other nearby trail, a picnic lunch at one of several day use sites, or fishing in Tonto Creek in designated areas below the hatchery. Also worth a visit is the nearby Naco Paleo Site, located about three miles west of the hatchery turnoff, south of State Route 260. Walk up the old Jeep trail a hundred feet or so, and inspect the sloping side of the hill for fossils.

Note: As of Monday July 2, Forest Road 289, north of State Route 260 to Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, remains closed because of forest fire conditions, according to a spokesman from Arizona Game and Fish Dept. To learn when the forest roads to the hatchery will be re-opened, visit the Tonto National Forest website.