When planning your next Arizona hiking trip, think beyond the famous Grand Canyon and check out these seven best hikes in Arizona. The state offers one of the most diverse landscapes in the country because of the wide range of elevation. The trails around Phoenix are in the Sonoran Desert, not far above sea level, while the best hiking trails in Sedona are at a higher elevation with a more moderate climate. Flagstaff’s hiking trails are even higher still and are one of the best places to hike in Arizona out of the summer heat. In every case, be sure to carry lots of water when hiking in Arizona. Even in winter the air is very dry and water sources are scarce.
This desert hike follows a classic hiking trail in Phoenix, hiking among beautiful giant saguaro cactus and granite boulders. Start at the Buena Vista lookout along the South Mountain summit road and follow National trail east to reach Fat Man’s Pass, where two giant boulders lean so close together it is a tight squeeze hiking through. Here you’ll begin a short loop through Hidden Valley, a beautiful and lush micro-ecosystem in the middle of the mountain landscape. Be on the lookout for chuckwallas darting among the rocks. These large orange and gray lizards are about the size of a squirrel and make their home in the shady crevices that abound near the Hidden Valley Natural Tunnel. The Hidden Valley and Fat Man’s Pass hike is a moderate trail right in Phoenix that offers a perfect introduction to desert hiking.
Season: Fall, Winter, Spring
Distance: 2.9 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 958 ft
How many hours: 2 hours
The Superstition Ridgeline trail is easily one of the most difficult, memorable, and all-around best hikes in Phoenix and all of Arizona. If you are considering a big Grand Canyon hike, hiking the ridgeline is a great warm-up. The Superstition Mountains are a beautiful and rugged swath of wilderness a short 40 minute drive east of Phoenix on the edge of the metro area. The rocky contoured and pinnacled landscape offers some of the best backpacking in Arizona (Grand Canyon included).
Some people conquer the ridgeline as a long day hike, but it is also sometimes done as a one night backpacking trip. There is no water access along the route so don’t plan for anything longer. Most people start their hike at Lost Dutchman State Park, conquering the epic climb to the “Flat Iron” to start the hike, then end at Carney Springs Trailhead. You will need to arrange a shuttle if you’re doing it as a thru-hike. Do not attempt this hike in the summer.
Distance: 11.5 miles (one-way)
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 3,431 ft
How many hours: 9-12 hours
Experience an Arizona treasure while hiking the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, one of the top hikes in Sedona according to locals and visitors alike. This creek is a tributary to Oak Creek, the force that carved the incredible red rock landscape of Sedona. See the incredible force of water at work as you hike along and through the creek. West Fork is a popular hike to see fall foliage in Arizona, so expect to see more people on the trail if you choose to hike it during the autumn months. The popularity is deserved however, as the abundance of cottonwood, sycamore, and gambel oak found here turn the narrow canyon into a kaleidoscope of red, gold, and orange hues.
This is an out and back hike that involves cross the creek at multiple points. Be prepared to get your feet wet or change your shoes a few times. Completing some portion of the West Fork trail is a fairly easy-moderate option for hikers that want to see beautiful red rocks and wilderness without too much effort.
*The parking lot opens at 9am and it is $10 to park. If you arrive before 9am there are three spaces outside the gate.*
Season: Year-round, Fall for colorful foliage
Distance: 6.4 miles (round-trip)
Elevation gain/loss: +/- approx. 400ft
How many hours: 3-4 hours
The hike up Cathedral Rock in Sedona is a one-of-a-kind experience. The Cathedral Rock trail to the saddle is short but quite challenging. The views from the high point are incredible, offering a unique perspective overlooking the Sedona sandstone. Watch for mountain and road bikers pedaling along in the distance, Sedona is famous for the two-wheeled opportunities in the area. Expect to spend some time scrambling over slickrock as you sidle up the “trail.” Trails on slickrock are not so much a foot path as a marked route, and slick rock isn’t actually slick and in reality offers great grip so long as you have appropriate hiking footwear. If you’re not sure you want the challenge of scrambling up Cathedral Rock, enjoy the beauty of the area while exploring along the Templeton trail which intersects the route to the saddle.
Season: Year-round but get an early start
Distance: 1 mile
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 600ft
How many hours: 1-2 hours
Flagstaff offers some of the best summer hiking in Arizona due to the high elevation and cooler temperatures. The San Francisco peaks just outside town have many hiking trails winding through them. One of the most scenic Flagstaff hikes is the Inner Basin Trail. The trail begins at picturesque Lockett Meadow, a popular campground. The trail leads through meadows where wildflowers abound in the spring and summer and into a tall aspen forest which transforms into a golden wonderland when autumn temperatures cause the leaves to change. This fall phenomenon can draw a crowd, so plan your hike carefully to get the best experience you can on one of the best hikes in Flagstaff.
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 1500ft
How many hours: 1.5-2+ hours
Southeastern Arizona cannot be overlooked by adventurers seeking the best hikes in the state. Not far from Tucson you’ll find the Dragoon Mountains, a “sky island” of pine trees, wildlife, a cooler climate, rich history and legends. Cochise Stronghold trail stretching through the Dragoons to the Stronghold Divide is just as legendary in challenge and views. Along the way you’ll see evidence of the western history of the region. Ranching is still a primary economic driver in the region around the Dragoons, and of the native population who once lived here, including the mountains’ namesake Chief Cochise and his people, the Chiricahua Apache. The area is a popular destination for rock climbers as well as hikers, but is far less visited than other destinations across the state. Find out what so many people are missing out on when you hike the Cochise Stronghold Trail.
Season: Spring for best wildflower viewing
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 1,050ft
How many hours: 3-4 hours
The Echo Canyon Loop is one of the best hikes in the whole state of Arizona and one of the least well-known. Chiricahua National Monument is a stunning wonderland of rocks. Get the best views of the rhyolite pinnacles as you hike among them. Marvel at the unique formations and keep your eyes peeled for famous views like “Cochise Head” said to look like the famous Apache chief. It’s extremely important to stay on trail while hiking in the desert, though many visitors to Chiricahua are tempted to explore beyond. Practice leave no trace principles and model good behavior as you pass by points like the grottoes and rhyolite canyon. There are spots to rest in the shade of pine and cypress trees along the way. Bring a picnic and make a day of it!
Season: Spring, Fall
Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain/loss: +/- 550ft
How many hours: 3-3.5 hours