Why You’re Missing The Best Spots to Hike in Arizona

Jul 2017

Arizona, while being the land of the sun, is large and extremely varied with much to offer. With the right tools and a bit of guidance, you can overcome whatever challenges there might be to some of the best hikes the Southwest has to offer!  

Hikers walk under giant desert cacti near Phoenix.

1. Problem: It is hot out and mountains are steep.

Arizona’s topography is cruel, and the extreme climate doesn’t make it any easier. Especially in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix metro area), the options for hiking are either very flat or extremely steep. Once you add 100+ degree weather into that mix, training and conditioning become extremely important.

Solution: Hike around the mountain instead of up to the summit, or start training now!

Luckily, Arizona boasts an array of easier hikes with less elevation change. Most of the time, these hikes take you around a mountain, instead of to its summit, but they are wonderful options for those who enjoy exercise and the outdoors. Give Aspen Loop in Flagstaff a shot or try West Fork (of Oak Creek) in Sedona. Both offer beautiful scenery, well-marked paths, and minimal elevation. OR if you have your heart set on a challenge and you find yourself wanting to summit Flatiron or descend all the way into the Grand Canyon, start training now! Crunches, squats, lunges, push-ups, and step-ups are the best exercises that will do you well in all types of terrain. Once you are confident in your form and reps, add your backpack!


2. Problem: You have nobody to go with.

Because of the aforementioned difficult topography and high temperatures, finding someone crazy enough to accompany you can be quite a feat. When looking for a hiking partner, make sure this person understands the importance of water, can handle heat-induced delirium ;), and is ready to take on a challenge without complaints. The good news is that these people do exist!

Solution: Find a hiking buddy!

Places to look might include:

  • Facebook groups such as Arizona Hiking and Mountain Chicks  
  • Meetup.com
  • Instagram communities
  • For those interested in learning new skills and meeting likeminded people, REI classes and events would be a good choice as well.


3. Problem: You do not have a 4WD vehicle/can’t get there.

Some of the trickiest destinations in Arizona are way out in the backcountry, which means getting there can often be more challenging than the hike itself.

Solution: Ride with friends or turn it into a backpacking trip!

There are a few options to circumnavigate this difficulty. Hopefully by this point, you’ve made some friends through hiking groups and classes. Likelihood is high that at least a few of them have some very capable Jeeps or Subarus. If not, consider turning your hike into a backpacking trip! This way you can get to the off-the-beaten-path places AND maximize your time in nature.


4. Problem: Permits are confusing.

Due to increased popularity and higher visitation, many of the West’s most famous hiking spots now require permits even just for day hikes. Some systems are a lottery, some are first-come, first-served, and all can be pretty confusing if you don’t know how to play well with the system.

Solution: Other people have dealt with the same difficulties before; let their experience help you! Do your research ahead of time. 

Do you research early too. It can take some time to learn how to procure your own permit so you want some lead time. Good resources to start with are AllTrails.com and HikeArizona.com. They will tell you if you need a permit and the best way to go about procuring one. From there, you will either need a state park, federal, or tribal permit. Recreation.gov is a good place to start for these, but a simple Google or hiking forum search often yields the most up-to-date results. But if that seems like too much of a hassle for you, consider a guided trip! Permits are usually included in the cost of a guided tour, with the added benefit of an experienced and knowledgeable guide to teach you about the environment and culture and why these places are so revered.


5. Problem: You don’t know about the coolest spots!

Arizona is more than just Havasupai Falls and the Grand Canyon. Yes, these are two incredible locations to appreciate formations completely unique to Arizona, and yes, they are mind blowingly beautiful, but there is so much more to the state.

Solution: Ask locals at an adventure outfitter, park rangers, or people you meet on hikes. Also feel free to call us!

The red rocks of Sedona make for some amazing and colorful hikes, but the hoodoos of the Chiricahuas are much less crowded and equally humbling. While it is snowy and cold up in Flagstaff, the weather down by Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument makes for some great desert camping. Native American ruins abound in this state as well, like the famous Casa Grande or some lesser known or the Patlaki Heritage site in Sedona. You might also be surprised to learn that there IS water in the desert if you time it exactly right. Horton Springs, West Clear Creek, Oak Creek, forest lakes on the Mogollon Rim, Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon (Tucson), the Crack at Wet Beaver Creek, Slide Rock State Park, Tonto Natural Bridge state park… there is water to be found if only you know where to look. And it is so much more appreciated here than it is anywhere else.

Because locals are often wary of publicizing their favorite spots to tourists, take some extra time to reach out directly. We are always keen to advise aspiring adventurers and sites like onlyinyourstate.com, local visitor bureaus like experiencescottsdale.com or visittucson.org, and websites like the Outbound Collective usually provide excellent inspiration.


Arizona awaits you. Find a friend, grab a permit, do some stretches, and tackle that mountain or canyon! It can be done with a little creativity and a lot of determination. There is are so many great hikes in Arizona that you don’t want to miss out. Happy trails!