Just like Willow Lake, its loop trail gives users the gamut of terrain and tests to choose from.
The majority of its path runs on relatively flat land, giving you lots of time to admire the lake and get some good distance in, about two-thirds of the 5.7-mile route. You see grassy meadows perfect for picnicking, marshy areas supporting flocks of geese and ducks, and the unfettered joys found at the Willow Lake Dog Park.
The eastern third of the loop is full-on Granite Dells, pulling you along ups and downs as you follow those famous white dots over granite slickrock and past massive boulders. They part to reveal the lake’s surface and Granite Mountain in the distance to the west and many, many more cliffs and boulders to the east.
Here you’ll be squeezing through crevices that widen into stellar vistas, crossing a red footbridge helping you over a particularly wide crevice and climbing 75 steps to reach the top of a rock formation and then climb another ridge to reach one of the loop’s best lookouts.
The trail’s split personality means it will have something to suit everyone, though many people will gravitate toward one section or the other, depending on their skills and interests — but they are two sides of the same coin.
The lake’s importance to migratory birds means you will find them all over the place, clustered in tiny canyons and inlets on the craggy side, scattered in gossiping groups along the shore or gliding across the surface wherever you happen to be.
The bright Prescott sun is another unifying factor — there are some shady trees and stretches interspersed along the way but you will need to bring water, with the tamer side bordered mostly by grass and the rocky side absorbing a lot of heat on these long summer days.
Taken as a whole, this is a trail intended to be enjoyed by everyone — walkers, hikers, horseback riders, even the pair of well-behaved llamas spotted there on a recent weekend.
WILLOW LAKE LOOP TRAIL
The Willow Lake Loop is maintained by the City of Prescott and circles Willow Lake by using the Willow Lake Trail on the west and south sides. It connects to a low-water crossing at the East Bay Trail to connect it to the considerably more technical segments on the east side, which sit at the western edge of the Granite Dells.
There are five trailheads on the loop: near Heritage Park Zoo, at the Heritage Park boat ramps, Willow Lake Dog Park, the East Bay Trail off Willow Lake Road just west of Prescott Lakes Parkway, and at the eastern terminus of the Embry-Riddle Trail (there is no parking lot at the last one).
Parking fees: $3 at Willow Lake Park (free on Wednesdays)
Uses: Hiking, mountain biking, equestrian
Distance: 5.7 miles
Level of difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Elevation: 5,025 feet to 5,218 feet