Why you should visit Black Canyon Lake in Heber Arizona
When it heats up in the Phoenix area, we love to head north past Payson toward Heber and the Apache-Sitegraves National Park. There are so many forest roads to explore just outside of Payson and we have only experienced a small number of them . One of our favorite camping spots to beat the heat is located near Black Canyon Lake.
Black Canyon Lake is located about 45 miles east of the city of Payson, Arizona on Forest Road 86,. This lake boasts many attractions including the Heber Wild Horses, fishing, kayaking, hiking and off-roading.
As you first pull into the recreation area, you will find lots of dispersed camping areas. If you prefer staying in a campground keep driving in towards the lake. Here you will find the Black Canyon Rim Campground. The peak season for this campground is May 18, 2019 – October 07, 2019. The campground has 20 camp sites that can accommodate everything from tents to large trailers up to 40ft long.
Each site includes a campfire ring with grill and picnic table. Some perks to staying at the campground are the vault toilets, drinking water and trash service. The campsite sites are about 2.5 miles Southwest of the lake.
If you are in the mood for a bumpy ride, you can follow the signs to the Gentry lookout that hosts another small campground with vault toilets. This campsite is literally on top of the world with a peak-a-boo view of Black Canyon Lake and the surrounding wilderness. This campground consists of 5 campsites that will also accommodate large group of up to 75 people. These sites are available by first come first serve or reservation.
For more information on camping in the Black Canyon Lakes area, visit the USDA Forest Service website:
The Black Canyon Lake is a beautiful woodland lake with a peaceful easy hike along the lake and over to the dam. The 78 acre lake was stocked with fish in April and June this year by the Arizona Game & Fish department . You may see rainbow trout, illegally stocked largemouth bass and green sunfish jumping in the early mornings and evenings.
The game and fish department has created a great interactive Map for fishing areas in Arizona. You can find the species, catch limits and fishing tips for each lake listed. Check it out below:
Another great feature of this lake is the boat launch and dock. Small boats and boats with electric motors are allowed on the lake. This calm lake is the perfect setting for a sunset kayak voyage. But remember, the area near the lake is for day use only and is gated off at dusk.
Hiking the Hangman Trail
The Hangman Trail comes with a fascinating historical tale of cowboys, local law enforcement and a renegade gang. Sadly, the story is a tragic one. In 1888, three men, Jamie Stott, Jim Scott, and Billy Wilson were wrongfully arrested by J. D. Houck (a sheep farmer / law man). He claimed that he had a warrant for the men due to rumors of stolen horses. With the Pleasant Valley Feud going on at the time, tensions were high in the area.
While researching the fate of these men, I found some some conflicting information on whether or not J.D Houck was involved in their disapearance. It seems that he wanted the land that they used for grazing. Some stories say he was a ruthless lawmen with one leg on the wrong side of the law.
What happened to the cowboys?
After the men disappeared, Houck alleged that a vigilante group hunted them down and took the men out of his custody. Unfortunately, the men were hung in this valley and their bodies were not found until 3 days later. The cowboys were buried near the place where they were found and the grave stones can still be seen today.
The article below seems to be the most believable account of what happened. If you would like to see some old pictures of the men involved in this dispute, check out this article from APCRP.org:
Hangman Trail Notes
A couple notes on the trail. I believe there are two ways to access the trail. One from FR300 which is about 1 mile from the trailhead to the gravesites. When you start from the Black Canyon Road like we did it may be a bit further. Make sure to follow the blue diamonds on the trees as there are a few side trails.
Since the trail is an old 2 track road, it is fairly easy to traverse. There are a few small hills and a slow fairly easy uphill climb towards the site. When you get close you will see a sign that says “Hangman Trail .1”. Walk another 200 feet or so and look into the bushes. See the picture below for landmarks. The gravesite is located on the right before another uphill climb out of the this section of trees.
**** When we visited the gravesite, the brush was a little overgrown and the site was hard to see and we actually walked past it and were confused because we couldn’t locate it. So we backtracked and our daughter spotted it.
Heber Wild Horses
If you are lucky, on your visit to the Black Canyon Lake area, you may get a chance to see the Heber Wild Horses. On our last visit, a family of 4 greeted us at our campsite less than 20 minutes after we pulled in. These curious yet wild horses have a very unique history. The horses are protected under the Federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and are rumored to have a bloodline dating back to 1540. Read more about these fascinating creatures on our Heber Wild Horses blog post.
The original lookout was built in 1927 and stood 62′ tall. The Gentry Lookout that you see today was built in 1965 to replace the old fire tower. Because of its historical significance in the area, it was nominated and induced into the National Historical Lookout Register in 2009. This lookout towers 70 feet high over the campground below.
The structure is impressive and the views from the top are gorgeous. While you are visiting the lookout, find yourself a great campsite and stay a while.
In case you need one more reason to visit the Black Canyon lake area, the sunsets are amazing. There are some spots just off the forest roads that overlook nearby valleys create amazing sunsets. If you don’t believe me, check out the images that follow then travel to the lake and see for yourself.