Just a stones throw from downtown Prescott (an easy 6 mile drive), Granite Basin is a gorgeous section of the Prescott National Forest. Here, you can choose from more than a half dozen hikes.
Normally, I’d opt for the higher ground and head up Little Granite Mountain, but the day I visited was a scorcher. I chose an easy out and back on one of the lower creek-side trails, hoping that the ponderosa pines would shelter me from the blazing sun. Even with the shade, it was still HOT, too hot for hiking. And since I’d already beat myself up on the mountain bike at Goldwater Lake that morning, my mojo was a bit sapped too.
Granite Basin is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including snakes, lizards, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions. I didn’t see any of these critters most likely because they were all in siesta mode as I probably should have been too. Thinking back on it, a hammock under a shady tree by the lake with a refreshing beverage would have been made for an idyllic afternoon.
It was a pleasant hike, but not particularly scenic per se, except for the start and finish at stunning Granite Basin Lake. And I must say, it’s a bit tortuous on a hot day to look at a beautiful lake and be prohibited from jumping in it. Guess that’s mostly the case in Arizonia…Bummer, I guess you can’t have everything. I did spend some time on this hike day dreaming or hallucinating (not sure which) about my Eastern Sierra’s splash in Valentine Lake.
I’d like to come back to this area sometime when it’s cooler to explore some more and take in the views from Little Granite Mountain. And next time, maybe I’ll bring a hammock for that post-hike siesta too.
Ok, some adventures just don’t go as planned. This was one of those. I spent at least 35 minutes hike-a-biking trying to find the mountain bike trail. Granted someone with better technical skills than me (just about anyone) probably could have biked much of what I had hiked. At one point, my phone fell out my bike jersey without my knowing. (Luckily, when I retraced my steps I found it with the screen in tact—thank goodness.) That’s how it started.
I’m sure Han’s No Way Rey and Missy Giove, the MTB legends I met on my Catalina mountain bike adventure would have popped over this little bridge no problem— not me.
When I finally jumped on the single track trail I’d originally intended, I had to keep jumping off the bike to navigate over rocks or roots.
My downfall When the trail opened up into a rough fire road, I thought, Ok, this should be doable for me now. Well, apparently not. After another 35 minutes of navigating loose gravel and pot holes, my tire slipped out from under me and I wiped out and landed hard
Sometimes knowing when to surrender is better than ruining your vacation or life with an injury, especially if you’re out there alone as I was. Sure I was tempted to get my bruised butt back on the bike and see where the bumpy fire road would take me, but I had a work conference call coming up and other places to explore on foot before nightfall anyway. Was glad that I didn’t have my Garmin to tell me how few miles I’d covered. After I wiped the dust off my backside, I pedaled away, grateful for the climb up the hill back to the car (at least a partial workout).
I didn’t run into any hikers or other mountain bikers, but there were about half a dozen people fishing at the lake. (None of whom knew the surrounding trails.) From what I can tell, 15-acre Goldwater Lake is a good spot for a family outing with summer kayak and canoe rentals, picnic tables, a playground, a horse shoe pit and a volleyball court. You’ll have to ask someone else about the trails.
Long story short, that’s why I only skimmed the surface of what the Goldwater Lake trails offer. I’ll give it another shot if I return to the area (most likely by foot or with a mountain biker that knows the trails).
Getting there: 2900 S. Goldwater Lake Road, from Prescott,go south on Mount Vernon Street, which becomes Senator Highway.
Fee: $3 for Parking
Ever had an adventure that just didn’t go as planned? Share your experience.
Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.
If you like alpine lakes, sublime scenery, and trail terrain that’s gentle on feet (good for trail running too), you’ll want to spend a day here, immersed in natural bliss. I loved this hike. The lakes and mountain scenery are SPECTACULAR. It felt easy to me despite my hiking book’s rating of it as a 4 out of 5 for difficulty due to the 2,100 ft elevation gain. The trail is quite gradual with many switchbacks, but it didn’t really seem like a big climb. Maybe I just woke up strong and altitude acclimated. The good news is the elevation gain keeps the crowds away.
There was something magical about this tree. Look for it on the trail after Lake Sherwin and let me know if it stopped you in your tracks too. The pictures don’t do it justice. I named it the Medusa tree.
If you’re not up for hiking up to Valentine Lake (9,698 ft – 5.6 miles), you can always make Sherwin Lake (2-3 miles) your destination instead, but just so you know, you’ll be missing this:
Valentine Lake, you stole my heart and nearly froze it too! I can’t resist the allure of an alpine lake, even when it’s snow melt cold. Can you?
My boyfriend was taunting me in the video below. Note: HE DID NOT JUMP IN THE LAKE. (And somehow I resisted pushing him into it.)
Distance Round Trip: 11.2 miles
Elevation Gain / Loss: 2,100
Getting There: South from Lee Vining on the 395, you’ll find Sherwin Creek Road two miles south of the Mammoth Lakes exit. Take Sherwin Creek Road west and drive ~2.5 miles and then turn left on the spur road before you reach Sherwin Creak Campground.
They say that 100-acre Lundy Lake (ele. 7,800′) is one of the most overlooked drive-to lakes in the Eastern Sierras. Named after W.J. Lundy who operated a sawmill near Lundy Lake, it’s hidden in the easily accessible foothills above Mono Lake. Part natural beauty, part manmade, originally, Lundy Lake was a smaller lake that was expanded to its current size in 1910.
I didn’t go jump in the lake as is my habit, because I only had a couple hours to Go Take a Hike and Go Chasing Waterfalls
The hike was rated as a 3 for difficulty and a 9 for scenery in my old school, 1995 Cali hiking book. They were spot on for the scenery and a bit off on the difficulty level. The book said we would pass 2 small waterfalls and then at 3 miles arrive at Lake Helen to be followed by Odell Lake a mile beyond. There were many waterfalls some were narrow snow melt tracing their way down from mountain ridges above and others were thundering tiered falls along the trail–all were quite beautiful.
We only had a couple hours before sunset so we thought, with a good pace, we could at least make it the 3 miles to Lake Helen and back. Nope. The book didn’t mention the mountain of scree that had to be conquered before encountering Lake Helen. It also, didn’t mention that the beginning of the trail would be all but obscured due to floods and avalanches. (How could it predict 2018 conditions?) I didn’t find anything about it online either. Of course, I wanted to see what was up and around the corner of this massive mountain of scree so I kept going only to find yet another, steeper mountain of scree and no sign of the Lake Helen. Sunset was upon us so I reluctantly “skied” (not really, well maybe on my backside) the scree downhill and headed back down the trail.
A young hiker who missed her loop trail from above said she had read about the scree mountains somewhere online and knew she’d be contending with them. We gave her and her little dog, Beast, a ride back to her car on Tioga Pass. It would have been a very cold night to bed down in the woods.
Back at home as I was writing this post I discovered that AllTrails rates the trail as difficult and one person noted this: The only downside is that you can no longer reach Lake Helen due to the shale slides. The mountain has wiped out the last portion of the trail and the shale is not stable.
Oops. Just as well, I turned around when I did. I’d say it’s an easy hike if you turn around before the scree / massive rock slide, which is the safe thing to do. (Do as I say, not as I did.) Thankful the forest fairies were watching over me.
Lake Lundy is a lovely area to explore, take a dip in the lake or under a waterfall, hike and / or fish. Maybe someday I’ll be back to meet up with Lake Helen and Odell Lake when new trails are established. Note: You can approach Helen and Odell Lakes from the top instead via Tioga pass, but should stop short of the scree for safety. Happy Trails.
And enjoy easy shore access, the natural beauty and your fishing without the crowds. Lundy Lake is home to healthy populations of rainbow (26K stocked each season) and some large brown trout and because it lacks the pressure of some of its neighboring lakes, the fish are known for being slightly more gullible and often slightly larger than you’ll find elsewhere.
Below the lake, Mill Creek is also known for its small, wild trout population.
You’ll have your best luck in the wet years, of course.
Lundy Lake Campground: First come first serve, no reservations
36 campsites with restrooms and non-potable water.
The Lundy Lake “Resort”
RV hook ups, additional regular campsites, cabins, a general store and boat rentals in paradise.
For more information or to book reservations at the “Resort”, call 626-309-0415.
Getting there: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest: From Highway 395 north of Lee Vining, turn west onto Lundy Lake Road and follow roughly five miles to the lake and two miles beyond on the dirt road top get to the trail head.
One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”
I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.
The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.
When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.
The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.
It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.
After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.
Cowles Mountain (1,593-foot summit) is the highest point in the city of San Diego. It’s part of Mission Trails Regional Park, a 5,800-acre open space preserve that is the 7th-largest open space urban park in the United States. It contains sixty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails.
To call Cowles a mountain is to be very liberal with the word. I should note that the park has a 5 “peak” challenge if your hiking peeps want a minor challenge and want to document your feats – here’s the scoop. Cowles is the highest peak. This might be fun for kids, but apparently lots of adults do it for bragging rights too. I will say that on a clear day, the stunning views span 360 degrees from Lake Murray, downtown San Diego, Point Loma, La Jolla, and Mexico and out across the glimmering Pacific to the San Carlos Islands. See feature picture above. (Unfortunately, I dropped my camera on a rock so I have limited pics.)
Distance: 2.9 miles up & back
It’s a very popular trail so expect lots of humans and their canines…There are a couple of different ways to reach the top from various starting points and parking lots. The hike itself is moderate (with some steeper sections that will get those calves & glutes burning). It’s decent workout, especially if you run it. There are single track trails and some fire road. It’s short from any direction so I explored up and down on a couple of trails and was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to see. You can’t really get lost so do as much or as little as you like.
The main trailhead is in the San Carlos neighborhood on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road
Lovely Lake Murray
Since I didn’t quite get enough enough of a workout / nature fix, I decided to check out alluring Lake Murray Reservoir, also part of the Mission Trails Regional Park. I strolled the paved road that navigates around most of the lake stopping short of the dam (no access). It’s another popular spot – walkers, runners, bladders, and even road bikers aplenty (the latter seems silly to me, because the path / road is only 3.2 mi long and there are many children and dogs on it).
Lake Murray is a great spot for birdwatchers with abundant ducks, geese, and herons abound and about 149 bird species to observe. It’s a pleasant spot for a picnic too.
Lake Murray is open for shore fishing and private boats, kayaks, and float tubes seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Permits can be purchased onsite at the iron ranger boxes. The lake is stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, black crappie, and trout. Minimum size limit for bass is 12 inches.
Fish limits: 5 trout, 5 bass (min. 12 inches), 5 catfish, 25 crappie and bluegill total, no other species limits
Peaceful Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, a 700 acre canyon, is a welcome reprieve from the over-populated Mt. Woodson trail. I’d had enough of the crowds, but not enough of nature and workout so after lunch at a nearby Mexican cantina, I followed up the Mt. Woodson hike with this one.
Distance: 4.8 RT Difficulty: Moderate ++ It’s all mild and friendly until you get the last half mile’s fierce grade, which is paved. Overall, the terrain itself is easy (fire road primarily) so it’s a great spot for trail running.
Trail advisory: It’s exposed so equip yourself with sunscreen and water rations. Also, you could be sharing the trail with bees, mountain lions, mosquitoes, poison oak, rattlesnakes & ticks (Friendlier potential trail mates include: deer, bobcats, quail, raptors, roadrunners, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, and bats.)
And yes, you can fish at Lake Ramona Reservoir. While bite-friendly, the huge bass population here is comprised of small largemouth because few fisherpeople want to hike up that great big hill. (Did I get enough size comparison in there to make your head spin?) Unfortunately, the bass overpopulation results in their stunted growth. Come on fisher peeps, work for it! You’re missing a beautiful opportunity. Besides, where’s the fun in driving up and parking at Lake Poway?
Lake Ramona was lovely and the reserve was pleasant enough though small. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get here, but if you’re in the neighborhood – do it.