Willow Springs Lake was created in 1967 as a trout fishing lake and is the second most visited Rim Country Lake after Woods Canyon. This 160-acre open mountain lake is any easy drive from Payson and has 5.3 miles of accessible shoreline making it a great spot for shore anglers. Hiking and mountain biking opportunities are nearby in the non-motorized Wildlife Area and the many surrounding trails.
Willow Springs is located at 7500’ of elevation making it most popular for those looking to escape the heat in favor of cooler temperatures between May through October. Willow Springs sits at the headwaters of Chevelon Creek in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Willow Springs Lake is heavily stocked from April through September with both Rainbow and Tiger Trout. The stocking schedule is available at the Arizona Game and Fish Website. The lake also has self-sustaining populations of both small and largemouth bass attracting bass fisherman.
Trout at Willow Springs are caught on a variety of trout baits including worms, corn, salmon eggs, and power bait. Popular lures include small spinners, Crickhoppers, and spoons. Fly fishermen find success with Woolly Buggers, bead-heads, and midges for wet flies. Popular dry flies include elk hair caddis, stimulators, and grasshoppers.
Willow Springs has a boat ramp, but there is no store or boat rental. Boat motors are limited to 10 hp. Unlike the forest-cradled feel of Woods Canyon, however, Willow Springs possesses an open expanse of water where visitors can get more than a couple of hundred yards from shore. You will see a variety of watercraft here including kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, smaller fishing boats, float tubes, and large bass boats utilizing their electric trolling motors.
Willow Spring’s population of Bald Eagles and Osprey are a big hit with visitors as they are often observed diving for fish. There are also many other species of waterfowl. Elk are commonly seen around the lake. There are also deer and wild turkey in the area along with plenty of squirrels and chipmunks.
The Sinkhole Campground has 26 sits and is within walking distance of the waters edge. Campsites 14 through 26 are available for advanced reservation. Sites 1 through 13 are first-come, first served. There are two accessible sites, two double sites, and the rest are single sites. All sites are back-in. Each site offers a campfire ring with grill and picnic table. Additional amenities include accessible vault toilets, drinking water, and trash service. There is also a camp host available on site.
Dispersed Camping near Willow Springs Lake
Dispersed camping is allowed within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest surrounding Willow Springs Lake provided you are not within ½ mile of the water’s edge or it is otherwise marked as a no camping area.
Willow Springs Trail
This trail follows the perimeter of the lake. The trail is relatively flat and easy, although it is not a well-worn trail. It is less of a trail and more just walking around the edge of the lake. It is recommended to us the lakes edge as your guide.
Willow Springs Canyon
If you follow the spillway on the backside of the dam down to the bottom you will be in Willow Springs Canyon which contains Chevelon Creek. There is a path that provides a scenic hike along the creek before its end. For those who don’t mind a little bushwhacking you can continue along the creek with a little more effort.
There are many additional trails on the Mogollon Rim that are in the vicinity of Willow Springs Lake including The General Crook Trail, The See Canyon Trail, and The Rim Trail among many others.
A paved road leads to the water’s edge. To reach Willow Springs head east on Highway 260 from Payson for about 33 miles to the Willow Springs Turnoff, Forest Road 149. You will find the Willow Springs boat ramp here and shore fishing opportunities.
Shore anglers can also approach the lake by driving past the usual Willow Springs turnoff and parking in a small parking lot about 1 mile down the road. From the parking lot it is a short walk to an area of the lake that approaches Highway 260. Another option is to continue another ½ mile further down Highway 260 and taking Forest Road 148 north to reach another area of the lake. This entrance is often utilized when the main entrance is closed in the off-season.