Loop Provides Variety of Views, Workouts Around Watson Lake

The Watson Lake Loop follows the nearly 5 miles of shoreline around what is probably the most dramatic and famous lake in the Greater Prescott area. It’s composed of portions of several trails. 

This is a testament both to the extensive network of multiuse recreational trails here and the untamable shore of the lake itself. 

The lake is easily approachable from the south, about a third of a mile north of the head of the Peavine Trail, which follows the southeast shore. You can also cross over to the Discovery Trail, which travels up the southwest shore, the two forming parallel easy-rated paths to be shared by all hikers and bikers — the loop is not recommended for horses.  

At about the same point on each side of the lake, an eighth of a mile up, the topography begins to splinter into the rocks and coves the lake is known for, and the Watson Lake Loop starts to become a little more treacherous. 

On the west side, the Lakeshore (aka Fishing) Trail hugs a half-mile of shoreline with a moderately easy (and sometimes crowded) path used by anglers and kayakers. This is Watson Lake’s southern backshore, green and scenic in a markedly different way from the pink and tan granite boulders that dominate most of the lake. 

Then you hit the Explorer Trails, a cluster of paths etched over the boulders directly east of the large hilltop ramada in Watson Lake Park, sending hikers scrabbling over them to catch different angles of the lake and terrain, an interesting diversion before heading on to the North Shore Trail. 

This trail’s granite base brings hikers straight into the heart of the Dells, heading toward the towering, boulder-strewn hills that define the Dells throughout northern Prescott. You’re rewarded with a great view of the dam forming the lake and at the end a short side trail to the dam’s back side, a small waterfall. 

The Over the Hill Trail moves a bit away from the shore for about a mile, weaving through more of the rocky, yet oddly smooth formations, which have drawn untold numbers of hikers, bikers and climbers to the region.  

It also takes you past the not-so Secret Cove, captured in countless photos and frequently explored by kayak and paddleboard, before turning into the Lakeside Trail, which winds closer to the shore. If you have the time, keep your phone or camera ready for still more stunning views of the shore and rock outcroppings jutting out of the lake’s surface. 

The Lakeshore Trail eventually joins the Peavine, which gives you a wide, straight path down the rest of the eastern shore, a great way to cool down from your adventure.


Formed by segments of trails that together encircle the craggy shoreline of Watson Lake. The uneven, rocky terrain of the Explorer, Northshore, Over the Hill and Lakeside trails around the north end is rated by the City of Prescott as “difficult,” with the Peavine, Discovery and Lakeshore trails covering the southern end considered easy or moderate. Accessible from the Peavine on the east shore and several trailheads on the western shore.   

Parking Fees: $3
Usages: Hiking, Cycling
Mileage: 4.79 miles
Elevation: 5,075 to 5,237 feet

More Information: www.prescotttrails.com 

Photo courtesy: Blake Herzog