Willow Springs Lake: Cool Water On The Rim


Willow Springs Lake Hike/Bike Trail
Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Altitude: 7520 feet at trailhead
Maps: Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forest Services

Willow Springs Lake and its surrounding environs afford a visitor to the Mogollon Rim Country many of the outdoor sights and activities for which it is well known. This popular lake attracts not only those who enjoy fishing and other boating experiences, but also hikers, mountain bikers, and wildlife enthusiasts.

At 150 acres, Willow Springs is one of the larger lakes on the Rim. It features an earthen dam, a spillway bridge and Willow Springs Creek at the northeastern edge of the lake. A boat ramp is located nearby for boats with 8hp or less motors. Ample parking and restroom facilities are located at this ramp site. However, the trail is not accessible from the boat ramp.

Sinkhole National Forest Service Campground is located a half mile away and can accommodate recreational and boat trailers at its 26 family sites. Restroom facilities are available and a Park Host is on site during the season for additional requirements.

The elevation is approximately 7,500 feet and the forested areas around the lake contain every variety of tree and plant life expected in this part of Arizona. Elk, deer, bears and smaller wildlife are found here along with a number of species of birds. Most of the shoreline of the lake is readily accessible by either water or land travel for personal exploration.

To Get There

At the intersection of highways 87 (Beeline) and 260, travel east on 260 about 36 miles until you reach mileage marker 286. Watch for Forest Service Road (FSR 237), which is a short distance beyond this marker. Turn north onto FSR 237 and travel .3 miles. The trailhead and parking is located on the west side of the road, just beyond the Larsen camping area.

The trail begins to the north of the parking area at a gated road. The trail is marked by blue diamonds attached to nearby trees and FS bike trail markers along its course. At one mile from the trailhead, you will encounter FSR 236. Turn left at this intersection onto that road. This will put you on the main part of the loop.

Follow this road for 2.5 miles until you reach the lake's northeastern shoreline.


While hiking this trail, watch for a tall, dead pine tree across the creek and up the side of the canyon. At its top is a large osprey (large, narrow-winged hawk) nest. If you are in this area from mid-June to mid-July, you may have the fortune of sighting osprey adults and chicks either in the nest or in nearby trees.

From here the trail follows the eastern shore of the lake, but passes in and out of the nearby wooded areas.

Always watch for the blue diamonds and the bike trail signs in order to keep you on the trail. This part of the trail is about three miles long and eventually meets up with a service road for the power lines that pass through this part of the forest. Turn left at the power lines and follow the road back to the parking lot.

The trail can also be reached from a parking lot approximately 2 miles earlier at the point where the turnoff to the small town of Young meets Highway 260. The parking lot here is directly across the highway from the turnoff and is surrounded by a wooden fence. Access to the trail from this lot is through a break in the fence. A sign at the fence indicates that the lake is 1/4 mile away.

Follow the trail from the fence for about 100 yards until you reach a clearing where a series of power lines cross the trail.

Turn left and follow the lines until you see a blue diamond sign that points to the right.

Follow this trail for about a half mile. Look for a row of large boulders in a line off to your right and a short distance off the trail. There should be blue diamonds on trees near it. Leave the trail you are on and proceed to this one as it is part of the loop. The one you left will dead end at the south end of the lake.

The loop trail will follow the lake shoreline, but at a distance. It will pass by a large burn area (the reason for the trail's existence -- firebreak). This trail will eventually end at a road. Turn left on that road and follow it down to the shore of the lake. Turn right at a FS Wildlife Habitat sign and proceed through an open area until you reach the dam.

Side Hike at Dam (foot travel only)

A short hike is available down Willow Springs Canyon, which lies below the dam and to its northeast. A fence has been installed along the dam, but if you proceed around it and bushwhack down behind and below the dam, you will come to Willow Springs Creek at the base of the spillway. Once you reach the creek, turn right and follow its bank for about one mile.

There is a trail there, but it is faint in places. The trail ends in a grove of trees. Beyond this point, the canyon floor descends quickly and the undergrowth is too thick for additional travel. Return to the dam from this point.

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