Watson Lake’s setting in the craggy landscape of the Granite Dells makes it the centerpiece of many a Prescott pictorial, at least since the 1890s.
Like Greater Prescott’s other lakes, it was created by a dam — in this case built across Granite Creek from the depths of Flume Canyon on the south-central edge of the Dells. Named after an elevated chute built in the early 1900s to water an award-winning peach orchard, the canyon is today served by a network of trails that bring users to the foot of Watson Dam.
These trails begin at the Watson Dam trailhead at 2425 E. Granite Dells Road, about a mile east of State Route 89. Hikers and bikers are greeted by an archway of native trees that gives way quickly to the rocky beginnings.
Towering granite boulders line the canyon, which forms some narrow slots at the beginning as you follow the white dots (compliments of the Prescott Recreation Services Department) over some quite rocky, technical surfaces. Rocks, sometimes with an assist from human-placed stone or wooden stairs, carry you up and down the early ups and downs.
About a third of a mile in, you reach a fork where the pathway on the right continues as the Watson Dam Trail while the prong on the left becomes the Flume Trail and follows Granite Creek. Several smaller paths, known as the Flume Canyon Trails, connect the Watson Dam and the Flume as they continue south toward the north end of Lake Watson.
The Flume Trail gives you some comparatively easy dirt-path walking in lush riparian areas along the creek before taking you on another climb that includes a pair of short bridges over some remnants of the original flume.
The Watson Dam Trail takes hikers a bit higher and rewards them with some grand vistas of the Dells and Granite Mountain, starting about half a mile from the trailhead and continuing until reaching the Northshore Trail.
If you take a left you can follow the North Shore down to the base of the imposing dam, which has a spillway at the top and a gate farther down that create breathtaking waterfalls when they’re open.
Watson Dam, Flume and Flume Canyon trails
Taking the Watson Dam, North Shore and Flume trails as a loop spans a 1.5 miles with little elevation change, but the route’s combination of rocky and smooth surfaces provides a diverse hiking or biking experience every time. The Flume Canyon trails can be used to either lengthen or shorten your distance.
Bring water with you whatever time of year you go, but you may not need as much in winter, when its mostly unshaded state becomes an advantage instead of a liability. Whenever you go, enjoy the diverse topography, abundant greenery and, if the timing is right, a majestic waterfall.
- Parking fees: None
- Usages: Hiking, mountain biking
- Mileage: 1.5 miles
- Level of difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation: 5,057 to 5,186 feet
- More information: www.prescotttrails.com