Goldwater Lake Trails Celebrate Forest Gem

Goldwater Lake may be the prettiest of the three major bodies of water managed by the City of Prescott, despite lacking the drama of the grand, jagged boulders of Willow and Watson lakes to the north. 

Instead, it has stands of imposing ponderosas marching right up to the shore, giving an alpine aura to all the picnicking, boating, canoeing, paddle boarding, horseshoe throwing, volleyball playing and other frolicking that happens there. 

The gorgeous scenery draws many a hiker to the park 4 miles south of Prescott on Senator Highway, which takes downtown’s charming Mt. Vernon Street into the mountains and forest. It’s actually beyond the city limits and surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land, so there are trails managed by both jurisdictions in the area, which give visitors the options of a leisurely stroll or a more extended hike. 

The City of Prescott has two relatively short, standalone paths hugging the north and south sides of the 55-acre lake. Both can be accessed from the parking lot just in from the entrance into Goldwater Lake Park from the road of the same name.

To the north is the North Shore Trail, which obviously follows the northern shore of the lake, taking you a ¼ mile to the dam that forms the lake. Seeing the manmade edge of the lake can be fascinating and disorienting at the same time but doesn’t put a damper on the fun people have there. 

The longer one, Banning Creek Trail, wraps around the south shore for about 2/3 of a mile and is connected by three side trails to the longest Forest Service trail serving the area, Goldwater Lake Trail No. 396. 

No. 396’s eastern trailhead is on the east side of Senator Highway, just south of the entrance to Goldwater Lake Park. The trail starts on the other side of the highway. It winds through the hills and ridges south of Goldwater Lake and the smaller, undeveloped Lower Goldwater Lake to its west, providing spellbinding views of both. 

This is truly a hike for all seasons for its spring and summer greenery, brilliant fall colors and moody winters laced by blankets of snow that bring an overwhelming calm to the scene. The vegetation varies from ponderosa to Gambel oak to chaparral scrub, willows and boxelders.

Goldwater Lake Trail No. 396 

The Goldwater Lakes area of Prescott National Forest accessible from Senator Highway is served by multiuse trails operated by the city and state in this majestic area. Two paths totaling 1 mile lie within the City of Prescott’s Goldwater Lake Park, which has a $3 admission. 

The USFS’ Goldwater Lake Trail No. 396 runs past both Goldwater Lake and the smaller Lower Goldwater Lake to its west, continues west to White Spar Campground along State Route 89. 

Parking fees: None
Usages: Hiking, mountain biking, horseback
Mileage: 4.7 miles (one way)
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5,630 feet to 6,164 feet

Photo: Blushing Cactus Photography