by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator – City of Prescott
Photo by Bryce Beck
Watson Lake, Prescott’s crown jewel, is located just four easy miles from downtown Prescott. Nestled in the grand boulders, known as the Granite Dells, Watson Lake was originally formed in the early 1900s when the Chino Valley Irrigation District built a dam on Granite Creek. The City of Prescott purchased both Watson and Willow lakes in 1998, and continues to develop recreational opportunities for this vast park since its purchase.
Features include – from the very obvious – photography, picnicking, boating and fishing, to the not-so-obvious, such as disc golf and rock climbing. In fact, these are only a few of the amenities the $3 parking fee will offer a visitor to Watson Lake. Other amenities include seasonal camping (for an additional fee, but includes shower access), well-maintained restrooms, toddler and child playground equipment, state-of-the-art horseshoe pits, bocce ball, two boat-launches, a courtesy dock and fantastic multipurpose nonmotorized trails. Kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboards, as well as disc golf equipment, can all be rented Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.
Watson Lake is a popular spot for special events, and is home to three signature annual events, starting in May with the Highland Games, the Antique Auto Show in August and the Prescott Pow Wow in September. The park experiences massive visitation during these events, which are considered full-park rentals, and camping is typically not available at these times. Several areas in the park are available by reservation and include a large ramada situated at the overlook, a small ramada next to the playground and 4.59 acres of grass centrally located within the park, all of which is perfect for any wedding, reunion or other special event.
If you are a novice or experienced angler, Watson Lake has something for you. Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, sunfish, channel catfish, crayfish and crappie can all be found here. Arizona Game and Fish Department often stocks trout here, when conditions are favorable. Any regulations that they require are applied for fishing at Watson Lake.
Boating is allowed at Watson Lake, and there are no restrictions regarding what size boat or engine is launched here. However, it is regarded as a “no-wake lake,” as to allow for comfortable kayaking and canoeing.
Positioned next to Prescott’s largest riparian area, Watson Woods, Watson Lake provides excellent birding opportunities along with interpretive signage. The water can be accessed at many points along the 4.79-mile system of trails, which loop around the lake. While there is no swimming allowed at any of the Prescott-area lakes, there is plenty to keep your attention while enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
The Watson Lake Loop Trail is recommended for hiking and mountain biking (technical in certain areas) and offers 160 feet in elevation change. Foliage is sparse, and many areas are totally exposed, so it is not recommended in extreme conditions. For more information on the various activities at Watson Lake, please visit cityofprescott.net/services/parks/parks/. More information on renting equipment can be found at prescottoutdoors.com. To reserve a campsite, grassy area or ramada, please call 928-777-1122. Parking is free on Wednesdays.