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Watershed Trail Day Hike
Prescott National Forest
April 28, 2018
by Jim Buyens
  GPS Map 

Warm weather in Phoenix had driven me north and I’ve always liked the Prescott area, so that’s where I looked for a hike. But all the hikes familiar to me were already scheduled this year of just not that interesting. So I drug out my spirit of adventure and discovery and scheduled an exploratory hike.

In the past I’d frequently used the Watershed Trailhead on Senator Highway as the starting point for the Goldwater Lakes hike heading westward, and I knew there were more trails to the east, and I’d always been curious about them. For some reason, however, I couldn’t find much information about them. Oh well, it was supposed to be exploratory.

Here’s the whole crowd: Jim, Stacey, David, Linda, Carl, Lin, Heather, Monika, and Daniel. [photo by Lin]

The Forest Service Map listed the Watershed Trail as Moderate and showed it forking off to more trails as it travelled east. The plan, therefore, was to stop at each fork and then decide as a group which direction seemed more interesting. When we got five miles out, we’d turn around and backtrack to the trailhead.

Milling about the trailhead and trying to get organized. [photo by Carl]

The terrain, however, tuned out to be considerably hillier than it looked on the map. (Imagine that!) The first mile was steep, rocky and rose about 500 feet. After that it followed an irregular ridgeline, and while the climbs and descents weren’t quite as long they were just as steep, just as rocky, and there were very few flat sections to catch our breath.

We stop for a break at one of the few level sections in the hike. [photo by Lin]
This shows the typical terrain during most of the hike: steep and rocky down, then steep and rocky up.
[photo by Lin]

I’d expected the trail to be mostly wooded, but along the ridgeline the vegetation was mostly brush. The direct sunlight made the hike a little warm but the lack of trees did provide some nice panoramic views.

The payback for climbing upward, of course, is that you eventually reach views like this. [photo by Lin]

At the first intersection we had a choice of continuing on the Watershed Trail #299 or starting on the Seven Mile Gulch Trail #9854. With nothing else to go on, we chose the #9854 because a gulch seemed more likely to provide great scenery.

Here we are at a junction deciding which unplanned direction to explore next. [photo by Lin]

After about half a mile we could’ve switched to the Ranch Trail #62, which apparently leads all the way to Lynx Lake. That lake, though, is at a considerably lower altitude than the mountain we were standing on and we could see the trail dropping steeply right away. So we continued on the Seven Mile Gulch Trail, but not for long.

With nothing else to go on I’d estimated the hike’s total elevation as 1,000 feet, but at that point we were already over and we were getting tired of the steep rocky surfaces. People still wanted to do the announced distance of ten miles, though, so we decided to return to the trailhead and complete the distance on the Goldwater Lakes Trail.

This gopher snake provided quite a surprise. They’re harmless but large. [photo by Carl]

Just two weeks earlier I’d led a Goldwater Lakes hike and I was worried about it getting repetitious. But those who’d been on the earlier hike said they didn’t mind seeing the lake again, and anyway we’d be hiking from Senator Highway to the lake and back, a stretch the earlier hike didn’t include.

Stopping for lunch at Upper Goldwater Lake. [photo by Lin]

So off to the lake we hiked and that’s where we stopped for lunch—a picnic table under the pines with a view of the lake. Everyone was in good spirits.

There may not be solitude around the lake but there’s definitely serenity. [photo by Lin]
A rare treat in Arizona: Hiking along a wooded lake. [photo by Lin]

After that we continued hiking counterclockwise around the lake until we reached the dam that forms it. The dam isn’t open to hiking, walking, or people in general, so we turned around and hiked around the lake clockwise until we reached the other side of the dam. Finally we returned to the Goldwater Lakes Trail for our return to the trailhead.

In retrospect, I wish I’d known that the Watershed Trail isn’t part of the Prescott Circle Trail. The two run roughly parallel for a while, and then both intersect the Ranch Trail #62. but they’re two different trails. This isn’t obvious on the maps I have, because the Forest Service maps don’t show the Prescott Circle Trail and the Prescott Circle Trail map doesn’t show the Forest Service trails. My suspicion is that the Prescott Circle Trail is the less difficult, but not having tried that segment, I really can’t stay for sure.

Six of us wanted to stay for lunch but not in downtown Prescott, because of the congestion. So instead we stopped at Tito’s Taqueria Guadalajara, a clean, well-run, local restaurant in Prescott Valley that I’d visited once before. It was fun, friendly, everyone enjoyed the food, and that makes it a keeper.

See you next time!

This is the dam that forms Upper Goldwater Lake. It’s closed for hiking. [photo by Lin]

Hike Statistics
Total Distance:9.85miles
Starting Time:8:43AM
Moving Time:4:28hrs:min
Stopped Time:0:19hrs:min
Finishing Time:1:31PM
Avg. Speed Moving:2.1mph
Avg. Speed Overall:2.0mph
Starting Elevation:6,115ft
Minimum Elevation:5,959ft
Maximum Elevation:6,672ft
Total Ascent:1,602ft
Starting Temperature:64°
Finishing Temperature: 76°

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updated April 30, 2018