Prescott’s best hiking trails near natural landmarks | Prescott’s Natural Wonders

Prescott is a treasure trove for nature enthusiasts, offering some of the most scenic landscapes in Arizona. With its pristine lakes, towering buttes, dense forests, and historic downtown, Prescott has something for every hiker.

Lava-capped red rock cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon seen from the Encinoso Day Use Area. For more information, visit Red Rock Ranger District on the Coconino National Forest website.

Among these scenic wonders, Prescott’s best hiking trails near natural landmarks stand out as must-visit destinations for anyone looking to experience the region’s unspoiled beauty.

Granite Dells’ Trails

Lynx Lake, a sparkling gem nestled amidst the rugged terrains of Prescott, exudes an enchanting allure that’s hard to resist. Its shimmering waters reflect the azure skies and pine-clad surroundings, creating a picturesque setting that captivates every onlooker.

As gentle waves lap against the shore and a serene breeze rustles through the trees, visitors are transported to a realm of tranquility. Whether it’s the soft melodies of chirping birds, the golden hue of sunset casting reflections, or the joy of a quiet paddle through its calm waters, Lynx Lake promises a haven of natural beauty and moments of pure reflection.

Overview of Granite Dells

The Granite Dells are a series of exposed bedrock and boulders that have stood the test of time. They’ve been sculpted by natural elements, resulting in a breathtaking array of shapes and structures. The Dells offer a variety of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging climbs.

For photography enthusiasts, the place is nothing short of paradise, with each turn revealing a new, photo-worthy vista.

Peavine and Iron King trails

Among the many trails, the Peavine and Iron King trails are perhaps the most iconic. Originating from the old Santa Fe Railway, they provide an almost flat hike, making it perfect for beginners and families.

  • The Peavine Trail runs along the eastern side of Watson Lake.
  • Iron King Trail, on the other hand, takes you through the heart of the Dells, providing stunning views of the granite formations.

Although these trails are fairly straightforward, it’s essential to wear sturdy shoes to navigate the rocky terrain. Additionally, given the area’s exposure, it’s a good idea to carry plenty of water, especially during summer. And don’t forget to take breaks; the landscape is meant to be savored.

Thumb Butte’s Panoramic Views

As one of the most distinctive landmarks in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers panoramic views that are unmatched in their splendor.

Thumb Butte has been a reference point for generations. Native tribes considered it sacred, and pioneers used it as a navigation guide. Today, this 6,514-foot elevation landmark is a sought-after hiking destination, providing a panoramic view of Prescott and the distant Bradshaw Mountains.

Hiking up the western slope

The hike to the top is moderately challenging, especially the stretch on the western slope. Yet, the reward – a panoramic view of Prescott’s landscapes – is worth every sweat. Along the way, hikers might encounter local wildlife, including deer and various bird species.

The areas around Thumb Butte are teeming with wildlife. From the elusive bobcat to the more common mule deer, nature enthusiasts have plenty to spot. Birdwatchers, in particular, are in for a treat, with the region being home to species like the Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Flicker.

Lynx Lake’s Lakeside Strolls

Lynx Lake, a sparkling gem nestled amidst the rugged terrains of Prescott, exudes an enchanting allure that’s hard to resist. Its shimmering waters reflect the azure skies and pine-clad surroundings, creating a picturesque setting that captivates every onlooker.

As gentle waves lap against the shore and a serene breeze rustles through the trees, visitors are transported to a realm of tranquility. Whether it’s the soft melodies of chirping birds, the golden hue of sunset casting reflections, or the joy of a quiet paddle through its calm waters, Lynx Lake promises a haven of natural beauty and moments of pure reflection.

Lakeshore Trail exploration

The Lakeshore Trail is an easy, 2.4-mile loop around Lynx Lake. It provides unparalleled views of the water, especially during sunrise and sunset. This trail is ADA-accessible and is perfect for families with kids or those looking for a relaxing walk. Along the way, you might spot the occasional osprey diving for fish or a family of ducks gliding by.

Lynx Lake is also renowned for its picnic spots. There are several designated areas, complete with tables and barbecue grills. The best times to visit are spring and fall when the weather is mild, and the foliage offers a burst of colors.

Goldwater Lake and the Pine Woods

Goldwater Lake, nestled amidst tall pine trees, is another gem that deserves mention when discussing Prescott’s natural landmarks.

Only 4 miles from downtown Prescott, Goldwater Lake feels like a world away. The serene setting, with the lake reflecting the surrounding pine woods, is a sight to behold. The stillness of the water and the chirping of the birds make it an idyllic spot for nature lovers.

Bannon Creek Trail: From woods to waterfront

The Bannon Creek Trail is a delightful journey that takes hikers from dense woods to the waterfront of Goldwater Lake. Meandering through the forest, the trail occasionally opens up to offer views of the lake, making it a visual treat. Here’s a detailed trail guide for those looking to explore Bannon Creek.

Goldwater Lake is stocked with several fish species, making it a popular spot for anglers. Whether you’re a pro or a novice, the lake promises a rewarding fishing experience. For birdwatchers, the dense woods surrounding the lake are home to species like the Mountain Chickadee and Acorn Woodpecker.

Watson Lake’s Unique Rock Formations

Watson Lake is a marvel, not just because of its azure waters, but also for the distinctive granite boulders that pepper its shores.

The juxtaposition of clear blue waters against massive granite rocks creates a surreal setting at Watson Lake. The boulders, some as tall as buildings, seem to rise directly out of the water, making for a dramatic landscape.

The famed Circle Trail hike

One of the best ways to experience Watson Lake is via the Circle Trail. This 5.2-mile loop offers hikers a front-row seat to the lake’s beauty. The trail occasionally dips close to the water, allowing hikers to appreciate the lake’s clarity and the underwater rock formations.

Post your hike, consider renting a kayak or a canoe. Gliding on Watson Lake’s waters amidst the granite giants is an experience like no other. If you’re lucky, you might even spot bald eagles soaring overhead or perched on the rocks.

Spruce Mountain’s Forested Ascents

Beyond the lakes and buttes, Prescott’s Spruce Mountain offers a different kind of hiking experience – a chance to immerse oneself in a dense, fragrant forest.

View of Salt River Canyon, which bisects the entire length of a 32,101-acre wilderness area within the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

Spruce Mountain is an elevation rising to 7,696 feet, densely populated with a mix of ponderosa pines, spruces, and fir trees. As one hike upwards, the scent of pine and the sounds of forest life surround them, providing a deeply therapeutic experience.

Groom Creek Loop’s alternating vistas

The Groom Creek Loop is Spruce Mountain’s crown jewel. This moderately challenging 9-mile trail offers alternating vistas – from densely wooded sections to open spots that provide panoramic views of the surrounding areas. Especially during the fall, the foliage turn provides a riot of colors, with golds, reds, and browns painting the landscape.

Spruce Mountain is not just for day hikers. Several camping spots along the Groom Creek Loop make it ideal for backpackers. There’s nothing quite like setting up camp under a canopy of stars and waking up to the sounds of the forest.

Granite Mountain Wilderness Adventures

The Granite Mountain Wilderness Area is the epitome of wild beauty. Its rugged terrain and diverse flora and fauna make it a must-visit for those seeking an adventure.

Covering over 9,500 acres, the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area showcases Arizona’s diverse landscapes. From meadows bursting with wildflowers to jagged granite peaks, it’s a place where nature reveals itself in its full glory.

Hiking the challenging Granite Mountain Trail

The Granite Mountain Trail is not for the faint-hearted. Spanning just over 8 miles, it’s a strenuous hike, but those who brave it are rewarded with unparalleled views from the summit. On a clear day, one can see as far as the San Francisco Peaks!

This wilderness area is a biodiversity hotspot. Hikers might spot mule deer, coyotes, or even black bears. The region is also renowned for its birdlife, with species like the Peregrine Falcon and the Golden Eagle calling it home.

Whiskey Row’s Historic Walks

Whiskey Row, an iconic stretch in downtown Prescott, offers a journey through time. As footsteps echo on the cobbled streets, each corner whispers tales of a bygone era. Once bustling with saloons, hotels, and traders from distant lands, today’s Whiskey Row melds its rich history with modern vibrancy.

As one stroll through, the preserved architecture, ornate facades, and interpretive signs narrate stories of pioneers, dreamers, and the very foundation of Prescott. It’s not just a walk; it’s a step back in time, where history meets the present in the most harmonious dance.

Prescott’s vibrant history along Whiskey Row

Whiskey Row, located in downtown Prescott, is a testament to the town’s vibrant past.

Once lined with saloons, hotels, and mercantile businesses, today’s Whiskey Row is a blend of the old and the new, with historic buildings housing contemporary shops and cafes.

Easy urban trails for beginners

While not a traditional “trail”, strolling down Whiskey Row is an experience in itself. The gentle gradients and well-paved paths make it perfect for those not looking for a strenuous hike. Along the way, interpretive signs provide insights into Prescott’s colorful history.

The beauty of Whiskey Row is that it’s just a stone’s throw away from some of Prescott’s natural landmarks. It’s entirely possible to enjoy a morning hike at Thumb Butte and then unwind with a leisurely walk down Whiskey Row in the afternoon.

Highland Pines: Where City Meets Forest

Nestled on the fringes of Prescott, Highland Pines stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of urban and natural worlds. This unique area, where homes brush against dense, fragrant forests, offers a delightful juxtaposition of city skylines with towering pine trees.

As one ventures through the trails of Highland Pines, they are treated to an ever-evolving landscape that captures both the buzz of urban life and the tranquil whispers of nature, creating an unparalleled hiking experience.

Moderate trails suitable for families

Several trails crisscross Highland Pines, suitable for all age groups. Families can enjoy short, easy hikes while taking in views of both the city and the surrounding woods.

As you hike through Highland Pines, the city’s distant skyline juxtaposed against the looming pine trees provides a unique visual treat, highlighting the harmony between nature and urbanization.

Safety and Preparedness

Exploring the captivating trails of Prescott is an adventurer’s dream, but it’s essential to approach each hike with caution and preparedness. Nature, while stunningly beautiful, can be unpredictable. From changing weather conditions to navigating tricky terrains, ensuring one’s safety is paramount.

Adequate hydration, reliable equipment, awareness of the trail, and respecting local guidelines are the cornerstones of a safe hiking experience. It’s always better to be over-prepared than to find oneself lacking in the midst of nature’s embrace.

Common dangers on Prescott’s trails

While the trails are generally safe, hikers should be aware of potential hazards like loose rocks, slippery slopes, and local wildlife. It’s essential to stay on marked paths to avoid getting lost or disturbing the environment.

Packing essentials for a safe hike

Before setting out, ensure you have:

  • Adequate water and snacks
  • Sturdy hiking shoes
  • A map or a reliable GPS device
  • Sunscreen and a hat for protection against the sun

Prescott’s climate varies. Summers can be hot, so early morning hikes are best. Winters, while mild, can have snow at higher elevations. Always check the weather forecast before heading out.

Frequently Asked Questions: Prescott’s best hiking trails near natural landmarks

In this section, we will be delving into some of the most common inquiries and curiosities that surround our topic.

Which trail is best for beginners?

The Lakeshore Trail around Lynx Lake is an excellent choice. It’s flat, well-marked, and offers beautiful views of the lake.

How can I ensure my safety while hiking alone?

While hiking alone can be a therapeutic experience, it does come with added risks. Always let someone know your hiking plan, carry a fully charged phone, and if possible, a personal locator beacon. It’s also wise to stick to popular trails, where you’re more likely to encounter other hikers.

Are there any guided hikes available in Prescott?

Yes, there are several local tour operators offering guided hikes. These tours not only ensure safety but also provide valuable insights into the area’s history, flora, and fauna. For those interested, Prescott Outdoors is a reputable company offering such services.

Can I camp overnight on any of the trails?

While many of the natural landmarks around Prescott are suitable for day hikes, some areas, like Spruce Mountain, have designated camping spots. Always check local regulations and obtain necessary permits before setting up camp.


Prescott, with its rich tapestry of natural landmarks and hiking trails, offers an unparalleled experience for outdoor enthusiasts. From serene lakeshores to rugged mountain peaks, there’s something for everyone.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, the trails around Prescott’s landmarks will leave you with memories to cherish. As always, safety and respect for nature should be a hiker’s top priorities. With a bit of preparation and the spirit of adventure, the trails of Prescott await to unfold their treasures before you. Happy hiking!

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About the author

Hi, I'm Teri Franks, the voice behind Prescott Voice. I've spent years immersing myself in all that Prescott has to offer, and I love sharing the unique stories and experiences I've discovered. When I'm not writing, you'll find me exploring Prescott's trails or tasting our local cuisine. I believe that the vibrant lifestyle here in Prescott inspires us to live a healthier, happier life. Come join me on this exciting journey as we explore Prescott together.

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