Water Canyon – Big Lake Loop

FacilitiesPicnic AreaFishingDaily UseCamping
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Springerville Ranger District 
(928) 333-4372 

Portions of this area were impacted by the 2011 Wallow Fire. While parts of the forest did burn, much is still intact, and wildlife viewing opportunities are not diminished.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

This 45-mile scenic driving loop passes through high-elevation grassland, ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forest and wetland riparian habitats, including several mountain marshes like Salt House Marsh and Mexican Hay Lake.

Pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer and Merriam’s turkey are frequently seen from the road, especially at sunrise and sunset.

In marsh areas, look for great blue heron, belted kingfisher, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbird, and a variety of waterfowl. Bird species in grassland habitats include western and mountain bluebird, horned lark, northern harrier and an occasional golden eagle.

Mixed conifer forest birds include red crossbill, red-breasted nuthatch, western tanager, golden- and ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warbler, Clark’s nutcracker and gray jay.

Look in aspen stands for Williamson’s and red-naped sapsucker and blue grouse.  Pine grosbeak are occasionally seen around the Big Lake area.  There’s a high probability of seeing elk at Pat Knoll, located ten miles south of Eagar on Forest Road (FR) 285.

There are complete, barrier-free facilities at the Big Lake Recreation Area, including a Forest Service visitor center and a small store. Free interpretive programs are available at the center during summer months; inquire for date, time and topic.

Habitat: Ponderosa pine forest, mixed conifer, high-elevation grassland, wetland riparian

Chiricahua Leopard Frog

Chiricahua Leopard Frog

Seasons: Spring, summer and fall.


  • From the traffic light in Eagar, proceed south on Main Street to the sawmill, turning on to FR 285 (Water Canyon Road).
  • Continue south for 21 miles to the junction of FR 285 and 249.
  • Turn right on FR 249 and drive 0.7 mile to the junction with FR 113.
  • Take FR 113 another three miles, past the Big Lake turnoff (FR 115) and Crescent Lake, to the junction with State Highway 261.
  • Follow Highway 261 18.5 miles to the intersection with Highway 260, three miles west of Eagar.

Access: 24 hours daily. FR 285 is graveled, but suitable for passenger cars in good weather. Highways 260 and 261 are paved. Highway 261 is closed in the winter.

Near: Eagar or Springerville

What You Might See