Unique Granite Dells Make This Unsung Arizona Lake A Picturesque Hiking Spot

In Arizona, iconic destinations like the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell tend to hog the limelight. But the state offers so many more amazing places to discover and explore — and Watson Lake is one of these unsung wonders. Smack dab in the middle of the state, the stunning lake would make a great side trip when touring wine country in the Verde Valley or on a scenic road trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. The most striking thing about the lake is the preponderance of granite dells (i.e., huge mounds of granite) within the lake and around it, making the area look like a scene from a fantasy novel. 

One of the most popular activities at the lake is hiking through the boulder-strewn landscape along the Watson Lake and Flume Trail. The moderately challenging 4.75-mile route encircles the lake, weaving around and sometimes right over the top of the rock formations, providing beautiful views of the area. Experienced hikers recommend keeping a few things in mind when doing this hike: Do the loop in a clockwise direction to complete the most challenging rock-scrambling sections in the beginning, and look out for the white dots on the rocks that mark the route, as it can be difficult to follow in some parts. Also be sure to pack some bug spray, a blanket, and lunch, as the flat-topped boulders you'll pass along the way are perfect spots for a picnic. 

Other activities at Lake Watson, Arizona

The views of Watson Lake from the Flume Trail are wonderful, but from a vantage point high up on one of those enormous rocks, they're even more spectacular. Another popular activity at the lake is rock climbing, with hundreds of single and multi-pitch climbing routes with various levels of difficulty scattered among the field of boulders. Whether you're an experienced climber or a novice seeking an introduction to this incredible sport, the granite dells around Watson Lake make an enticing playground — just make sure you're careful and take safety precautions. For those who don't have their own equipment, local climbing schools and outfitters such as Granite Mountain Guides offer guided climbing trips in the area. 

Another way to experience Watson Lake is to venture out on the shimmering water in a recreational kayak (though take note that swimming is prohibited). In a flat-water kayak, you can explore the shoreline as well as the rock islands in the lake's interior. And there's nothing better than enjoying a cool lake breeze while engaging in a strenuous, but low-impact, kayaking workout. (In fact, the nearby Colorado River is a top destination for an epic kayak adventure.) At Watson Lake, Prescott Outdoors rents kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards by the hour from March through November at the south ramp. In addition, Born to Be Wild Adventures offers evening kayak rentals from April through October for those who want to paddle by moonlight. 

Camping at Watson Lake

To extend your stay at Watson Lake, consider camping in the area for a long weekend. Watson Lake Park Campground offers 19 reserved campsites and another 15 campsites that operate on a first-come, first-served basis from April to October, Thursday through Monday nights. The basic campground is a stone's throw from the lake and has showers, restrooms, and a small playground for children. Less than a mile away is the highly rated Point of Rocks RV Campground (RVs only, no tents), which offers full-service hook-ups and a wider range of amenities, such as Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, and a camp store. 

Non-campers can opt for a hotel room in the nearby town of Prescott or drive 1.5 hours northeast to Sedona, which boasts a dizzying array of accommodation options ranging from tiny cabins to luxury resorts nestled in red rock canyons. Those wanting to explore more of central Arizona on foot should also know that Sedona is a hiker's paradise, with everything from short strolls to multi-day hikes in mind-bogglingly beautiful red rock landscapes. Heading north from Sedona, the natural beauty goes on for days, from the charming mountain town of Flagstaff and continuing all the way to the south and north rims of the Grand Canyon.