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Parker Canyon Lake Shore Trail #128, AZ

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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Loop 5.16 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,392 feet
Elevation Gain 52 feet
Accumulated Gain 314 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.73
Backpack Connecting Only
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7  2019-08-13 rwstorm
9  2019-03-03 GrottoGirl
12  2018-05-27 gummo
59  2018-04-14 vanillagorilla
12  2015-09-07 chumley
12  2013-02-17 cindyl
8  2011-08-14 lP14
19  2008-05-31 chumley
Author chumley
author avatar Guides 81
Routes 688
Photos 15,667
Trips 1,597 map ( 11,879 miles )
Age 48 Male Gender
Location Tempe, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Apr, Oct → Any
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  5:37am - 7:19pm
Official Route
0 Alternative

Hiking in wine country. Don't stumble
by chumley

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In 1966, the Arizona Game and Fish Department completed the earthen dam at the confluence of Parker Canyon, Collins Canyon, and Merritt Canyon in the beautiful rolling Canelo Hills southeast of Sonoita and six miles north of the Mexico border. The result is the largest lake on the Coronado National Forest. The Forest Service constructed and maintains the recreational facilities at the lake, including two campgrounds and a small general store.

The 130-acre lake features a spillway elevation of 5387 feet, creating a nice escape from the heat the desert floor, with temperatures about 10-15 degrees cooler than Tucson.

The lake is a popular destination for fishing, and it's proximity to Tucson (just over an hour away) can lead to some crowds, especially on weekends. It's only about 25 miles south of Sonoita and Elgin, so a morning hike on the Lake Shore Trail earns you the optional reward of an afternoon trip on the "Southern Trail" ... a tasting tour of Southern Arizona's wine country.

But first to the hike! The trail begins at the fully developed boat ramp area, featuring three fishing docks, the general store, restrooms, and a few huge cottonwood trees. Head north from the store in a counterclockwise direction around the lake and the trail begins as a paved sidewalk with occasional benches for resting and enjoying the view. You are likely to encounter numerous anglers here as this is the primary walking route between the docks and the campground.

From the start of the hike, the lake looks deceptively small, as you can see less than half of it from this vantage point. But the size of the lake and the length of the hike will also surprise as numerous inlets really add to the coastline.

Before passing the first inlet, the pavement ends and the trail becomes a very well maintained and comfortable packed dirt/gravel surface. The trail stays only a few feet from the shore and continues back toward the west before turning north with the campground on the hill above at about the half mile marker. Along the entire east side of the lake there are numerous trails leading from the various camping areas and nearby road access, but there is no problem keeping with the shore trail as it is well-traveled and easily followed.

After 3/4 mile, the hike enters another inlet featuring another small fishing dock. A side trail leads from here to Rock Bluff Campground (a group site). From this inlet, there is no view of the main lake, but requires you to continue about half a mile to get back out on a point which features nice views to the south, the dam, and the campground on the hill.

It's another 3/4 mile to the end of the next inlet, one of two which make the north end of the lake. Here you will find a sign that indicates the boat dock is 2 1/4 miles behind you. This end of the lake is much more wooded, with shady pines and large cottonwoods. The trail finds its way among tall grasses in but is generally still easy to follow. At this point you I was wondering when the trail would make the final turn back toward the south, but there was one more inlet and a short northern section before turning making the turn back down the west side of the lake.

The lake was full when I was here, but water levels vary each year. Even while full, the water level is pretty shallow at the north end of the lake, and there are sections of water grasses. I encountered what must have been hundreds of frogs in some kind of mating ritual. The noise they created was incredible. It sounded like a group of people on quads, or maybe a few chainsaws in full operation. The sound could be heard from a mile away!

The first half mile heading back continues to be in a more wooded area, with numerous small inlets to hike around before becoming a much straighter course toward the dam. A small inlet followed by a small peninsula at about 3-1/4 miles obscures the dam until you are virtually upon it. After crossing the dam, the trail heads away from the lake to the bottom of the spillway. Cross the spillway and head back up and over the hill to the lake shore.

A quarter mile past the dam, the trail turns west and heads back the final mile to the docks. There is of course, one final small inlet just to make the hike be just that much longer than you thought it was!

Back at the dock, grab some food at the store, or relax on a bench under the shady cottonwoods. From here, hop in the car and head up to Elgin for the wine tasting!

(The Arizona Trail connects at the lake, so if you're backpacking the trail, this makes a nice respite where you can put your pack down for a couple of hours and go for what is an easy stroll relative to that!)

A word of caution: While Parker Canyon Lake is a developed recreation area that is usually well visited, there are times of the year and days of the week that you might find some solitude. Since the lake is only 6 miles from Mexico, the area is frequented by smugglers and immigrants (as indicated by a sign when entering the recreation area).

There's a handful of homes on some private property in the hills a mile or two above the lake, and in a sobering display for this secluded mountain community, every cabin I saw was adorned with security bars on their windows and doors like you might see in South Phoenix.

So, keep that in mind if you head out here by yourself or during times when you might be alone.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2008-06-02 chumley
    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.

    Permit $$

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Tucson travel east about 20 miles to Exit 281. Travel on State Route 83 south about 50 miles passing through Sonoita and the scenic Canelo Hills. The road is paved the entire way, but the last 4 miles are narrow and winding. There are signs beginning at SR 83 and I-10 which direct you to the lake, so quite easy to find.
    page created by chumley on Jun 02 2008 9:06 pm
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