7 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Prescott

Written by Lana Law
Jul 30, 2020

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Prescott offers a diverse range of hiking options, from lakeside trails and forest hikes to walks through hills and granite boulders. If you are looking for something easy, you can stroll along an old railway line, but you can also challenge yourself with mountain hikes.

The altitude here is approximately 5,300 feet, and the cooler temperatures at this elevation can be a welcome retreat from the heat of the lower desert regions. From spring until fall, hikers from across Arizona head for the hills, and Prescott is one of the prime destinations.

Watson Lake and Prescott National Forest, on the edge of the city, are two of the key natural attractions in this area. For a comprehensive look at the options, see our list of the best hikes in Prescott.

See also: Where to Stay in Prescott

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Watson Lake Loop Trail

Watson Lake Loop Trail
Watson Lake Loop Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This fantastic hike takes you through the huge granite rock formations lining the shores of Lake Watson and areas just inland. Views here are some of the best in the entire Prescott area. The deep blue water surrounded by the orange boulders and hills is one of the most extraordinary sites in this region of Arizona.

The trail can be accessed from several points, but the most interesting area is the north end of the lake, and the best place to start the hike is from Watson Lake Park. The hike begins from the boat ramp area of the park, where you'll find plenty of parking, although there is a small fee.

The trail immediately ascends into the boulders along the edge of the shore and takes you up to great vantage points looking out over the entire lake.

Even if you do not complete the full 4.7-mile hike, it's worth hiking in a half mile or a mile and returning the same way. If you have time, complete the entire hike. Views are different in almost every direction as you round the lake.

Watson Lake Loop is rated as difficult, but it's really not that challenging. The trail is uneven and runs over rocky areas that make for tricky footing.

2. Thumb Butte Trail

Thumb Butte Trail
Thumb Butte Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This hike takes you high above the city to the eye-catching granite butte you see from all around Prescott. At the top you can look out in two directions to the surrounding mountains and distance flat lands.

From the parking area the trail looks slightly daunting but head off in a counter-clockwise direction for a gradual ascent and a steep descent. From the butte down the steep side of the mountain the trail is all paved, so it has good traction, which makes the descent much easier than expected.

The total trail length is 2.5 miles with 680 feet of elevation. It runs through tall pines at the base but vegetation becomes smaller at the top, and the trail is more open to the sun up here.

At the base of this hike are restrooms and a picnic area. There is a fee for parking here.

3. Constellation Trails

Constellation Trails
Constellation Trails | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Not far from Watson Lake, the Constellation Trails offer a slough of short, interconnecting trails that take you through a labyrinth of huge boulders and rock formations.

Depending on the trail, you can opt to hike alongside the edge of the rocks and admire them as you go, or get right up on them and explore the granite landscape.

This area is also the site of an air disaster. In 1959, a US Air Force C-121G super constellation jet crashed during a train mission. A memorial has been erected at the trailhead, and you can see small remains of the aircraft parts.

The trails begin across the road from the Phippen Museum.

4. Granite Mountain Hike

Granite Mountain Hike
Granite Mountain Hike | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

From the Granite Basin Recreation Area at the Metate Trailhead, you can access a number of intersecting trails. One of the classic hikes that leaves from here is the Granite Mountain hike.

The trail follows the base of the mountain, through forested areas, around huge boulders, and eventually climbs up Granite Mountain. This is a scenic trail the entire way, despite a section that has been badly affected by fire, and it offers lovely vistas from the top.

The entire in-and-out trail is 7.9 miles return, and the elevation gain is approximately 1,650 feet. Be prepared to spend much of the hike in the direct sun.

Another interesting hike that connects with this hike is Baby Granite Loop, which combines a few trails and offers good views up to Granite and Baby Granite Mountains.

5. Lynx Lake Loop

Lynx Lake Loop
Lynx Lake Loop | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For an easy but scenic hike, it's hard to beat the Lynx Lake Loop Trail in the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, just east of Prescott. This relatively level, 2.4-mile trail follows the shoreline around the lake, offering a chance to see birds and other wildlife.

The Lynx Lake area is in Prescott National Forest, a lush area of ponderosa pines. You do not feel like you are in Arizona on this hike.

This trail is perfect if you are camping at the Lynx Campgrounds, as paths from some of the sites lead down to the shore and link to the hiking trail. Lynx Campground is just one of the many great campgrounds around Prescott.

6. Peavine Trail

Peavine Trail
Peavine Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Peavine Trail is a 12-mile one-way former railway line converted into a multi-use trail. The trail is easy and combines some of the best elements Prescott has to offer, namely water, fantastic rocks, large trees, and desert scenery.

Don't let the distance scare you, many people turn around three miles in, making for a six-mile hike.

The trailhead is at the southern end of Watson Lake. The hike starts out through tall cottonwood trees before emerging out into desert grasslands, where the blue waters of Watson Lake beckon you forward.

Along this hike, you'll pass through granite rocks and come across a historical plaque, where you can learn a little of the history and see what the area looked like during the days of steam engines. The plaque makes a good turning around point. If you continue on, the trail will eventually dead end at the North Parking lot.

7. Willow Lake Loop Trail

Willow Lake Trail
Willow Lake Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Willow Lake Loop trail combines a couple of trails to form a 5.7-mile hike around Willow Lake. This is a scenic but relatively challenging trail that runs along the shore, over granite rocks, and includes a few steep sections.

If you want something shorter, the actual Willow Lake Trail just runs along one side of the lake. This trail is mostly level, wide, and flat, making it suitable for everyone.

This stretch has some of the nicest views, looking across the lake to the Granite Dells that line the far shore. You can often see kayakers in here, and on pleasant days, this area is very busy.

Where to Stay in Prescott

Accommodation options in Prescott are mainly mid-range and budget, but you will find some interesting historic properties with character and style that set them apart. The best place to stay is downtown, near the Historic Courthouse Plaza and the surrounding streets. This will allow you to walk everywhere.

  • Luxury and Mid-Range Hotels: The Vendome Hotel, on a quiet street in the downtown area, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This beautiful renovated boutique hotel has maintained its 1917-era charm and offers lovely, individually decorated rooms.

    Another impressive old gem is the Grand Highland Hotel in a great location near the courthouse. Individually decorated rooms feature tasteful designs and historic elements, including exposed brick walls, clawfoot tubs, and antique-style furnishings.

    For some mid-century nostalgia, The Motor Lodge brings you back to the days when motels offered individual carports and high-end service. This unique place has been thoughtfully restored and upgraded and enjoys a reputation for being cool and hip.

    If you are not interested in being downtown and would prefer the comfort of a known brand and an indoor pool, the Hampton Inn Prescott is a great choice, located just a few minutes by car from the city center.
  • Budget Hotels: Budget hotels are hard to come by in Prescott, and prices increase considerably on weekends due to the city's almost constant scheduled events. For clean and comfortable without a lot of frills, try the Heritage House Motel. The adobe-style Apache Lodge is another property where you can typically find decent rooms at reasonable prices. Both of these are a short drive from the city center.

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imageHiking in Arizona: Several key hiking areas in Arizona offer access to some outstanding scenery, from canyons and mountains to forests and desert. If you have time to explore more trails near Prescott, don't miss the hiking trails around Sedona. Prescott and Sedona are wonderful places to hike in the hotter months.

Winter is a great time to tackle some of the desert trails. For hiking among the saguaros, see our articles on hiking in the Phoenix area, as well as our piece on the best hiking trails in Tucson. Gain a broader perspective of trails in the state with our top hikes in Arizona.

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