Traveling through Bismarck Lake and Flagstaff

Told by Kuma & Written by Lorraine Bossé-Smith

If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s going to be one long, hot summer. Thankfully, from Phoenix, we can easily head to higher elevation, where we can find cooler temperatures. This weekend we did just that and got on I-17 toward Flagstaff. I was ready for an adventure!
Mom read about Bismarck Lake in a magazine, and she saw pictures before on her calendar. Depending upon where you live, it is about two and a half to three hours to the trailhead.
From Flagstaff, go northwest on Route 180 for 10 miles until you come to Forest Road 151, which is a dirt road. It’s bumpy in spots, and you need to watch out for a few potholes. You don’t need a high-clearance vehicle to drive it; any car should do. Anyway, turn right on 151 and continue for 6 miles (watch your odometer) until you see FR 627 on your right. It’s marked, and it leads you to the trailhead. Parking is ample and free, but there isn’t a human restroom. Remember: Whatever you pack in—pack it out!
This is a short, easy hike that is at the base of Humphreys Peak—the highest natural point in Arizona with an elevation of 12,633. Don’t worry; you don’t hike up that high. You are, however, at 8,500 to 8,800 feet, and you will feel it. To prevent altitude sickness, drink extra water. Although the grade is gradual, you are hiking up to the lake.
I immediately smelled the ponderosa pine trees. Oh, how I love hiking in the forest as the soft ground is gentler on the paws. Woof! I was a happy dog to be in the mountains. This 3-mile loop takes you through the forest to a huge open meadow. Apparently, elk and deer live here, but we didn’t see any. We did see Humphreys Peak in all its glory. You will continue to the lake, which will be on your right (1 mile from the parking lot). You will notice a lot of aspen trees, and you have a couple of options:
You can go to Bismarck Lake first, like we did. If you do, take a left at the first trail sign and follow it directly to the lake. After you come to the lake and take your pictures, you will continue on but will need to follow the trail on the right. There are three paths, but only one of them is the real trail. I guess humans have gotten lost over time and created worn paths that don’t take you around to the Arizona Trail. Stay on the farthest right trail that will come to the Arizona Trail, and turn right. It’s easy to miss, as a tree has fallen, blocking the trail. You have to climb over or under it. This loops up deeper into the forest and then back down, passing the lake on your right again. You’ll come to the intersection that you first saw and will take that left, back to the parking lot.
Or, you can go the reverse direction and hike around the lake via the Arizona Trail. At the first trail marker, turn right. You’ll follow this and pass the lake on your left, but you won’t be at the lake yet (off in the distance). Continue until the trail marker and turn left. This will loop you back down to the lake. Enjoy the lake and views and then follow the trail back to the parking lot.

In both cases, it is one mile to the lake. It is the loop and using the Arizona Trail that adds another mile for a total of 3 miles round trip. Note: Bismarck Lake varies in size and relies upon rain to fill up. It can be a good-size lake or a pond … or a mud puddle. You don’t know until you get there, but the views are spectacular regardless. It had enough water in it for a swim. Ah, so refreshing! We met my kind who had already swam in it, and by the time we got there, we had it all to ourselves. After I cooled off, we set up camp for a picnic. We ate lunch and then dad set up a hammock for mom. Good dad! Dad took a snooze on the grass, as did I. We enjoyed the sounds of nature: wind whistling in the pines and birds chirping. The winds can be strong in the meadow by the lake, so we were nestled in the trees.
Depending upon the time of year you go, watch the skies. I wouldn’t want to get caught in a monsoon and worry about lightening. Today, it was high 70s and just perfect. Although we saw some others hiking the trail, it was not heavily trafficked. That made us happy! This was a great find, and it will be on my top, best hikes of all time. Looking to get away from the heat? This is worth the drive.

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