Lower Lake Mary, Upper Lake Mary, and Mormon Lake are linked by one of Flagstaff's most scenic drives. Accessible from Flagstaff, the drive can be done in roughly 2.5 hours or can be combined with camping, fishing, hiking, cross country skiing, or a meal at Mormon Lake Lodge.
In winter (November to late February) this is one of the best bald eagle viewing areas in northern Arizona. During the spring (February and early March) and fall (September, October and early November), the lakes host flocks of migrating waterfowl. Most U.S. Forest roads close during winter but the scenic drive can still be made in snowy weather since the loop is entirely paved and usually plowed. Always drive with caution during and after winter storms.
What You'll See
Osprey can often be seen flying over or perching near the lakes. You may even see on snatching fish from the water, or sitting near a huge stick nest around the lakes, especially in spring and summertime. An osprey nest is visible across the lake from the osprey pullout on Upper Lake Mary.
In summer and fall, you may see hundreds of elk feeding in the meadows around dawn and dusk. Deer, pronghorn and turkey are also best seen near dusk and dawn. If you get out of your vehicle to view wildlife, pull far off the highway and be aware of traffic.
To begin the driving tour from Flagstaff, take Lake Mary Road and travel south. First, you will come to Lower Lake Mary. A Forest Service day-use fee area is available and great for picnicking or shore fishing. Near Lower Lake are several well developed pull outs. These are the places to get your binoculars out and scan the skies for eagles and osprey, or look over the water for ducks and shorebirds. You may also spot a herd of elk or even a small group of pronghorn antelope. Near the dam at Lower Lake Mary is one of the best spots to see eagles and water birds. Interpretive signs along the route also provide tips for viewing. Lower Lake is approximately 8 miles from Flagstaff.
Upper Lake Mary is the next stop along the tour. There are several pull outs along Upper Lake which provide great opportunities for wildlife viewing. A day-use fee area with boat ramps, docks, picnic ramadas and restrooms is available at Upper Lake. Visitors may encounter osprey, hawks, and other waterfowl. Upper Lake is approximately 12 miles from Flagstaff.
The last site on the tour is the Mormon Lake Loop road. Continue straight past the first turnoff to Mormon Lake and you will travel along the edge of Anderson Mesa. This vast grassland to your left is some of the most important pronghorn habitat in the area. Note the openness of the Mesa compared to the Ponderosa pine forest you just left. Pronghorn rely on their speed and excellent vision to escape predators, so this open view suits them well. To you right, the Mesa drops off and Mormon Lake dominates the view. Two well developed overlooks, with plenty of parking, allow you to look out across the lake. This is a great location to photograph the Peaks and Mormon Mountain or just soak up some peace and quiet. If you have a spotting scope, this is the place to set up and scan the area. Take your time to carefully search the area. This will often pay off and increase you chances in finding wildlife. In summer, the Mormon Lake overlooks are a great place to see elk, although they are often out in the middle of the lake.
Continue along Lake Mary Road to the turn-off for Mormon Lake Village. Mormon Lake Lodge and the general store are great options for a midday meal. If elk viewing is you plan, consider dinner at the lodge and driving out at sunset to increase your odds of seeing elk. The road is one big loop and there are plenty of U.S. Forest Service roads to explore before heading back to Flagstaff or your final destination. Wildlife viewing opportunities may include Abert's squirrels, mule deer, fox, skunks, a possible goshawk, and a variety of birds.