As of June 14, 2016 Forest Roads 89 and 89A - the main access roads to Bear Canyon Lake are OPEN to recreational use and camping but are still impacted by forest restoration activity. Visitors are urged to be mindful of heavy equipment working in the area and to avoid areas where crews are working.
Forest Road 89B is closed due to an active forest restoration project. For your own safety, please do not drive around road barricades to enter closed areas. Visitors found to be within the closed area will be cited. This closure does not affect access to the lake however, dispersed camping opportunities along Forest Road 89B are not available for the remainder of the 2016 season. Camping along Forest Roads 84, 84A, and 208 is available, but may be impacted by forest restoration activity from 2016 - 2019.
A beautiful, narrow, canyon-bound lake, 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.
Arizona fishing regulations apply. Please refer to the current year fishing regulations brochure produced by the Arizona Game and Fish Department for further details on licensing requirements, daily bag limits, and other restrictions. Boat motors are restricted to electric motors only.
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
Nice large campsites, great hiking. Bathrooms were okay, not cleaned over long weekend.
Really nice area. Vault toilets on the 89A loop that are smelly (expected) and full of black widows (beware!). Several groups didn't obey the signs posted about the limit of people at the camp grounds on the loop (10 people, not 10 familys) It was a little noisy at night due to one of the very large groups in the small camp grounds screaming and yelling at each other for a couple of hours.
Other than that it was gorgeous. The hike down to the lake from the west side was pretty tough. I think we walked about half to 3/4s of a mile down and around the lake to find a spot to fish.
We arrived midday Saturday and there were a lot of large groups there. Most of the campsites closer to the lake entrance were designed to have multiple tents. There was loud music and gunshots (even though there is no target shooting allowed) well past midnight. The camping spots closer to the lake did not have a whole lot of tree coverage but we're fairly well spaced out. If you go take an extra bag to pick up existing trash we found a lot of bottles, cans, forgotten pieces of tents, broken tools, Etc. The closest Camp spots to the lake are still about a quarter mile away. The dirt road will take you to the Canyons Edge but you have to hike down on a pretty rapid descent Trail. I watched three other groups come through and heard at least two people fall sliding on the dirt. Then again we went through with a dog and a toddler and none of us fell.