More than a dozen lakes dot the pine-forested plateau country southeast of Flagstaff. Hikers, birders, anglers, picnickers, and campers enjoy the quiet waters, rolling hills, and scenic canyons of the region. Animal life flourishes—you might spot elk, deer, turkey, maybe even bear. Abert's squirrels with long tufted ears scamper through the trees. Migratory waterfowl stop by the lakes, and you may see an osprey, and in winter, a bald eagle. The best times to see wildlife are early and late in the day. Rim-country temperatures remain comfortably cool even in midsummer, and showers fall almost daily on July and August afternoons.
Campsites often fill up during the peak summer months; you'll find less crowded conditions early and late in the season, or at any time away from developed sites. Dispersed camping is available almost anywhere in any season within the national forests, though you're asked to avoid camping on meadows or within a quarter mile of springs, streams, stock tanks, or lakes. Boats are limited to those with electric motors on the smaller lakes and eight-hp gas motors on the larger ones; no restrictions apply on Upper Lake Mary.
For information on recreation and road conditions in this forested region south of Flagstaff, swing by Flagstaff Ranger District (5075 N. Hwy. 89, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, 928/526-0866, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.); you can purchase books and forest and topo maps. Online, check www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.
Canyon Vista Campground
Sites are in a mixed conifer, aspen, and oak forest at an elevation of 6,900 feet. The small campground has drinking water and a vault toilet, $12 during the mid-April to mid-Oct. season. Picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) costs $5. Sandys Canyon Trailhead at the north end of the campground leads into Walnut Canyon and the Arizona Trail. Follow Lake Mary Road for just over five miles, then turn left at the sign.
Hiking to Fisher Point via upper Walnut Canyon
A 6.8-mile-roundtrip hike from Canyon Vista Campground goes via Sandys Canyon Trail and the Arizona Trail to this lofty viewpoint. You'll enjoy fine scenery of Walnut Canyon, Mt. Elden, lava flows, ponderosa pines, aspen groves, and sandstone caves. The way is well signed and easy to follow, though rocky in some sections. Take the road into Canyon Vista Campground to the trailhead at the far end, then follow Sandys Canyon Trail to an overlook where a massive lava flow has spilled into Walnut Canyon. The trail follows the rim a bit farther, then drops into upper Walnut Canyon and joins the Arizona Trail at 1.4 miles. It's worth detouring to the right on the Arizona Trail a hundred yards to see picturesque salmon-colored cliffs that overlook a meadow. Return to the trail junction and follow the Arizona Trail north through forests and meadows to a junction for Fisher Point at 2.3 miles, then climb up 1.1 miles to the overlook and a fine panorama of upper Walnut Canyon and beyond. Back at the bottom of Walnut Canyon, you can explore sandstone caves and hike about one mile farther down the canyon. You can also reach Fisher Point from Marshall Lake on the Arizona Trail (adds 3.3 miles each way), from Flagstaff's trail system, and from the old Walnut Canyon Road/Forest Road 303 (13 miles roundtrip from Fisher Point).
Lower and Upper Lake Mary
Beginning just eight miles from Flagstaff, these long, narrow reservoirs offer fishing, boating, and birdwatching. Walnut Creek, dammed to form these lakes, once continued down through Walnut Canyon past the many Sinagua ruins there. The Riordan brothers, who built the first reservoir early in the 20th century to supply water to their sawmill, named the lake for a daughter.
Lake Mary Road (County 3) parallels the shores of both lakes. From downtown Flagstaff, head south on Milton Road, turn right on Forest Meadows Street before the I-40 junction, turn left on Beulah Boulevard, then follow signs for Lake Mary Road. If you're driving north on I-17, take Exit 339 just before the I-40 junction.
Lower Lake Mary varies greatly in size, depending on rainfall and water needs. Lower Lake Mary Boating and Picnicking Area, near the dam, offers tables, grills, ramadas, and a place to hand-launch boats. Anglers catch mostly northern pike. The turnoff is between Mileposts 337 and 338.
Water-skiers zip across Upper Lake Mary in summer—it's one of the few lakes in this part of Arizona long and deep enough for the sport. Fishermen pull catfish, northern pike, walleye, sunfish, and bluegill from the waters. Lake Mary Boat Landing features picnic tables, grills, ramadas, and a paved boat ramp; it's on Lake Mary Road 0.8 mile past the dam, between Mileposts 334 and 335. Lake Mary Narrows Picnic Area, on Lake Mary Road 1.5 miles farther uplake between Mileposts 331 and 332, features a fishing area with wheelchair access, tables, grills, ramadas, and a paved boat ramp.
Lakeview Campground (elev. 6,900 feet) provides camping near the Narrows of Upper Lake Mary from May to mid-October. Some sites are too small for trailers, but all have tent pads. You can walk to the water on a half-mile trail. The $12 fee includes drinking water and vault toilets; picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) is $5. It lies on the opposite side of the highway from the lake, 14 miles southeast of Flagstaff at Milepost 331
Sandy's Canyon Trail
This easy 1.5-mile roundtrip trail features canyon, forest, and mountain views, with the option to continue on the Arizona Trail. Local rock climbers tackle the cliffs visible from the first few hundred feet of the trail. The path follows the rim of Walnut Canyon a short way, drops down Sandy's Canyon, then follows the floor of Walnut Canyon to a junction with the Arizona Trail in about three-quarters of a mile. Here you can turn southeast about four miles to Marshall Lake or north one mile to Fisher Point, then continue toward the trailhead near Walnut Canyon National Monument, another six miles. Another trail near Fisher Point branches northwest toward Flagstaff and its Urban Trail System. Sandy's Canyon Trailhead is reached 5.5 miles down Lake Mary Road from AZ 89A, then left 0.2 mile just past the second cattle guard. During winter you can park off the road near the locked gate and walk to the trailhead.
This small trout lake and its primitive boat ramp lie north of Upper Lake Mary. Head nine miles down Lake Mary Road from Flagstaff to the signed Marshall Lake turnoff, between Upper and Lower Lake Mary, then turn left three miles to the lake.
Ashurst Lake and Campgrounds
Anglers pursue rainbow trout while windsurfers slice through the water on this small lake. Two campgrounds, both with water, vault toilets, and a $10 fee, sit beside the lake—Ashurst Campground on the west shore and Forked Pine on the east. The season at this 7,000-foot elevation runs May to mid-October. Picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) costs $5. On the way in you'll pass the Ashurst Dispersed Camping Area, no water or fee. There's a boat ramp near the entrance to Ashurst Campground. From Flagstaff, travel southeast 18 miles on Lake Mary Road, then turn left four miles on paved Forest Road 82E (between Mileposts 326 and 327). Coconino Reservoir, one mile south of Ashurst Lake on a dirt road, also has a good reputation for rainbow trout.
Pine Grove Campground
This large campground provides drinking water, coin-operated showers, flush toilets, dump station, paved roads, and summertime interpretive programs, $15; picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) is $5. The camp host sells ice and firewood. About half of the sites can be reserved (877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov), a good idea for summer weekends. The season at the 6,800-foot elevation is May to mid-October. Although not on a lake, the campground is within a few miles of Upper Lake Mary and Ashurst and Mormon Lakes. It lies opposite the turnoff for Ashurst Lake, 18 miles southeast of Flagstaff; turn west 0.8 mile on Forest Road 651 from Lake Mary Road.
Mormon settlers arrived on the shores of this lake in 1878 and started a dairy farm. Although Mormon is the largest natural lake in Arizona, the average depth is only 10 feet. The water level fluctuates; when it's low the lake is not much more than a marsh. Occasionally it dries up completely! Still, at times, anglers reel in sizable bullhead catfish and northern pike. Boats must be hand-carried to the water.
Lake Mary Road parallels the east shore and has a scenic viewpoint. The lodges, camping, and hiking areas lie along Mormon Lake Loop Road (Forest Road 90), which circles around the west side of the lake; the north turnoff is between Mileposts 323 and 324; south turnoff is between Mileposts 317 and 318. Dairy Springs and Double Springs campgrounds off this loop road both have drinking water, vault toilets, and a $10 fee; picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) costs $5. Half of the Dairy Springs sites and all those at Dairy Springs Group Campground can be reserved (877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov). The season at this 7,000-foot elevation runs May–September. From Flagstaff, head southeast 20 miles on Lake Mary Road, then turn right four miles on Mormon Lake Loop Road to the Dairy Springs turnoff, or go two miles farther to the turnoff for Double Springs.
Lakeview Trail (two miles roundtrip) climbs to a viewpoint from Double Springs Campground. For a longer trip, start near Dairy Springs Campground and hike 1,500 feet above Mormon Lake on the six-mile-roundtrip Mormon Mountain Trail; you'll enjoy pretty forest country, though trees block views at the top. Ledges Trail, an easy one-mile-roundtrip hike from Dairy Springs Campground, runs out to a ledge overlooking the lake.
Mormon Lake Lodge (928/774-0462 Flagstaff, 928/354-2227 local, www.mormonlakelodge.com), on the loop road at the south end of the lake, offers a variety of rooms and cabins ($45-145 for as many as seven persons), an RV park (May 15-Oct. 31, $24 RV w/hookups, $12 RV no hookups, $8 tent, $2 for showers), a Western-style steakhouse (daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner mid-May-mid-Oct., call for off-season weekend hours, $8-25), a saloon, grocery store with fishing and hunting supplies, and a gas station. Bands play weekends in summer at the saloon, which, like the steakhouse, is non-smoking. You can rent mountain bikes and ATVs. High Mountain Stables (928/354-2359, www.highmountainstables.com, mid-May-mid-Oct.) near the lodge will take you out on horseback from one hour to all day or overnight; groups can arrange hay or wagon rides. When snow covers the land, hopefully about late December to March, the lodge provides cross-country ski trails, rentals, and lessons, along with snowmobile tours. A small post office is wedged between the lodge and store. Munds Park, 11 miles west of the Mormon Lake Loop Road via unpaved Forest Road 240, has a motel, RV park, restaurants, and a service station. You can also reach it at I-17 Exit 322, 18 miles south of Flagstaff.
Kinnikinick Lake and Campground
Rainbow and brown trout, with the occasional catfish, swim in this reservoir (elev. 7,000 feet). Ponderosa and juniper trees and grasslands cover the gentle terrain around it. You're more likely to find solitude here, because the area lies off paved roads. The campground has drinking water, vault toilets, and a $10 fee May–Sept.; picnicking (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) costs $5. Sites are open off-season without water, fee, or camp host. Fishermen can use the gravel boat ramp and motors up to eight horsepower. From Flagstaff, go southeast 25 miles on Lake Mary Road to just past Mormon Lake (between Mileposts 318 and 319), turn left 4.7 miles on Forest Road 125, then right 4.4 miles on Forest Road 82, following signs. Though unpaved, these forest roads are usually okay for cars. Be warned that Forest Road 82 from here south to Long Lake is extremely rough and rocky, requiring high-clearance vehicles, dry weather, and lots of time; it's not recommended.
On to Mogollon Rim Ranger District