The Half Moon Lake Trail is located in the Williams Valley Winter Recreation Area of the Apache National Forest and falls under the jurisdiction of the Alpine Ranger District. The Half Moon Lake Trail is the longest in the trail system, approximately 10 miles and offers year around recreation for hiking and biking during the summer and x-country/back-country skiing in the winter.
Directions: Approximately 4.5 hours from Phoenix, Tucson or El Paso. From the intersection of US191 & US 180 in Alpine, Arizona. Travel north on US 191 approximately 2 miles to the Forest Road 249 turnoff. During the summer the sign reads “Big Lake” with an arrow pointing west and in the winter the sign is flipped down and reads “Williams Valley Winter Recreation Area”. Turn west and travel 3.4 miles to a wide spot in the road with a Forest Service kiosk just below the road berm (south side). This locates you in the middle of the Williams Valley Winter Recreation Area. The area is closed to motorized travel. N3351.760′ & W10913.205′ – Elevation 8675′.
Head due south across the meadow, climb a slight incline and head for the tree line. You will pick up a trail known as the Valley Loop. Head west on this easy to follow trail as it meanders through the forest, veers south, passes a gate and opens up into Lookout Meadow. N3351.615′ & W10913.775′ – Elevation 8800′. The Lookout Meadow Loop is a great short outing in itself, perhaps 1 1/2 hours and back to your vehicle. However, if you have a few extra hours, veer to the right (SW) and bust a move uphill for a half mile or so. You will come to a fork in the trail with a sign designating the right fork as Up & Over. There is no trickery here, the trail literally goes up and over and is only about 1/3 of a mile long. Once you are “over” – you will be on the Isolation Meadow Trail. N3351.430′ & W10914.155′ – Elevation 8770′. Take this trail to the southeast for a long uphill slog, you will pass a cool little water tank that’s a lot deeper than it looks! Continue uphill and you will arrive at a woodpile in the trail with a gate just beyond. Travel though the gate approximately 200 yards and to the northeast you will see a “blue diamond” as a trail designation attached to a large aspen tree. N3351.050′ & W 10914.055′ – Elevation 8980′.
For the next 3/4 mile you will be heading in an easterly direction and slowly climbing – the trail is established, but look for the blue diamonds in the trees to keep you on route. Eventually you will come to a two-track road. N3350.975′ & W10913.635′ – Elevation 9020′. Follow this two-track uphill to the northeast, the blue diamonds will still guide you along. Once you “top-out” the trail will begin to meander through the forest with the odd undulation and occasional meadow. You will pass a trail named Ya Hoo, this trail will drop you back down to Lookout Meadow if you’re running short on time. However, the next couple of miles is the best part of the day since you are now on the Half Moon Lake Trail! Within a 1/4 mile on your left (east) will be Half Moon Lake itself. N3350.765′ & W10912.840′ – Elevation 9200′. For most of the year the lake is dry and is pretty much a “mud hole”, but after the spring snow melt and during monsoon season the lake does fill up with water. This is a great camping destination and a favorite hang out for massive bull elk.
After leaving Half Moon Lake the trail is pretty easy to follow with blue diamonds in the trees every few hundred feet. You will stay on top of the mountain (part of South Mountain) for a mile and then the trail will drop off back west. You will come to an open area and for lack of a better term an “intersection”. There will be a blue diamond in a ponderosa pine with an arrow pointing west. N3350.560′ & W 10911.935′ – Elevation 9350′. This is now a two-track road again, follow it for 3/4 mile and it will make a gradual descent. To your left (SW) you will notice a meadow forming through the trees, it’s best to cut through the trees and into the meadow. However, if you stay on the two-track it will drop you midway into the meadow. This is the start of three “Hanging Meadows” that drain the north slope of the entire area. This is one of the most beautiful and remote location in Alpine… it is also the locals favorite area for skiing since there are numerous telemark ski hills and great sunny picnic areas.
Continue to travel to the west and follow the meadows edge (either side) downhill. You will come to another water tank, which is also deeper than it looks! N3350.805′ & W10912.535′ – Elevation 9200′. To the south and uphill of this tank is another large meadow which is fun to explore on skis or hiking – it’s also loaded with great camp locations. As you look downhill and to the west, you will see the last of the three Hanging Meadows. Continue downhill and go up and over a Forest Service berm. This trail is quite rocky with loose scree; it’s a great place for mountain bikers that prefer “rock gardens”. Within a half mile you will pass the lower trail head of Ya Hoo, another half mile and you will drop into the eastern edge of Lookout Meadow. N3351.275′ & W10913.425′ – Elevation 8880′. You will pass another gate and continue along the two-track road which is on the northern edge of Lookout Meadow – another half mile and you will recognize your original point of entry into Lookout Meadow a few hours before.
The route described is over 10 miles and will take 3-4 hours hiking or 2 hours to bike or ski. Keep a close watch on the weather, especially during our July-September monsoon season, it rains almost every afternoon with frequent lightening strikes.
Please visit my website: http://www.thetucsonhomehunters.com/