Wander the Wonder of Watson Woods

by Blake Herzog

The trails within Watson Woods Riparian Preserve are unique in their beauty and abundant wildlife habitat, but also because they’re managed by Prescott Creeks. It’s nonprofit active throughout Yavapai County, but which may best be known for its restoration and maintenance of this idyllic stretch of Granite Creek, just south of Watson Lake.

It’s shaded by towering willows and cottonwoods along with elm and ash, many planted less than 30 years ago by volunteers. Its 2-mile network of interpretive trails is a marvelously lush space for visitors of all ages to learn about riparian environments, with informative yet unobtrusive signs describing plant and animal species as well as basic concepts about streams and streamside environments.

There are two loop trails in the preserve linked by a connector path that dives underneath busy Prescott Lakes Parkway.

The primary entrance is off the Peavine trailhead parking — a series of earthen steps supported by logs takes you down to the information board. Heading to your right takes you to the North Loop Trail, under impressive cottonwoods that arch over your path.

You’ll come to two footbridges with signs indicating they lead to the larger Prescott Mile High Trail System, first a low bridge near a spur trail that runs northeast to the Peavine Trail and then a longer straight bridge crossing Granite Creek and connecting to the Lower Granite Creek Discovery Trail. Turning south just before the red bridge will complete Watson Woods’ north loop.

There is a second entrance off Highway 89 at Rosser Street where you can park and walk the South Loop Trail. This narrow singletrack path is more straightforward, has a less developed feel and may not be suitable for very young hikers.

The 126-acre preserve on land owned by the City of Prescott has been under the management of the Prescott Creeks nonprofit organization since its start in 1995. Volunteers set out to recreate a section of a 4-mile-long forest of cottonwood and willow trees that once formed a cathedral-like ceiling over Granite Creek between what is now Watson Lake and downtown Prescott.

They relocated four channels of the creek and planted hundreds of cottonwood branches, and continued care has allowed the site to flourish as an oasis for birds, wildlife and nature lovers.

To reach Watson Woods from downtown Prescott, take Gurley Street east to state Route 89 and turn north. To reach the southern entrance turn right at Rosser Street and park in the dirt lot. To get to the main entrance, continue north to Prescott Lakes Parkway and turn right, crossing through the woods and turning left at Sundog Ranch Road. Turn left again at the blue sign pointing to the trail access parking for the Prescott Peavine Trail. The Watson Woods entrance is straight ahead.

Parking fees: None at the south entrance,
$3 at the Peavine parking lot. $2
suggested donation to riparian preserve.
Uses: Hiking, mountain biking
Distance: 2 miles
Level of difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5,166 feet to 5,198 feet