Where to go Hiking Right Now: Summer 2016

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. 

All the places to get you out of the heat:


West Baldy Trail to the Headwaters:

This entire list could be in the Mt. Baldy Wilderness. 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 West Fork of the Little Colorado River, provides premier small stream Apache trout fishing. If you are looking for something on the easy side take the West Baldy Trail 4 miles or so until you reach the headwaters of the Little Colorado River and turn around before the trail really starts climbing.

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: 4 miles each way

Details: HikeArizona


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 is the Houston Brother’s trail. Starting out at 7000′, you’ll begin in a tight Ponderosa Pine Forest near Pinchot Cabin, a cabin named for 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


Horton Creek:

First the bad news: there are not a ton of easy hikes 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′, temps will climb up into the low 90s on the hottest days. Lucky for you, you don’t have to go then. 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


Aravaipa Canyon to Horse Camp Canyon

This is the odd duck of the list. For one, it is really low in elevation and thus really hot. It is also in a fairly tight canyon, which makes flash floods a serious concern in monsoon season, and there are no trails in the wilderness. So why include it? Because it looks like this:


And because these three problems actually work together to make Aravaipa a doable summer hike. Since there is no trail you will be walking in the stream the whole time, and this helps keep you cool. Also, as it will be hot and monsoons both tend to come in the afternoon, you can usually avoid both by making this a morning hike.

So get to the trailhead at dawn, head as far as you want, and be sure to turn around early enough that you are back to the car before it heats up or the sky gets cloudy. My personal favorite summer turn around spot Horse Camp Canyon, about half way through the wilderness.


A quick note: though this hike is “easy,” it isn’t a hike for novices. You need to have a good sense of pacing, distance, and weather to safely complete this hike. If you are still developing these skills, con a more experienced hiker into accompanying you.

Warnings: Its dangerously hot in the afternoon. The area also regularly experiences flash floods. There are no trails in the area.

Permits: Permits must be acquired in advance. They are generally available on short notice in the summer and you can acquire them HERE.

Details: HikeArizona


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 from Pinchot Cabin, traveling with the ridges in the area, U-Bar cuts towards the east, crossing several canyons along the way. For you this means a lot more work, but its worth it. Two of the canyons in particular, Barbershop and Dane, are almost unbelievably beautiful.

_DSC5935Climbing 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 squarely in the zeitgeist of the early 20th century.

_DSC5969Next 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


Big Loop Chiricahua National Monument

Otherworldly is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Usually its not actually deserved. However, you know what are actually other worldly? Hoodoos.


Created by the left over lava spouts of a long dead volcano, Chiricahua National Monument is littered with them. Literally thousands can be seen along the Big Loop Trail. Hike the loop clockwise for the best photo opportunities, and be sure to take the extra “Heart of Rocks” side trail where you’ll encounter absurd rock formations like the aptly named “Duck on a Rock.”

Spoiler Alert: it looks like a duck on a rock.

Also, be warned: though this hike is fairly high there is little shade and lots of thunderstorms. Avoid the mid day heat, bring lots of water, and make sure not to be in the open when lightning strikes.

Distance: 8.5 miles round trip

Details: HikeArizona



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: eroded paths, 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:

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:


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.


Here the truly brave will join the regular peons who have been 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 have already killed a hiker on Mt. Humphreys this summer. Watch the weather and don’t get caught above treeline in a storm.

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 (except me) does it, but the U-bar and Houston Brother’s trails can be connected using the Babershop trail to form a nearly perfect loop. 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. 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. For example, this is what we looked like last time we attempted the whole loop:


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.


Distance: 17.7 miles

Details: HikeArizona


Mt. Baldy Loop

So you like the sound of Mt. Baldy, but want something a little more challenging? In that case hike the entire wilderness in this single loop.

I recommend starting at the East Baldy Trailhead. You’ll begin in a wide meadow, but this quickly gives way to switchbacks. These will wear you out a little bit.


At the top of the switch backs you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in Arizona.


Continue along a fairly moderate grade until you reach the West Baldy Trail, near the summit of Mt. Baldy itself. The summit is on Tribal land and is off limits to non-tribe members.

From there descend along the West Baldy Trail and connect back to the car along the Mt. Baldy Crossover Trail. The views will only get better along the way.

Distance: 17 miles round trip

Details: HikeArizona


That’s all that comes to mind. Anything I missed?

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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

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