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Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim, AZ

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267 24 1
Guide 24 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Heber
3.9 of 5 by 10
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,528 feet
Elevation Gain -439 feet
Avg Time One Way 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 4.73
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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8  2018-07-28
Willows Springs Lake / Canyon
2  2018-07-21 ssk44
7  2018-06-30 topohiker
6  2018-06-23
Willow Springs - Canyon and Bike Loop
12  2018-06-21 DixieFlyer
17  2018-06-12 kelly14
5  2018-06-12 DixieFlyer
13  2018-01-24 kelly14
Page 1,  2,  3
Author chumley
author avatar Guides 75
Routes 667
Photos 13,162
Trips 1,416 map ( 10,534 miles )
Age 46 Male Gender
Location Tempe, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Jun → Any
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:08am - 6:28pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Tale of Two Willows
by chumley

Likely In-Season!
How many Willow Springs Canyons are there in Arizona? More than two! This hike describes the one that begins at Willow Springs Lake, at an elevation of 7500 feet on top of the Mogollon Rim.

This is an off-trail hike heading 4-miles down an ever-narrowing canyon beginning at the Willow Springs Lake dam to the canyon's very remote confluence with Woods Canyon and Chevelon Canyon.

Mileage Note
This is listed as a one-way hike! Returning the way you came will double the mileage indicated, to a total of 8 miles traveled. Other options are available as indicated at the end of this description.

Begin at the Willow Springs Lake boat ramp, and head north toward the dam. Follow the left side of the fence along the spillway and follow it down to the back side of the dam. You've already gone half a mile! This is by far the steepest terrain you will encounter all day! Enjoy the stroll in the grassy meadows alongside the trickling stream. Follow the existing use trails and/or old roadbed that parallels the drainage. This relaxing part of the hike meanders for nearly 1.5 miles before the meadow closes in and the trickling grassy creek enters a forested area and turns into more of a rocky mountain stream. Ideally you will want to be on the right side (east) of the creek, so as you meander down the meadows above, make sure to find your way to the right bank at some point. Not that it is difficult to cross once you enter the more wooded lower section of the canyon.

If you are not an experienced off-trail hiker, I don't recommend proceeding down canyon beyond the grassy meadows and the 1.5-mile distance. It gets progressively more difficult and more remote the farther you go. Make sure to turn around if you no longer feel comfortable with the terrain.

Once in the wooded section of canyon, the use trails peter out and you will find yourself doing more exploring and bush-whacking. Initially, the canyon is wide and shallow, and there's plenty of room on the banks for hiking. Soon however, you will find that travel is best done via rock-hopping down the center of the stream. The canyon narrows and the vegetation along the banks becomes thicker and less-pleasant to attempt to get through. There are occasional pools, but none much more than knee deep. The entire hike can be done without getting your feet wet, but there are a couple of places where a little creativity may be in order to accomplish that goal.

As you descend the gentle slope farther into the canyon, the sound of the mountain stream you are walking in soothes the ears. The increasing remoteness raises the possibility of wildlife sightings. I encountered a big, fat porcupine on a rock right in the middle of the stream. Unlike many wildlife sightings, he was not just a shadow running away, but rather, a slow, lazy, wobbly blob that I had to encourage to get out of my way!

About 3.75 miles into your hike, the most unpleasant of things happens! The stream you are walking in just disappears. Vanished. Nothing but dry rocks, sand, and boulders in a 500-foot deep canyon. You can proceed the last few hundred yards to the junction of Woods Canyon and Chevelon Canyon. There is ample flat ground and pine and willow shaded forest at the junction for lunch or camping. From here, turn around and hike the 4-miles back upstream to the lake.

Water Flow Note
This description was written based on a pre-monsoon June 30 hike. During spring snowmelt or monsoon runoff, water may exist in the canyon below this point. It does appear that the stream up to this point is perennial and fed by multiple unseen seeps/springs along the way. This has been a very dry year and there was ample clear water flowing nicely in the stream the entire way up to just before the junction where water disappeared. Only the very lower portion of this canyon hike appears to be susceptible to dangerous flooding potential. But be aware of surrounding terrain, waterflow, and weather if you visit during the summer monsoon.

Backpacking Options
Backpackers might continue down Chevelon Canyon another ~10-miles to the first established canyon exit point at the Telephone Ridge Trail #203, or the full 13-miles to the head of Chevelon Canyon Lake where another exit trail exists. Or they might head up Woods Canyon for the 6-miles to the Woods Canyon Lake dam. Except for at the junction of the three canyons, the only good camping opportunities in Willow Springs Canyon were in the grassy meadow section in the first 1.5 miles from the lake.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2012-07-02 chumley

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Willow Springs Canyon Loop
    On Sunday, four of us made an extended loop around Willow Springs Lake. This is another lake I haven’t been to before. We opted for a clockwise loop and this worked well. I really liked the spillway below the lake. It looks like they blasted it out with dynamite. We continued down canyon for a mile or two and then the canyon was swallowed with brush. We didn’t feel like fighting our way through so we returned to the lake and continued the loop. It went by quickly as storm clouds moved in. The skies opened with just under a mile to go. We hurried back to the cars and then packed up and headed back to Phoenix. Thanks Chumley for planning the weekend and thanks for driving!
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Willow Springs Canyon Loop
    Carrie and Johan had never been to Willow Springs and 9L hadn't been there in years so I decided to lead them down Willow Springs Canyon for an easy little after-kayak hike. We all enjoyed the hike in the canyon but turned around when it got thick. A little short on mileage we decided to go up the east side and loop the lake. Apparently there's a bike trail here! Who knew!?

    Along the lake it's pretty nice, but the south side of the lake has been heavily thinned and it's pretty sparse and ugly right now. Give it a year or two to green up again.

    I wish I had a track loaded because with thunder rumbling we stuck to the bike trail which was far from the most efficient way to get back. Eventually we bailed back to the road. We got poured on for the last half mile, arriving back at the cars soaked since we hadn't planned for a 3 hour hike and none of us brought our raingear! ](*,)
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Highline - Woods - Willow Spring Lakes Loop
    Escaped the valley to the cool air, pines and lakes of the Rim. :y:

    I had never seen Willow Springs Lake, so I needed to bake that into the loop. A 40% chance of rain scared some away, but temps were perfect all day, with just a few sprinkles.

    We were the second truck at the 260 Trailhead when we started around 7:30. The eastern end of the Highline affords some nice views of the rim as it rollercoasters towards the Drew Trail #291, 4 miles away.

    The Drew Trail was the only extended climb for the day at 800' in less than a mile. We made our way through the people camping, over to the first of the easy bushwhacks for the day, Woods Canyon, a tributary of the lake.

    Next a fun favorite, the Woods Canyon Lake Trail. I've always liked this easy stroll around this picturesque lake. There were others out enjoying the day, but not in the numbers I expected. Stopped and took pictures of the kids, to see how their family was doing, and then headed past the dam into Woods Canyon on the east side of the lake.

    Woods Canyon is an easy walk with use trails for the most part where we hiked. 2+ miles into it we made the short steep climb out and made our way across some scattered pine and meadow area and into Willow Spring Canyon. Getting up to the lake is easiest by following the spillway. I was not as impressed with Willow Spring Lake.

    It started sprinkling a bit on us as we made the rest of the journey on the Rims Lake Vista Trail and then made our way back on the Military Sinkhole Trail.

    I love the rim hikes and another good hike up there, with interesting conversations with Karl and Ray. Thanks for driving Karl.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Highline - Woods - Willow Spring Lakes Loop
    This was a very nice hike in the Rim Country with Karl and Bruce. Great weather at the start, an occasional rumble of thunder with some sprinkles starting at about the halfway point and continuing through the remainder of the hike. It was a little wetter at the end, but not enough to detract from this splendid trek along the Highline, through a couple of canyons, past two lakes and across an open meadow. See The Eagle's GPS route for more info.

    This is officially my longest hike in terms of miles. I've had several close to, but none longer than 20 miles. I know it's not a lot for many of you out there, but it's always nice to reach a new milestone.

    Karl, it was great meeting you! Thanks for the ride and the refreshments, and I thank you both for a wonderful time. I can't remember the last time I talked so much on a hike. I'm sure the lower AEG contributed, but great company was the bigger factor.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Larson Ridge
    I showed Fan the Larson Ridge / Chevelon Creek view spots.We started from the Rim Top TH and headed up the bike trail.

    Along the way we talked about smartphones and GPS apps.Fan liked the Tremble GPS app, until she heard the split statistics from the HAZ tracks. She decided to dump Tremble and go with HAZ tracks.

    From the bike trail we went off trail to Willows Springs creek and ended at FR237/Larsons Ridge.
    We went up FR237 to where it ended. We spent time exploring around. Fan found a rock overhang with good view. It started to rain so we took a long break/lunch under the rock overhang. At times the rain came down hard. Once the sun came out, we started the trek back. It rained on us 3 more times before the clouds parted.

    We took the General Crook / Willows Springs bike and the Sardine trails back to the Jeep.
    The Sardine trail feels extra-long in the dark with all of its twists and turns.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Larson Ridge
    The goal for the day was to explore Larson Ridge and to explore some of the abandoned roads along the way.

    I started at the Rim top TH. The first 3 hours of hike was fruitless. Then I figured out a direct route from the bike trail to Larson Ridge. I went through Willow Springs canyon. The creek had a good flow through it.

    Larson Ridge is a neat area. As you go North Horse Trap Canyon comes in from the West (left) and Long Tom canyon comes in from the East (right). Eventually Horse Trap Canyon becomes Chevelon Canyon. Larson Ridge ends at the convergence of Chevelon Canyon and Long Tom Canyon.
    There are numerous camping spots along the road. There's also a number of Chevelon Creek views spots along the way. The best view spots are where there's rock outcroppings at the edge of the ridge.

    The two best view spots are:
    Larson Spring Tank -there’s a big flat rocky area here- (I didn't find the tank)
    At the end of Larson Ridge -there a big car size rock here-

    I took the following route back:
    Larson ridge
    Gen Crook trail
    Willow Springs trail
    Sardine trail
    502 Bike trail

    This was one of few times that the fire threat was posted as LOW. The ground was super soggy and there was a lot of standing water on the trails.

    The temps were just down right chilly. It never did warm up. At least I didn't get rained on for once! When I got back to the Jeep the covers had frost on them.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Willow Springs Canyon - Lower

    What a special summer destination. This place is sooo me. Pristine, remote, and completely unspoiled. This just may be the best kept secret on the Rim. I hope it stays that way. It's just a gorgeous high-country canyon/creek hike. Lower Willow will become a yearly pilgrimage for me. Its definitely not for everyone... The lower canyon is relentlessly rugged with boulders and dead-fall everywhere. Add a little monsoon rain to all the rocks and the rodeo really begins. This is a great destination for the adventurous spirit. The easily frustrated need not apply.

    Note: See corresponding GPS route for access option

    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Well what can I say about willow springs canyon.. Starts off nice and mellow with a stinky (sulphur as previously stated) green creek to follow. Honestly the area is quite nice, the meadow and the calm water make for a very serene experience, but this is the spot that lulls you to sleep per say, as to whats to come.. The more you press on the more difficult it tends to get. Forget any version of a trail short of one made by the local game. Mostly an ankle/knee breaking jump from rock to duck under fallen log.. Oh yes,it is worth mention, that the amount of dead fall encountered during this hike is formidable... You absolutely need to be sure of your route finding skills on this one. Lots of stopping and looking for the "path of least resistance" involved. We logged 5 miles of zig zagging rock to rock, and bank to bank, to finally find a decent place to set up camp. Of course we passed many established ones on the way back..But hey theres something to be said about icicles snagging up your zipper when you're trying to get out of your tent in the morning(I really need to buy a sleeping bag). Hiked out in the same fashion. No real WOW factor or amazing views, but the solitude is what all the pain makes worth while. Not a soul, though we did encounter all the "grow materials" mentioned in Chumleys trip log. We found most lines cut and all trash to have been there for some time. So don't worry yourselves there. Just know it gets pretty rugged really fast.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    Having visited here in the summer, I had high hopes of a beautiful mountain stream bathed in autumn color. I was disappointed. I was a little late for much of the foliage here, as it looks like most of whatever grows along this creek is subject to frost and basically just dies. Nonetheless, this is such an awesome hike. I don't know why it's not more popular.

    It could be the irrigation tubing I keep running into. It's only 2 miles from the lake, which seems a little bit close to civilization for idiots to have a grow site, but I'm not a big fan of exploring stuff like that, so I ended up turning around a little bit earlier than I had planned. The bright orange ribbon marking one of the spots where the tubing was drawing water seemed very fresh, and makes me think that law enforcement had marked it. After all, what kind of fool would draw attention to their illegal dope with bright ribbons?

    Anyway, another nice day in Willow Springs Canyon. Always a pleasant flow of water making the hike really relaxing.
    Willow Springs Canyon - Mogollon Rim
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    17-mile loop: Meadow Trail to Woods Canyon to Willow Springs Canyon, returning on the General Crook Trail.

    Sorry for the long description! A lot of new terrain to cover!
    I had wanted to explore South Chevelon Canyon for a while, and knew nothing about it except that it is 18-20 miles from Woods Canyon Lake to Chevelon Canyon Lake. Figuring that would take at least 2 or 3 nights of backpacking, I decided that it wasn't realistic right now. So I opted for a shorter trip to get my feet wet on the route. I decided to hike down Woods Canyon from the lake until reaching Willow Springs Canyon, and then hike up to Willow Springs Lake.

    I woke up late, didn't feel good, and got a late start. I had mapped out the route and knew it would be about 15 miles to complete the loop. Estimating how long it might take in the canyons, I figured that I couldn't start hiking after 2pm or I would risk darkness while still off-trail. Having never been in the area before, if it was going to get dark on me, I wanted to be in the easy stretch of familiar territory of the Rim Vista Trail, FR300, and General Crook Trail, rather than in an unknown canyon, off-trail.

    Sure enough I got to the Rim Vista trailhead at 1:50, and began my hike down the Meadow Trail at exactly 2:00. Half an hour later, I was at the dam and headed downstream in the grassy canyon. There were some pools of stagnant water, but otherwise, the end of June was taking it's toll on this drainage. The first couple of miles were easy to hike, and as I was cognizant of the time, I was able to keep my speed close to 3mph. Initially, the hiking was flat and grassy, but the vegetation increased, and the use trails became less defined.

    Soon it was a struggle to decide if it was easier to hike next to the dry creek, or just make my way down the rocks in it. Having left the lake far behind, there were no signs of people anywhere, but plenty of signs of wildlife. I startled an elk and its young calf, as well as a rafter of turkey... big, fat, delicious-looking turkey! I was surprised at the number of blue spruce in the canyon, offering a nice contrasting color to the bright green grass and other flora along the creekbed.

    Eventually however, the canyon slowly transitioned from grassy meadow to rocky canyon. The only way forward was to navigate the boulders that fill the creekbed. From time to time, it looked like there was an option for hiking alongside the creek, but every time I tried, the path I had seen ended abruptly in deadfall and brush, pushing me back to boulder hopping.

    Knowing I was looking for the junction of Willow Springs Canyon, and hoping to be there before 5:30, I pressed forward. A couple of large rockslides and one good landslide along the canyon provided some different views than you typically see in lower elevation canyons in Arizona.

    Finally, it looked like there was some easier hiking on the right bank, so I headed over and found a very well defined wildlife trail through a nice healthy forest. Of course, after 200 yards it ended and I realized I was at the junction of the three canyons. It was exactly 5:00 so I was happy with my time, knowing I had 3 hours of daylight remaining.

    Having studied the satellite photos of the area, I was anticipating that the lower half of Willow Springs Canyon would also be an unpleasant boulder field like Woods Canyon had turned into. I wasn't really looking forward to that, and decided to take a short break, have a sandwich and hydrate before pressing on.

    When I started again, I had not gone 300 yards when the most pleasant thing happened. Suddenly the dry canyon I had been hopping rocks in began to trickle with a little running water. And suddenly more and more! There is no spring marked on the map and yet, the water flow was as impressive as many mountain springs in Arizona! :D What a fantastic surprise!

    The only way to navigate upstream was in the center of the mountain stream, but the rocks are plentiful and getting my feet wet was totally unnecessary. The stream ran over dark black rocks, and the water, though crystal clear, appeared black, juxtaposed against brilliant green grasses and flora. This is still a very rugged and remote area, and the going was slow. Deadfall across the creek, and occasional route-choosing decisions impeded progress from time to time.

    I startled a big, fat porcupine sitting on a rock in the center of the stream. He stared at me and didn't move. I looked for a way around, but there was no option, so I slowly approached him, calling out for him to move. He slowly waddled his fat butt to the shore and disappeared into the grass. That's my 2nd porcupine sighting in Arizona!

    So I continued upstream for what seemed like forever, but despite getting later in the day, it actually got lighter as the canyon got shallower and the remaining sun was sometimes visible on the trees above me. The canyon suddenly changed complexion, going from a beautiful wooded mountain stream, to a meandering meadow of grass with pools of water and little flow. I figured I was now close to the lake, but I was wrong. The grassy meadow seemed to continue forever, probably because I was now tired and anxious to get back on a familiar trail before daylight was lost.

    Finally I arrived at the dam and climbed up in time to catch beautiful sunset light across Willow Springs Lake. I had to climb two fences to get across the spillway and head for the boat ramp. Anybody else who does this should hike up on the north side of the spillway to avoid the closed areas. I didn't want to retrace my steps, so I opted for the illegal route.

    I now knew I had 4-5 miles back to my truck, but it was familiar territory. There's no established trail between Willow Springs Lake and the FR300 TH for General Crook and Rim Vista trails, and was more of an adventure than I thought it would be, but with the waypoint on my GPS I still found it easily. As darkness set in, I decided to stick to the Crook trail because it is essentially a closed dirt road and I figured I could make better time on that than the Rim Trail. Plus, the fun of the Rim Trail is the view and at night there's not much to see except the annoyance of bright headlights passing you on FR300. Choosing to skip the headlamp, I hiked Crook with only the aid of the nearly-full moon above me.

    So I made it the 3 miles back to the truck in about 45 minutes, arriving just before 9pm. Exhausted, but feeling the accomplishment of a good day! Managed to be in my garage only an hour and 45 minutes later, and bed very shortly thereafter!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Willow Springs Lake is located about 1 mile north of AZ-260 at the end of the paved FR149. The turn for FR149 and Willow Springs Lake is clearly marked on AZ-260, about 30 miles east of Payson, and one mile east of the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center.

    From PHX, take the AZ-87 (Beeline Hwy) to Payson (appx. 80 miles from Loop 202/AZ-87 junction). In Payson, turn right at the McDonalds and follow signs for AZ-260 toward Show Low. Follow AZ-260 for 30 miles and turn left onto FR149 at clearly marked sign for Willow Springs Lake.
    page created by chumley on Jul 02 2012 11:16 am
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