SJ's Hike of the Week: Blue Ridge Reservoir


Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: Easy - Boats are restricted to a single electric motor or a single gasoline engine 10 horsepower or less, meaning you won't have to deal with someone's wake knocking you off your board.

Dog Friendly: Yes!

Permit/Pass Required: Unlike most lakes in Arizona, this one is completely free!

Getting There: See Map.

Tips: Go on a weekday. The parking at the boat launch is incredibly limited and by the time I launched on a late Monday morning, it was already 3/4 full. Also, be aware the overflow lot is up a very steep road that is wash-boarded and may be difficult for low-clearance vehicle. Forest Service workers will close the entrance gate when the main lot gets full and allow one car at a time to enter when one car leaves. From what I was told, this can create some major chaos on a weekend!

About the Paddle: This is one of those places you'll want to spend some time exploring. This forested slice of Heaven near the Mogollon Rim has a little bit of everything - hiking, paddling, fishing, off-roading and ample camping. The boat launch lies pretty center to the reservoir, so you have two choices at launch - left takes you five miles and right will take you three. Don't make the same mistake I did and turn around at the dam! The water continues well beyond that point! Make sure to stop and explore the little caves and hidden campsites along the water's edge as well...and if you are feeling really adventurous, pack a tent on your kayak or SUP and spend the night in one of these prime dispersed camping gems!

Don't expect to spend much time swimming here, the high canyon walls replace what normally would be a beach, but there are plenty of rocks to jump from and sunbath on! The tall ponderosa pines mimic the height of the face of the canyon, with lush green ivy draping itself down rocks and boulders and sunlight splintering through oak trees and aspens.

The CC Cragin Reservoir is the actual name (changed from Blue Ridge in 2004) and was created in 1965 when a dam was built to meet the water needs of the town of Payson and Gila County. The lake is fully stocked with rainbow and brown trout which I can attest for as they were jumping around my board the whole paddle. Fun fact about this ice-cold lake...it's a rare body of water that freezes over in the winter in Arizona! And it retains it's cold temps year round.

What a great place to cool off after a hike on the Arizona Trail! The trailhead is only a few miles from the boat launch! (You can't have a hike of the week without a hike right?)

So grab your paddle, the family and the dog and escape the desert heat for a place you would only think could be found in the Pacific North West - right here in the beautiful Arizona South West. If you like water, greenery, wildlife and a little peace and quiet...Blue Ridge is most definitely for you.

Please respect these beautiful pieces of nature. Leave no trace and always leave it better than you found it.