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Monday, September 11, 2017


Aspens and pines around Willow Springs Lake
Although it’s best known as one of the best mountain bike trails on the Mogollon Rim, the Willow Springs Lake Trail also provides an invigorating trek for those who prefer to hoof-it. Located 30 miles east of Payson with easy to find trailheads along State Route 260, the route is made up of closed double-track dirt roads and lakeside footpaths that ramble through ponderosa pine forests and boggy backwaters above the spring-fed fishing hole.  Blue diamond tree blazes and generic bike signs mark the way. 
Willow Springs Lake
Some turns are easy-to-miss, so be sure to spot the next marker at each junction.
The loop swings through prime wildlife habitat where there’s always a good chance of spotting deer, elk and waterfowl during the hike. Black bears also inhabit the pine-aspen woodlands but are much more elusive.
Hikers take a break at the lake
Where the forest is thickest, you’ll notice orange and blue bands on some pine trees. These markings indicate areas prepped for thinning projects that will improve forest health, biodiversity and wildlife environments while reducing the chance of catastrophic wildfires.   Near the half-way mark, the route passes several shallow ponds and marsh areas before meeting the shores of the lake.
Members of Arizona Hiking Group gather at a junction
Slabs of limestone that line the 150-acre lake serve as convenient seating to take a break and watch for ospreys gliding above and diving for trout. The trail parallels the water for about a quarter-mile before it turns uphill and heads back into the forest.
A Great Blue Heron hunts for trout
The return leg of the loop climbs up along a shaded ridge where bright blue Western daylilies and brilliant red paintbrush flowers blossom in the cool sheets of spring water that cascade over the trail and into the lake below.
Leafybract aster late summer bloomer
LENGTH: 7.9 miles
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 7600’ – 7300’
Horse Trap Trailhead:
From the AZ87/260 junction in Payson, go 31 miles east on AZ260 to the Horse Trap trailhead on the left between mileposts 284 and 285 (across from Young-Heber Road). Follow the short access path and head right at the first junction.
Horse Trap trailhead
Larson Ridge Trailhead:
From the State Route 87/260 junction in Payson, go right (east) on SR 260 to Larson Ridge Road (Forest Road 237). Turn left on FR237 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.
INFO: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest