WHERE TO GO HIKING RIGHT NOW: Summer 2015 Edition

Disclaimer: Hiking can be a dangerous activity and should be undertaken with caution. It is your responsibility to study routes, alert others to your plans, assess local conditions, bring the appropriate gear, and assure that these hikes are within your ability level before attempting any hike. Difficultly levels are subjectively assigned by me from personal experience on each trail at the time I hiked it, and may not be reflective of your experience level or physical fitness. 


Summer came late to Arizona, but now its here with a vengeance. Time to head to the mountains to get out of the heat!


EASY 


Horton Creek:

First the bad news: there are not a ton of easy hikes that are high enough to get you completely out of the ridiculous heat. The Horton Creek Trail is no exception. Gradually climbing from from 5500′ to 6500′, on the very hottest days temps could climb up into the low 90s. Lucky for you though, you don’t have to go on the very hottest days. Instead pick out a nice day when Phoenix temps drop down to the lower triple digits and get ready for a beautiful walk along a stream to an absolutely roaring spring. Which brings us to the good news: this place is gorgeous. Wonderfully riparian, tightly wooded in many areas, and almost always shaded, Horton Creek consistently rewards you with great views and play-in-the-creek opportunities. For the more discerning outdoors-person the stream has a decent brown trout population, though recent droughts have reduced numbers significantly. Better yet, the trail head is less than two hours from Downtown Phoenix, making Horton Creek a legit destination for those Saturday mornings when you wake up without a plan.

Distance: 3.26 mi each way to Horton Springs

Details: HikeArizona, ArizonaHikingTrails

Horton Creek


Houston Brothers:


Update: Significant portions of the trails described here were burned in the 2016 Pinchot Fire. I have not been back to the area since the fire and cannot attest to trail conditions. Proceed at your own risk. For more details on the fire, click HERE

Update 2: As of the time of this writing (June 14, 2017) large portions of the Cabin Loop are closed due to the Bear and Highline Fires. Read more about these fires HERE and HERE, respectively. 


Our first entry from the amazing, but completely under utilized, Cabin Loop trail system (more on that below) the Houston Brother’s trail is the perfect summer getaway. Starting out at 7000′, you’ll begin in a tight Ponderosa Pine Forest near Pinchot Cabin, a cabin once used by of the founder of the US forest service (and one of the most important voices in the history of sustainable development), Gifford Pinchot. Heading south towards the Mogollon Rim, you will transition from pine forest to meadow as you verrrrrrrrryyyyyy slowly climb past another historic cabin at Aspen Springs (mile 1.5). If you have kids who are already starting to tucker out, this is a great place to stop, have lunch, and turn around. Otherwise venture on an additional 6 miles as the trail transitions from pines to firs and aspens. Since you’ve been climbing all this time the return trip is a nice, gradual downhill stroll.

Distance: Up to 7.5 mi each way

Details: HikeArizona, ArizonaHikingTrails

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MEDIUM


Mt. Baldy Wilderness:

This entire list should probably just be the Mt. Baldy Wilderness. Here’s why: you can make any hike you want here. 17 mile loop with thousands of feet of elevation gain/loss? Check. Comfortable overnight backpack? Yep. Just want to play in a stream? You can do that here. Even better, the East and West Forks of the Little Colorado River, which converge at the Sheep’s Crossing Trailhead, provide premier small stream Apache trout fishing. Regardless of whether you are coming for big loops or a lazy day fishing you will find well marked trails with reasonable grades. If you have to pick a particular trail in the system, go with the West Baldy Trail, which is easy throughout most of its length, before getting a little bit tougher near the “peak.”

Warnings: The White-Mountain Apache tribe has closed access to Mt. Baldy peak. The trails described here bypass the peak to stay on National Forest Service land. Please respect the Tribe’s land rights.

Distance: 6 mi each way

Details: ArizonaHikingTrails

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Mt. Wrightson via Old Baldy Trail:

Much like Horton Springs, you probably don’t want to tackle Mt. Wrightson on the hottest of the hot days. But, also like Horton Springs, the rewards of Mt. Wrightson are enormous. Topping out at nearly 9500′, on clear days you will be able to see all the way to the Salton Sea. These views, however, come at a cost. The trail starts at 5500′, meaning you will have to climb 4000 (very gradual and evenly graded) feet over the 5.2 miles to the top. On the upside though, since you will be starting early to avoid getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm above treeline, you will probably beat most of the heat anyways.

Warnings: Thunderstorms above treeline are dangerous. Don’t be dumb.

Distance: 5.2 mi each way

Details: HikeArizona

Image Credit: $1LENCE D00600D, wikimedia


U-Bar Trail to Dane Springs


Update: Significant portions of the trails described here were burned in the 2016 Pinchot Fire. I have not been back to the area since the fire and cannot attest to trail conditions. Proceed at your own risk. For more details on the fire, click HERE

Update 2: As of the time of this writing (June 14, 2017) large portions of the Cabin Loop are closed due to the Bear and Highline Fires. Read more about these fires HERE and HERE, respectively. 


A trailhead and beautiful views are just about the only two things the Houston Brothers and U-Bar Trails have in common. While Houston Brothers takes a southerly route staying along the watershed, U-Bar cuts towards the east, crossing watersheds along the way. For you this means a lot more work, but its worth it. Two of the canyons in particular, Babershop and Dane, are almost unbelievably beautiful. Climbing out of Dane Canyon you will end up at an old, mostly ruined, cabin where Zane Grey wrote many of the novels that would place Arizona in the zeitgeist of the early 20th century. Next to the cabin, Dane Springs pushes out cold water which is just begging to be treated and thrown in your pack for the hike out. If all that in one day seems like too much for you, consider doing the trail as a backpacking trip– there are great sites in Dane Canyon as well as Dane Springs.

Warnings: Though usage is increasing in the area, trails here can be somewhat hard to follow. Click the detail links below for more info.

Distance: 5.6 mi each way

Details: HikeArizona, ArizonaHikingTrails

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HARD


Mt. Humpreys via Inner Basin

Sure, you could hike Mt. Humpreys via the regular, shorter Humpreys Peak trail, but then you would be an idiot. The Humpreys Peak trail has all the characteristics of a bad trail: erroded, few views, and too narrow for the number of people who use it. In comparison the Inner Basin trail, which attacks the northern side of the mountain has everything: fewer people, amazing views, and lots of rewarding turn around points if you feel like the peak might be too much for one day. Though the trail was slightly impacted by the Schultz Fire of 2010, you’ll be out of the burn area within minutes. You’ll then enter an amazing aspen grove which goes on for an hour of hiking:
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After clearing the aspens, the trail then opens up to show you the Inner Basin of Mt. Humpreys, where a previous volcanic eruption and glacial erosion have added up to create a phenomenal landscape:

Nearly everyone turns around here, and if you are looking for an easy hike you should probably join them. Otherwise you are going up, up, up soon coming to Fremont Saddle, and eventually treeline:

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The trail then, for reasons which will never be adequately explained, takes you all but up and over Humpreys nearly as tall neighbor peak, Agassiz Peak (you can’t climb Agassiz Peak, as it is a protected area for Arizona’s only tundra), before dropping you viciously down to Agassiz Saddle.

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Here the truly brave will meet up with the regular peons on the Humpreys Peak trail before pushing on past multiple false summits, and recovering all the elevation you gave up coming down from Agassiz Peak to Agassiz Saddle, to reach the tallest point in Arizona, Humpreys Peak at 12,637 ft. If you are really lucky, and the sky’s are clear, you’ll be able to see the Grand Canyon from the top.

Warnings: Thunderstorms above treeline are dangerous. Don’t be dumb.

Distance: 7.2 mi each way

Details: HikeArizona


Eastern Cabin Loop:


Update: Significant portions of the trails described here were burned in the 2016 Pinchot Fire. I have not been back to the area since the fire and cannot attest to trail conditions. Proceed at your own risk. For more details on the fire, click HERE

Update 2: As of the time of this writing (June 14, 2017) large portions of the Cabin Loop are closed due to the Bear and Highline Fires. Read more about these fires HERE and HERE, respectively. 


No one does it, but two of the trails described above, the U-bar and Houston Brother’s trails can be connected using the Babershop trail. When combined, this route makes up the eastern half of the larger cabin loop trail system, which was created in the late 1800s so that the wierdos living in the area could visit each other and not be so lonely. Put together this route forms a truly great hike. Though the mileage isn’t outrageous, you will be constantly ascending or descending, sometimes steeply, so be prepared to be pretty worn out by the end. To pull it off, start on the U-bar trail, continue past Dane Spring and Zane Grey’s cabin another 1.6 miles. Here the trail will meet the Babershop Trail, which is the highlight of the entire system. Cutting sharply through a forest of otherworldly stunted firs, the Babershop trail will take you up and down Dane and Babershop Canyon, through some very rarely visited raveens, before putting you back onto the Houston Brothers trail. From there it’s 5.5 mostly downhill miles back to Pinchot Cabin.

Warnings: Babershop is even less traveled that U-bar, check the details below for more info. Also this is how we felt last time we attempted the trip:

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Distance: 17.7 miles

Details: HikeArizona

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See, there really is no excuse to go to a national park this summer. I’ll be back in fall with an updated list. If you can think of anything I missed, let me know in the comments below.


Disclaimer: This post, and all posts on LesserPlaces, may contain affiliate links– links that allow me to receive a small kickback at no additional cost to you when you shop through them. This is how we keep the lights on. 


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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions

11 thoughts on “WHERE TO GO HIKING RIGHT NOW: Summer 2015 Edition

      1. Thanks for the link, I’ve got your post and the website bookmarked now! I went to Sedona years ago and it’s made me want to explore more of Arizona. Much appreciated!

        Liked by 1 person

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