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Dear Ranger, Are there any swimming holes around Flagstaff? What about canoeing or kayaking places?

— Aquaman

Dear Aquaman,

A few good locations for water play can be found near Flagstaff. Of course, Oak Creek Canyon’s Slide Rock State Park is popular — you’ll find many other people enjoying the shallow, swift-running creek, especially on holidays and weekends. But the park’s natural beauty and the amenities (little grocery store, picnic tables, nature trail, orchard) make it a delightful destination. Slide Rock, just north of Sedona, opened for business on May 27, with an entry fee of $20 per vehicle on weekdays, $30 Friday-Sunday and holiday Mondays.

On the Coconino National Forest, Fossil Creek is one of two “Wild and Scenic Rivers” in Arizona. The aqua blue 70 degree water and marble-like travertine banks make Fossil Creek a popular wading, hiking and picnicking spot. The catch? It’s at the end of a 14-mile dirt road (high clearance vehicle recommended) and you must reserve a parking permit in advance to visit between May 1 and Oct. 1. The CNF has made this reservation process easy: go to to reserve and print your permit. For recorded information on current conditions at Fossil Creek, call 226-4611. Alert: no drinking water is available at Fossil Creek, so bring plenty of your own.

In Flagstaff, the Forest Service has a dedicated water sports beach at Upper Lake Mary. The beach is rocky. Between May 1 and mid-October, entry fees are $8 per vehicle, or $1 per walk-in or bike-in visitor. Motor and non-motorized boats are allowed; water skiing is popular in the warm months. There are picnic tables and restrooms. Ospreys nest nearby and can be seen diving to catch fish in the lake.

Unofficial swim-at-your-own-risk water holes also exist. A personal favorite is Wet Beaver Creek, two miles east of I-17, on the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest. Hiking in about 3.5 miles on sunny, flat Bell Trail No. 13 (beyond the private property signs) leads you to several spots for water play in the creek.

There are several canoeing and kayaking opportunities nearby. The deepest water close to Flagstaff is — surprise! — in Winslow, where East Clear Creek has been dammed to create a reservoir at McHood County Park. This fee-free area has an easy put-in and take-out area at the parking lot. It’s possible to paddle 2.5 miles upstream (west) toward the dam, then turn around and float back to the parking area.

Alongside the reservoir you can view petroglyphs (high on the left just before the big rightward bend in the creek) and wildlife. To get there, drive I-40 to Winslow, head south 1.3 miles on AZ 87, then left 4.7 miles on AZ 99 to the park. Again, bring plenty of water.

Blue Ridge Reservoir is a little over an hour's drive from Flagstaff, but well worth the effort. To get there, drive 55 miles south of Flagstaff on Lake Mary Road. Turn northeast (left) and drive about 4 miles on AZ 87 to FR 751, then southeast on 751 about six more miles to the reservoir (these last miles are graveled, but suitable for passenger cars in most weather).

This body of water, officially named C.C. Cragin Reservoir, is appropriate for small craft, kayaks and canoes. Fishing and rock-jumping (after careful inspection for shallow rocks) are good here, as well as paddling. The reservoir has no sandy beaches or shore access once you leave the boat ramp.

Nearer to town are Ashurst and Kinnikinick Lakes, both out Lake Mary Road. Ashurst Lake is on FR 82E, opposite the road to Pine Grove Campground, about 20 miles southeast of Flagstaff. The lake boasts a stunning, if distant, view of the San Francisco Peaks. Kinnikinick Lake is a bit more remote: 30 miles south out of Flagstaff on Lake Mary Road; east on FR 125; 4 miles to FR 82; southeast 5.5 miles.

More information about these lakes and reservoirs, as well as Bell Trail, Fossil Creek and Slide Rock, appears on the CNF website Once on the site, choose “Recreation” on the left sidebar for links to Water Activities.

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Ellen Wade has been a volunteer Interpretive Ranger with the National Park Service for the last eight years. She also volunteers with the Flagstaff Symphony Guild.

The NPS/USFS Interpretive Partnership is a unique agreement between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to provide Interpretive Ranger walks and talks in the Flagstaff area throughout the summer.

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