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Apache Lake Kayak Camp & Hike, AZ
mini location map2019-04-20
22 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Apache Lake Kayak Camp & Hike, AZ 
Apache Lake Kayak Camp & Hike, AZ
Kayak avatar Apr 20 2019
Kayak9.07 Miles 792 AEG
Kayak9.07 Miles
792 ft AEG
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
The original plan for this weekend was to spend Friday and Saturday on an overnight backpack to Arizona Hot Springs with a group of youth from our church congregation. But, the numbers dwindled till it was just my daughter, so since we had both just been to the hot springs over spring break for a day hike, we changed plans and decided to do a daddy-daughter overnight kayak trip to Apache Lake.

Even though Apache is less visited due to its remoteness, relative to Saguaro/Canyon and Roosevelt Lakes, I figured there'd still be a decent crowd on Easter weekend. I was right. I had scoped out a camping site on the opposite side of the lake at the mouth of Buckhorn Creek to get away from the masses. Turned out to be a great call, and the Buckhorn drainage is a perfect, secluded spot for a camp, with lots of big cottonwood trees and good landing spot for the kayaks.

On the approach, we drove through Globe and came in from the Roosevelt side. We contemplated putting in at 3-mile wash, but I wanted to check out the camping areas at Burnt Corral, so we headed down there instead. Arrived at Upper Burnt Corral around 4 pm, and the camping area was packed. I was so glad that we had not planned to camp on the road-access side of the lake. It was a bit of a zoo. Thankfully, we just needed a spot to put in and then, after parking our car, paddled away from the crowds for good.

The lake was perfect--very smooth, no wind and just a joy to paddle in. We took our time on the 1.7 mile paddle to Buckhorn, crossing our fingers that no one else had come up with the same idea for the weekend. As we paddled, we noted that the lake level seems to be full, as there was no sign of a high/dry water mark on the rocks. Also, upon arrival at Buckhorn Creek, there was no sign of the "beach" that is viewable on satellite imagery--all submerged.

We docked at a small sand bar but were immediately confronted with a pretty solid wall of brush. A little bushwhacking around the side provided access past this initial barrier, whereupon the cottonwood oasis opened up into what we turned into a very nice camping spot. My daughter put up her hammock (perfect choice for this spot), and we set up camp and cleared a little better path back to the edge of the water to avoid the bushwhack.

As we explored around the camp area, I knew this was a special trip when I stumbled on a hiking, bucket-list item I've been chasing forever: a gila monster siting! :y: He was gracious enough to put up with a lot of photos, and frankly didn't seem too interested in, or concerned about me. His tail was pretty skinny, a sign to me that he hadn't eaten much lately, which probably contributed to his relative lethargy. Still a beautiful creature, and we wished him luck!

After camp was set up, we took the kayaks up-river/lake towards 3-mile wash on an evening paddle to the explore the small, "3-mile island" out in the lake. The island was a quick, fun explore. It's covered in cactus and is quite rocky with no trees, so not really much of a place to hang out, but it made for a nice destination for our evening paddle.

As dusk approached, we paddled back to our campsite, with the bats darting around overhead, feasting on the plentiful mosquitoes an other active insects (we were very grateful for having lathered up on bug spray). The water became even more calm (if possible), and watching the sun cast its setting rays on the opposing lake walls was a perfect way to close out the day.

Back at camp, we ate dinner, enjoyed a nice campfire and waited with anticipation for the full moon to rise. Around 11 pm, with the full moon overhead as a spotlight, we took advantage of the opportunity to do a mid-night paddle on the lake. We brought along our "party lights" to attach to the kayaks in the event of any other boat traffic on the lake, but ended up having the lake to ourselves.

It's hard to describe the peaceful, silent, spiritual feel of kayaking with my daughter on a lake of glass under the full moon in the middle of the night. We'd paddle for a bit and then just float in silence, fully immersing ourselves in the peace-filled surroundings. Definitely a special memory to cherish.

On the way back to camp, a large owl swooped by along the shoreline, his large wingspan casting a moonlit shawdow from above.

Back at camp, we finally hit the hay. Although comfortable, I could not get to sleep till around 2 a.m., perhaps feeling a little giddy about how the trip was turning out even better than I had anticipated.

After a full-night's camping sleep (3-4 hours :lol: ), I got up before the sun crested the hills on the opposite side of the lake, and hiked up to the "summit" of the hill on the south side of the wash (about 2,360 elev.), to get a better view of the lake, camping, area, and surrounding area. I was rewarded with beautiful morning views of the lake and surrounding mountains and wilderness.

Looking down into Buckhorn Wash from above, I could see that there was water flowing in the wash (though petering out before reaching our camping spot).

After breakfast back at camp--and my daughter's observant sighting of a beautiful red cardinal atop a nearby saguaro ( :y: ), we decided to explore the wash and hike upstream a bit. But first, we stopped at a very large cottonwood tree (where we had seen the GM the previous day) and put up a nice rope swing, where we played around like kids on a playground for awhile.

After getting our fill of the swing, we continued on the hike. There was another thick barrier of bushes to plow through before the wash opened up to relatively easy travel. Shortly thereafter, the water appeared, and grew into a very healthy flow the further we traveled up the wash. Apparently, Buckhorn Spring and Hackberry Spring must be running well right now.

We ended up exploring about a mile upstream, including crossing a nice 5-foot waterfall along the way. Eventually, the drainage narrowed and got too choked with foliage for us to continue. At that point, we turned around and made our way back to camp. Stopped for a few more rides on the rope swing, then dismantled it.

With the temperatures rising, we decided to head out on the lake for a good swimming spot before cleaning up camp. However, at that point, the wind picked up a bit and the lake was not as inviting for paddling. After tooling around for awhile, we decided that swimming was not as inviting in the breezy conditions. So, we headed back to camp to clean up and paddle our way against the wind back to our car.

Upon returning to our camp area, a group of paddleboarders and kayakers had docked at the little sandbar we had cleared out. It made for tight quarters, but we just needed to gather our gear and get on our way, which we did.

The paddle back to Upper Burnt Corral was more tedious with the wind (and extra weight from our camping gear), but we weren't in a hurry and managed just fine. In fact, my daughter was a rock star in the wind--I couldn't keep up with her! She said she thought it had to do with her preference for off-set rotation of her paddles. I'm no guru for paddling techniques, but I'll give that a try next time.

As we made it back to the campground, the mass of humanity had grown overnight, and we were once again very grateful for the beautiful solitude we had enjoyed on the opposite side of the lake.

The drive out was uneventful. Stopped for a couple of photos at the Roosevelt dam/bridge. Otherwise, put a very memorable trip in the books for this Easter weekend!
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