Watson Lake Park – Beautiful Oasis a Day Trip Away from Phoenix

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Watson Lake, a super day trip from Phoenix with many things to do
Beautiful Watson Lake, an easy day trip from Phoenix. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Want to beat the Arizona heat? The searing temps in Arizona can be oppressive. When you need to cool down, head to Prescott, an easy drive from Phoenix. You’ll find Watson Lake, a state park with wildflowers, weird rock formations, kid-friendly hikes and cool breezes. Check out the fun things to do and the one surprising thing you can’t.

Watson Lake in Arizona offers outstanding beauty and tranquility, all in an easy day trip from Phoenix. The park near Prescott AZ remains mostly undiscovered by tourists that drive by on their way to more famous Arizona attractions like Sedona and Grand Canyon National Park. This attractive oasis combines desert beauty with water activities perfect for hot summer months.

I spent three long summer months in Phoenix undergoing chemotherapy and can tell you that nothing can prepare you for the heat of the city. Some say it is a dry heat, so it is not so bad. Do not fall for it! It is brutal. With temperatures often passing 100F, you can’t do anything outdoors. Even a short walk becomes a challenge.

And there’s rarely a break when the sun goes down. The air remains unbearably hot. No wonder the much cooler Watson Lake serves as an excellent escape for Phoenix residents, who can combine this outdoorsy adventure with a visit to charming Prescott.

Beautiful Watson Lake Park

When I visited the park for the first time, I just wanted to escape Phoenix to see the body of water and hopefully some greenery.  To my surprise, I found the park strikingly beautiful, a destination on its own, not just a place to cool down. Additionally, on a hot summer day, the park was practically empty. I even found a picnic table for myself right on the water.

Watson Lake, practically Prescott’s city park, is the most unusual and photogenic of the central Arizona reservoirs. Most of its shoreline and surroundings consist of massive, rounded granite boulders, some of which are semi-submerged forming tiny islands or narrow promontories. Contrasting with the blue-grey waters and the brownish rocks are the emerald green leaves of aspen trees, found scattered among the boulders.

Read More: Things to Do in Jerome AZ, a Wicked Good Ghost Town

Huge boulders at Watson Lake Park in Arizona.
Everyone can find a private shaded oasis among huge boulders in Watson Lake. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Location of Watson Lake Park

Address: 3101 N State Route E 89, Prescott, AZ, 8630

Located about 100 miles north of Phoenix and just 4 miles north of Prescott, this beautiful lake is an oasis for escaping Arizona’s summer heat. The park is easily accessible from major roads, therefore an excellent destination for a day trip from Phoenix.

Hours of Lake Use

April 27 – October 4, hours are 6 am to 10 pm. Winter hours are 7 am to 6 pm.

Parking at Watson Lake

There is a daily parking fee of $3.

Read More: Which are the best Arizona resorts for families?

Fun Things to Do at Watson Lake Park

You will have plenty of activities to choose from during your visit, whether it is a day trip from Phoenix or a week-long camping adventure.

Boating

Boats with gas-powered and electric powered motors are permitted on Watson Lake, but there is a maximum 5 miles an hour “no wake” speed limit on the lake. Amenities include two boat launches, courtesy dock and fish cleaning stations.

Canoeing and Kayaking

Kayaks and canoes are available for rent 7 days a week (6 AM-Sunset). To make a reservation, contact Prescott Outdoors. Rental includes kayak, paddle, dry bags & life jackets. You will love the scenery of the lake and its many hidden bays.

Fishing

Visitors can fish from boats or the banks of Watson Lake. State laws regarding fishing licenses apply — anyone 10 years and older must have a license to fish. The lake is popular for crappies and largemouth bass fishing.

Hiking

Hiking at Watson Lake is phenomenal. The Peavine Trail runs along the southeastern side of the lake into the scenic Granite Dells region. The trail is level and easy and offers not only hiking but horseback riding and bicycling opportunities. Peavine runs into Iron King Trail for about 4 miles toward Prescott Valley. You will find lots of nooks and crannies on the trail for peaceful relaxation. 

Unusual rock formations at Watson Lake Park near Phoenix Arizona
Fascinating scenery awaits at Watson Lake Park. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Bird Watching

Watson Lake Park is an Audubon-endorsed bird watching area where you can spot hundreds of bird species, including eagles and pelicans. The 140-acre Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is located near the Peavine Trail.

No Swimming at Watson Lake Park!

That is something hard for me to understand. There are so many beautiful little places that seem to be just perfect for cooling off. On the other hand, that is probably the reason the park remains uncrowded.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is allowed in Watson Lake. The park offers excellent climbing for beginners and experienced climbers.

Wild sunflowers at Watson Lake State Park near Phoenix
Wildflowers at Watson Lake make the park even prettier. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Camping at Watson Lake Park 

Overnight camping is available only during the summer season. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill. Restrooms, showers, roofed shelters (ramadas), fish cleaning stations, boat ramp and children’s playground are provided.

Picnicking

If you come to Watson Lake Park for a day trip from Phoenix or for a stay longer, you will love picnicking on the lake. Excellent views will complement your meal.

Picnicking with a view at Watson Lake Park
Picnicking with a view at Watson Lake Park. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Meadows for Wildflowers Lovers

Again, not what you would expect in the desert, a beautiful meadow! At the end of my hike, right next to the trail, I found a large field full of purple flowers. I spent a lot of time there, enjoying its healing beauty.

Woman wearing sunglasses underneath draping wildflowers at Watson Lake Park near Phoenix Arizona
Watson Lake Park delivers a healing power of nature. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Dogs at Watson State Park

Watson Lake allows dogs on hiking trails, which makes it a getaway that the whole family can enjoy.

Convenient Hotel & Vacation Rentals for a Trip from Phoenix to Watson Lake Park

Residence Inn Phoenix North/Happy Valley

I resided at the hotel during my long chemotherapy treatment, and I can’t recommend it enough. Excellent facilities, good free breakfast, social hours and fantastic staff made my stay as pleasant as possible under the circumstances.

Location

Just a short distance from I-17, the hotel is located down the street from the Shops at Norterra and only 5 minutes from Hurricane Harbor. Other nearby sites include Reach 11 Sports Complex, Outlets at Anthem, Peoria Sports Complex and downtown Phoenix.

Residence Inn Phoenix North Happy Valley will deliver everything you need for a pleasant stay.
Residence Inn Phoenix North Happy Valley will deliver everything you need for a pleasant stay. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Rooms at the Residence Inn Phoenix North Happy Valley

The hotel’s pet-friendly apartment-style suites feature fully equipped kitchens, free WiFi and 32-inch flat-screen TVs. I stayed in a one-bedroom suite, clean and modern, and loved it. It had everything I needed for the extended stay.

Pool at night at the Residence Inn Phoenix North Happy Valley
Residence Inn Phoenix North Happy Valley. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

Breakfast

I liked breakfast included in the price of my room, especially a variety of fresh fruit. The buffet offers a wide range of options such as healthy yogurt, hearty oatmeal, Belgian waffles and much more.

The Residence Inn Mix Social

The Residence Inn Mix offers a fun and relaxing way to unwind, socialize and connect. Three nights a week, the hotel features a different way to socialize in the lobby or outdoor space. On many occasions, the food provided served as my dinner. Soft drinks, beer and wine were also available free of charge.

Outdoor Facilities

Outdoor facilities at the hotel include an inviting outdoor pool with a hot tub and a shaded grilling area.

Other Great Outdoor Destinations Nearby:

Bryce Canyon National Park 

Tuweep Area – The Best Kept Secret of the Grand Canyon

Hopi Reservation and the Blue Canyon

Utah – the Best State for Nature Lovers 

Yvonne Jasinski passed away on June 19, 2021 from complications of cancer. She is greatly missed. See more about Yvonne and her legacy here. SheBuysTravel continues to update her articles to keep sharing her thoughts and advice with the world.
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3 responses


  1. Good Morning, I am a Realtor in Prescott and noticed your beautiful pictures. I do a magnetic calendar every year for my clients. I was wondering if I could use or buy one of your photos.

  2. 5

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