Log Corral Trail: Desert Route to Bartlett Lake

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Not far outside Phoenix, Arizona is an interesting desert trail whose character changes through seasons. It lies within the Tonto National Forest on the western side of the Mazatzal Mountain range.

Log Corral Trail starts in a wide sandy wash then funnels into a canyon as desert walls start to rise around. As the route narrows, the sand gives way to some rocky surfaces and exposed boulders.

Depending on what Mother Nature has done recently, you may find reasonably smooth passage through an area where a small spring seems to trickle constantly. But, some year’s significant rains have flooded the canyon,
exposing some challenging rocky ledges. Running this trail both wet and dry can be fun and different.

You never know what challenges you’ll find from year to year as the water flow pushes dirt and sand around. In the last year or so, the trail has become less challenging. Time will tell how the winter of 2015 might change the trail.

Once over the mountain saddle, the descent winds its way down to Bartlett Lake. Rainfall on this side sometimes floods across the trail, leaving off-camber and rutted paths.

As you progress, the canyon narrows and you find yourself under a canopy of trees. There are a number of small water crossings and some mud with exposed tree roots. After emerging from the trees, you’re greeted with a grand view from elevation looking down towards Bartlett Lake. It’s a reservoir that was formed when Bartlett Dam was constructed on the Verde River in the late 1930s.

From here you follow a meandering two-track downhill headed toward the lake. This portion of the trail is a mix of mostly hard-pack dirt, turning to loose sand and decomposed granite as you continue to drop into a broadening wash nearer the lake. Some off-camber spots can be found on the descent as well.

The canyon offers a contrast between lush and arid climates. Tall trees grow from the moisture and shade at the canyon base, while plenty of desert cacti populate the drier, hotter spots above the canyon floor.

The canyon closes in with larger trees but is easy to follow. In most cases, a vehicle with 32 to 33-inch tires can tackle the trail. That, of course, depends on the latest condition of the trail and how wet it is at the time.

Upon arrival, you may find the lake at any capacity depending on recent rainfall and dam-release activity. Sometimes water-level is high, even reaching desert vegetation. Other times, the level could be 20 to 30 feet below. For those looking to toss a line in the water, the lake has fish species ranging from catfish to large and small-mouth bass.

After spending time at the lake, you can return by the same route, or choose another option. There is a 4WD powerline road on the east side of the lake that runs northward and southward, so there’s more to explore.

There are places to camp along the lake that are easily accessible when the water level is low and can be found off some spur trails near the shore when the level is high.

Times when the water level is way down, there’s plenty of exposed lake bottom to explore and usually some sloppy stuff to play in.

When the dam outlet flow is reduced, it’s possible to follow the powerline road south and cross the Verde River below the dam in a wide, shallow spot. This way out will lead you back towards Carefree via Bartlett Dam Road.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2015 print issue of Tread Magazine.

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