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Prime time to Un-Vail this hike!
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 strenuous, so it is perfect if you bring 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 and 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.
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.
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 you will see Prime Lake after about a quarter-mile, which you will definitely want to explore. Just make sure to get back on the middle road. There are some beautiful views of the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden to the northwest and Mormon Mountain to the south along this road. 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 shadows on some volcanic rocks and are a nice place to sit and enjoy the sounds of the ducks and frogs.
At the backside (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.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.