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Hike #28 – Sunrise Lake North Shore

Sunrise Lake North Shore
Sunrise Lake North Shore

Location: From the Pinetop Post Office on SR 260 (map):

  • Drive 24.4 miles east on 260 to the junction of SR 273 and turn right.
  • Drive 2.1 miles south and look for a gravel road on the left through the fence line. The gravel road usually has a large but shallow water puddle on the corner immediately after the fence line. The road turns south immediately and goes straight southeast for about 0.8 miles.
  • Part way along is a turn to the right that goes back to the head of the lake and SR 273, but don’t turn, go straight until you see a parking area on the right and a boat launch ramp to the lake straight ahead. The road you are going to walk is to the left. You could park here and walk on that road, or better drive a ways east on the road to the left and park out of the way and walk.

Trail: The gravel road extends for about three miles to the east and is a solid cinder coated gravel road. If you wish to bushwhack, the area between the road and lake is covered with bunch grass and numerous volcanic rocks making walking difficult.

Trailhead and Directions: There is no trailhead, just park in one of several wide areas along the right side of the long gravel road, or drive all the way to the end and park at the top of the hill where the old boat ramp runs down on the right. From anywhere along this road you can walk down to the shore of the lake. In recent years, this distance has increased as the lake is shrinking in size. If you drive to the far eastern end, you can walk across the meadow and up a small hill to a rocky ledge at the top for a nice view of the lake. We have also hiked from the eastern end down across the upper end of the lake to the land on the other side. This could be wet going depending on where you decide to cross the incoming drainage. There are cattle trails paralleling the shoreline nearer the lake’s edge if you want to get nearer the water.

Access: Hiking, bicycling, and driving along the road. A permit from the Apache Reservation is required. Handicapped access only on the gravel road. The western part of the lake is popular with fishermen.

Distance: As far as you wish.

Difficulty: If you stay on the road, it is level all the way and easy walking. If you walk off the road, footing is uneven and hiking is moderately difficult.

Features: The road along the north side of the lake is now a fair distance from the water, but still provides views of waterfowl on the lake (best with a spotting scope). It is all open country with wonderful views of the meadows, hills, and distant woods. Pronghorn and Elk are often seen as are herds of cows and wild horses.

The meadows support nesting Western Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. We often see Northern Harrier and rarely American Kestrel over the meadow. Bald Eagles are often perched in snags and fly over the lake harassing the ducks. We have seen Peregrine Falcons over the lake and on the flats plucking duck feathers. In summer, the duck population is not great with nesting Mallards and Ruddy Ducks. In late fall, the bird population increases to 10,000 to 15,000 on the lake. There may be several hundred Canada Geese, thousands of Mallards and Ruddy Ducks, and hundreds of other migrating ducks like Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged, Green-winged, and Cinnamon Teal, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, Canvasback, and other species. There are usually Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, and in fall, Western Grebes. Double-crested Cormorants are expected. American Coots can be there in the thousands. It is a good idea to have a scope if you want decent views of the ducks on the lake. And since the sun is to the southeast in morning, afternoon is better for waterbird watching. Flowers are not numerous but there are some good species there like Pleated Gentian, Gentianella, Hairy False Golden Aster, Mullein, two species of yellow evening primrose, tickseeds, gumweeds, thistles, and others if you hike into the bunch grass.

Connections: None.

Sunrise Lake North Shore
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