Overview: Willow Springs Canyon Lower is more of a route than a trail but it is a well defined route staying in the waterway the entire length to its junction with Saguaro Lake. Awe inspiring cliffs, hundreds of feet tall, line the canyon on both sides providing non stop scenery. Rock hopping turns to bouldering as the canyon narrows to a slot with one technical section in which many are going to need a rope assist for the final stretch to the water.
Warning: Flash flood warning. This normally dry canyon can fill with water quickly and the water can be strong and violent. Evidence abounds that water at depths over ten feet deep have passed this way. Water will significantly add to the difficulty as the entire hike is in the waterway.
Hike: The trailhead has several nice sites suitable for primitive camping. Starting at the junction with Rough-N-Ready Canyon and the Willow Springs Basin, the Willow Springs Canyon Lower heads in a north northwest direction. The smooth sandy canyon bottom quickly becomes a rock hop. Pick and choose the best path downstream. Towering cliffs offer ample opportunity for photo taking, looking for wildlife and simply enjoying the splendor of this canyon. The canyon turns and twists with new exciting views around each corner. Winter hiking with the sun at extreme angles can have you in the shade much of the day and present some challenges taking photos with the dark shadows. On the flipside a summer hike would be like a convection oven with the sun straight overhead. There are several sections where light bouldering is required as well as the use of hands. Sturdy footwear and walking sticks are a plus due to all the ankle twisting rocks and the inclination to look up constantly. There are several opportunities for side trips and it can make it difficult to make any forward progress in the canyon. The trail eventually narrows down to a short slot section in which you can touch the walls on either side at the same time. Soon you may hear boats on Saguaro Lake. The noise echoes up the canyon. You are approaching Saguaro Lake but it is still out of sight. Keep in mind that the level of the lake can change quickly because it is regulated by the dam. With this in mind you approach the final obstacle. A fifteen foot drop down some boulders. There is no bypass. Consider your options before continuing. If you go down can you get back out ? Scramblers can negotiate this especially if you have a partner. Setting up a rope assist is an good option. Others will use this as a reason to turn back and return the way you came.
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To canyon trip Access to this trailhead on foot 4.5 miles via Rough-N-Ready Canyon or 4.0 miles via Willows Springs Basin. By vehicle strictly 4 X 4 by accessing Willow Springs Trailhead at milepost 204 on Highway 88 with a Bulldog Canyon Permit. This Trail is part of the Bull Dog Canyon OHV area and an administrative permit can be obtained at no cost from the Mesa Tonto Forest Office. The permit will allow further access beyond the gate for those with a four wheel drive vehicle. The trailhead is at the junction of Rough-N-Ready Canyon and Willow Springs Basin.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.