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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Prime and Vail Lakes, AZ

no permit
113 15 0
Guide 15 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff SE
3.3 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 0.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Loop 4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,224 feet
Elevation Gain 50 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 4.25
Backpack Possible & Connecting
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
5  2018-09-08 MountainMatt
4  2016-08-07 JoelHazelton
5  2011-06-04 jkinnear
5  2011-04-10 fotogirl53
4  2011-03-22 hippiepunkpirate
7  2011-03-19
Marshall Lake to Prime Lake
5  2009-03-10 JoelHazelton
7  2009-02-14 Randal_Schulhaus
Page 1,  2
Author hippiepunkpirate
author avatar Guides 25
Routes 36
Photos 2,877
Trips 657 map ( 2,276 miles )
Age 33 Male Gender
Location Peoria, AZ
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Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Jun → 7 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:10am - 6:30pm
0 Alternative
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Named place Nearby
Prime time to Un-Vail this hike!
by hippiepunkpirate

Likely In-Season!
Prime Lake and Vail Lake are located on Anderson Mesa south of Flagstaff near Lake Mary. Both are accessible directly by car, but I am providing a nice little loop hike that goes to both lakes plus an overlook onto Lake Mary from an easily accessed trailhead. This hike is virtually flat and is not at all strenuous so it is perfect if you are bringing along small children. It is a very uncrowded area, so I recommend it if you are looking for an easy and relatively unknown hike in the Flagstaff area. It is worth noting that both lakes are relatively small and are more like marshes than lakes. Fishing is probably not an option, but ducks and frogs provide for some humorous ear candy. This hike uses some unmarked forest roads, as well as a section of the Arizona Trail, but is for the most part unsigned. Finding the way does require paying attention to the layout of the trails.

Note: New fences have been put in to restrict the movement of cattle, not people. This entire hike takes place on public land. The fences have PCV pipe on the top wire to allow you to hop over them.

Hike: Heading east from the trailhead, the Arizona Trail snakes to the right, while two old two-track roads form parallels. The middle road will take you directly to Vail Lake, but after about a quarter mile you will see Prime Lake, which you will definitely want to explore. Just make sure to get back on the middle road. Along this road there are some beautiful views of the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden to the northwest and Mormon Mountain to the south. I have witnessed pronghorn antelope bouncing across the fields and heard the howl of coyotes as well along this section of road. A road will come in on your left with a sign for Vail Lake. Turn right. It is possible to walk the circumference of Vail Lake, but I recommend hopping the barbed wire fence and doing a half circle around the east side of the lake to the backside. If you go early in the morning, the trees on the east side of the lake cast a shadows on some volcanic rocks and is a nice place to sit and enjoy the sounds of the ducks and frogs.

At the back side (south side) of Vail Lake there should a small unmarked foot trail that leads to the fence. Hop back over the fence and continue along this trail. When you come to a forest service road (probably 94860), turn right. When I was here in September 2008, the fields along this road were blanketed with yellow wildflowers. Be on the lookout for the trail marker for the Arizona Trail. Turn right on the Arizona Trail which will take you to the lookout point on the edge of Anderson Mesa which views Lake Mary, the Lake Mary Graben and Mormon Mountain. From here the Arizona Trail should take you back to your vehicle.

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2008-09-09 hippiepunkpirate
    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
    Prime and Vail Lakes
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Only went to Prime Lake on this trip. Headed out this way for a sunset shoot. Apparently I don't know my way around out here like I thought because I set off cross country a good 90 degrees away from the actual direction I needed to reach Prime Lake. Figured it out quick enough, but then hit the barbed wire fence surrounding the lake and walked around to the gate. Yeah, looking at the GPS track is pretty laughable, I'm not posting it though. Anyway, shot a nice sunset while getting my knees soaked from kneeling in the snow.
    Prime and Vail Lakes
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    After a couple different tries at figuring out where the trailhead really was, we ended up parking just northeast of the Lowell Observatory at the top of FS 128. We did find the 3 roads mentioned in the Hike Description but they were pretty rough and we weren't sure they were the right ones so we turned around. We investigated the immediate area and reviewed the hike description a couple times and just decided to go for it as we did find the AZ Trail marker that was heading east.

    We felt pretty comfortable in our decision as we approached Prime Lake per the sign that was there talking about the habitat and such. We continued a southerly track with the Observatory to the west and crossed over the first of several barbed wire fences that had a PVC covering that day (oh and thank goodness :D for the PVC covering as a couple of those 4-wire fences were pretty tall). We didn't see any other sign indicating the AZ Trail so we continued along a road once we crossed the fence.

    We eventually determined that we may have been doing the hike counter clockwise. We continued along the road through a couple thousand acres (we figured about 2 mi x 2 mi)of a yellow carpet of flowers. It is just INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! We now call it our "Follow the Yellow Flower Road" hike. We saw some stray cows on the back end of our journey, a couple ducks, blue birds, a couple lizards and an itsy bitsy hummingbird - no other hikers except for some people down by Vail Lake and a hunter... oh, and a cowboy on his horse with a couple dogs herding about 20-25 cows.

    We finally got to the Vail Lake sign and tried to pick up the hike description from there as we approaced the fence around Vail Lake. We could see the rock outcropping mentioned in the Hike Description on the east side so we hopped the fence in but decided we saw another boulder area that was covered in shade for our lunch; plus there were some Indian paint brush nearby... so we hopped the fence again to get to our lunch area.

    After lunch we hopped back over the fence to the Vail side and continued along the east and south side of the Vail Lake fence line. On the south side, we hopped over the fence again as it was easier walking. There was this one area where my brother could see the top of the trees (looking south) so we went up and over the berm (this berm surrounds the whole lake so my brother wonders if something caused an impression here at one time) and were treated to an incredible display of a solid yellow carpet of flowers. It took your breath away! :worthy:

    We then went back to the fence line and followed it to the northwest corner where we decided to take a shortcut back to the road we had walked on getting from the AZ Trail to Vail Lake... thinking that the lookout mentioned in the Hike Description was more by the observatory (assuming we may have missed the trail alongside that fence up by Prime Lake, but that was not the case). It was difficult making that short cut as the terrain dips here and there and you can't see it for all the flowers, plus you had to watch out for cocko-burrows and small prickly pear cactus.

    Anyway, we finally got back to the road (incidentally - you just can't get lost out here because you can continually see the San Francisco Peaks) and ran into a hunter on one of those fancy ATVs who happened to have several maps of the area. He helped us try to decipher where this lookout point might be but we didn't feel comfortable in trying to find it so we decided to just head back to our trailhead.

    It was a really amazing day for a hike with nearly perfect weather and a slight breeze. And even though the Lakes are really Ponds, they are very interesting to look at plus you can hear the duckies carrying on. Other than getting sun burned, not finding the lookout and not quite following the trail as described in the Hike Description and getting our socks and the bottoms of our pants covered in yellow from the flowers, it was a very successful day! This is an easy hike for almost any level of hiker, even if you do end up off trail :D . You just can't imagine what it is like to hike through a couple thousand acres of these yellow flowers, almost up to your knees. It's like you're in a movie.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Take Lake Mary road south from Flagstaff to the turnoff for Marshall Lake and Lowell Observatory (they have a second location on Anderson Mesa). Stay on the pavement when FS 94860 and FS 128 branch off and there will be the trailhead.
    page created by hippiepunkpirate on Sep 09 2008 8:38 am
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