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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE

WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE TRAIL Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Although it’s best known as one of the best mountain bike trails on the Mogollon Rim, the Willow Springs trail also provides an invigorating trek for those who prefer to hoof-it. The route is a closed double-track dirt road that rambles through ponderosa pine forests and boggy backwaters above Willow Springs Lake. From the trailhead, the path crosses an open meadow beneath humming power lines. At about the half-mile point, the trail comes to a fork in the road. From here, it’s best to go right because the trail signage is easier to follow when the loop is hiked counterclockwise. Because the trail is surrounded by prime wildlife habitat, there’s always a good chance of spotting deer, elk and waterfowl during the hike. Near the half-way mark, the route passes several shallow ponds and marsh areas before meeting the shores of the lake. The trail parallels the water for about a quarter-mile before it turns uphill and heads back into the forest. Finding your way along this short segment is a bit tricky--look for generic trail signs tacked to trees to use as your guide. The return leg of the loop climbs up along a shaded ridge where bright blue daylilies and brilliant red paintbrush flowers blossom in the cool sheets of spring water that cascade over the trail and into the lake below. LENGTH: 8.1-mile loop RATING: easy ELEVATION GAIN: 100 feet GETTING THERE: From the junction of Highways 87 and 260 in Payson, go right (east) on Highway 260 and continue to Larson Ridge Road (Forest Road 237). Turn left on FR-237 and continue a short distance to the parking area with restroom on the left just south of Forest Road 237A. The trail starts a few yards up the road from the parking area at an unmarked gate on the left. From there, follow the generic blue trail blazes and “bike” signs. This description turns right at the first major junction.

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