A beautiful, narrow, canyon-bound lake, accessible by foot trail only, Bear Canyon Lake is one of several in a series of fishing lakes built by Arizona Game and Fish Department. Despite being several miles down a dirt road and having few amenities, it draws many visitors. The partially developed campground which is set among the mixed conifer, oak and aspen, has only limited amenities. Bear Canyon Lake is a "Pack it in - Pack it out" area. There is NO GARBAGE SERVICE. Please be good stewards of the land and leave the area better than how you found it.
For purposes of fire restrictions, this campground is considered to be an 'undeveloped' campground. No fires will be permitted when fire restrictions are in effect for the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest.
At an elevation of 7,560, Bear Canyon Lake consists of 60 surface acres with a maximum depth of 50 feet. Because of its depth, this lake has no water quality problems. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish stocks it with catchable-sized rainbow trout about six times each year.
There is a lot of room up there for dispersed camping. Was a nice area and it filled up quick! By Friday night, you couldn't find much open. Got there around lunch and we still had plenty of room. The lake was relaxing. Saturday saw many more people enjoying the water. Would go again!
Big campground, with hidden trails. Can get rowdy at night. The lake itself is beautiful and less crowded than Woods Canyon Lake. Lots of traffic at night oddly enough and there were gunshots at night as well. Overall it’s. Great spot if you can get a more secluded camp.
Beautiful lake about a quarter mile walk from most of the campsites. Many disrespectful campers around here, especially around the holiday weekends. Last time I went there was toilet paper near almost every tree. You could see a lot of cans at the bottom of the lake near the shore, as well as chip bags and candy wrappers. One year we stayed a couple days past the 4th of July. When we left, there were ripped tents the people left behind, torn shade tents abandoned and trash everyone. Not an exaggeration. Also fire band was in full effect and everyone has a fire going! What the heck? Many campers do not respect keeping quiet either. Lot of loud music until 3am! A shame because this is a beautiful lake when it is kept clean.
We had to go pretty far back to get a spot, because everyone was there. You do have to pack your trash back out, but there are two dump sites as you are leaving as well as a septic dump.
I went during the pandemic so the bathrooms were closed and the dumpsters were very full. But stop at the vistas coming in and going out, they have great trails and great views.
Be careful on the dirt roads though, there is soft sand at the sides and you could easily lose traction and go off the road. There are little trails to awesome hidden gems where no one would even know that you were there.
We camped where is was supposed to be a bit quieter. Opposite side of lake from toilets. You couldn't see anyone, but boy could you hear them. We were about a mile , maybe mile and a half from the lake. There was a big ( hundreds ) church group, who had a stage for services, and a band ( they were on road to lake / boat ramp, a quarter mile from lake ). So before dinner Saturday, heard lots of drums and guitar tuning, then there concert. Spanish Chistian hymns were fine and we appreciated that they unplugged at 9[m, and didn't start up again till 9 am. Didn't love it, but appreciated they tried to be respectful.
Another group, apparently in retaliation, play rock and roll ( good songs, so kind of didn't mind ) top volume till 2 am. I sleep well and missed the fight when another group went over to ask them to turn off.
We did mind the gunfire. Lots and lots of gunfire. So we do not know how much gun safety was practiced, but it made us nervous and signs clearly marked that not allowed. Lots of ATV's buzzing around.
On the way out, one large group ( not the church group ) left a dozen large bags of trash for the volunteers host to haul out. Plenty of garbage was left not bagged. The volunteer host said he was quitting, he has alerted state rangers and local police to the repeated gunfire but no one ever comes to enforce.
The lake on Sunday was quiet and great. Stocked and kids caught a fish. The kids had fun. Maybe we just got unlucky, but overall disappointed. Might try again as the spot had a lot of potential.
I’ve camped here twice and not only it’s great spot for the kids to roam around, it’s also nice having the lake close by. I don’t recommend staying too close to the restrooms because you’ll get a lot of cars pass by and it can get a bit noisy when people are walking to the restroom at night. Since this is a free camping area, people can be a bit noisy but that’s the reason you go camping.
Spent a few nights up here dry camping. Sort of a rough road going out. Lots of people but we got a spot on the edge of the camp. Bathrooms are as basic as they get. Windy in the morning but settled as the day went on each day. The lake is about a mile away. There is a short but very steep hike, don’t plan on carrying too much stuff. Nowhere to launch kayaks from the campground side but we could see a boat launch on the far side of the lake. Lots of people fishing, sort of hard to find a spot on the shore with space between anyone else. The water was pretty clean and ok for swimming. The camp and lake had a decent amount of broken glass which is a bummer. Pine trees are tall but area has been pretty cleared out so campsites are a little bit exposed. We had shade as long as we moved around through the day.
Bear Canyon campground and lake located off AZ260 north east of payson. Near Woods Canyon lake(larger and more accessible), and Knoll lake(smaller than Bear Canyon)
Bear Canyon campground is easily accessible and free. No reservations. No water/electric hookups. No picnic tables. No trash service-pack it in, pack it out. It will fill up on weekends during the summer as the weather is so temperate. We came up on a weekday and stayed to the beginning of the weekend and it wasn’t too crowded.
Pros: The weather was amazing. High of 75-78 in the day and high 40’s at night. There was a constant breeze which kept it cool and fresh feeling. The lake is a short hike(0.2 miles) from the trailhead. And provides good fishing from the shore. There is plenty of free firewood’s around; just bring a saw and splitting axe. Near the Rim and other lakes (Woods Canyon and Knoll). Pit toilets were a far walk depending on where you camped but they were clean.
Cons: This entire area is very rocky! We have a pop up but I can’t imagine tent camping without an air mattress. Each campsite maybe has a fire pit and that’s it. Boats and Kayaks would be a real challenge to bring down and up as the trail is very steep, rocky, and loose.
Overall, we were disappointed that we were unable to use our kayaks but the weather make up for it and it was a great, relaxing trip.
If you go during the winter months (that is, if roads are open), you may likely be the only one there! The lake is not very easily accessible for camping but it's an easy hike down for fishing, photography, and simply enjoying nature. Keep your eyes peeled, you may spot a bald eagle. The actual campground is usually crowded with no privacy. Perhaps suitable for a large group. Restrooms, never mind, just bring a shovel and use the woods; it's cleaner. Just don't be disgusting and leave it all out. Leave No Trace, PLEASE. Also, you'll need to carry out all your trash. On a holiday weekend (Labor Day especially) there are so many visitors but otherwise only a few venture out that way. Your best bet for solitude is to drive 2-4 miles passed the campground which will be on your right and find a good dispersed spot. Just bring ribbon or rope to mark a tree from the road in case you need to travel down to Woods Canyon Lake store or out to a Rim viewpoint for cell service.
It’s beautiful and the weather and water is amazing