Where to go hiking right now: Winter 2016/2017 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. 


It’s the most wonderful time of the year (to go hiking in Arizona).


EASY


ARAVAIPA CANYON

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This is really more of a Spring/Fall hike. There are no trails in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. Instead, you walk in the stream, and in the winter streams are cold.

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On the upside, Permits, which are required year round, are very easy to come by in the winter, especially compared to the spring and fall when permits are best acquired months in advance.

That being said, Aravaipa Canyon is my favorite hike in Arizona and probably my favorite easy hike in the world. Views like this…

…almost never come on hikes this easy. Take advantage of it while you can.

DISTANCE: 11 mi each way (maximum)

DETAILS: HikeArizona

LP POSTS: In The Heart of Everything, Paradise Found, Aravaipa Canyon: a Love Letter


WET BEAVER CREEK

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Sedona is great because Sedona is beautiful. Unfortunately Sedona is also full of people. Just down the street Wet Beaver Creek has the same problem, but only in the summer. When the crowds disappear with the summer heat it really comes into its own, giving you 90% of the Sedona you love with 10% of the crowds. Things are very, very easy for the first couple of miles, but the trail does steepen over the last mile or so before Bell Crossing.

DISTANCE: 3.5 mi each way to Bell Crossing

DETAILS: HikeArizona

LP POSTS: You’re Killing me Smalls


RAMSEY CANYON

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Not everyone is really looking for a “hike” hike, some people just want to go on a walk outside. Operated by The Nature Conservancy, the Ramsey Canyon Perserve is the perfect destination for people looking for a very tiny adventure, complete with guided nature walks every morning. Best of all, the deer should be rutting right about now…

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DISTANCE: 1 mi or so each way (2 hrs. via guided talk)

DETAILS: TNC

LP POSTS: Jack tries going an adventure, takes a nap instead 


MEDIUM


BOULDER CANYON

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The Superstitions are a mountain range of two minds. On one hand, the main trailheads, particularly First Water and Peralta, are some of the busiest trailheads in the entire National Forest Service. On the other, if you get more than a couple of miles in most trails  evaporate, thorn bushes dominate, and other people are hard to come by.

Boulder Canyon fits this pattern perfectly. Starting at canyon lake the first three miles or so of this hike are tough, but incredibly scenic and easy to follow. Once you enter Boulder Canyon propper, however, things change. The nice, broad trail descends into madness and you are left hopping from giant boulder to giant boulder just so you can see far enough to catch the next carin.

The upper sections of this trail are probably best left to the experts. Instead turn around when you see this…

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…for a short, sweet, but pretty steep hike.

DISTANCE: 2.5 mi each way to the vista above

DETAILS: HikeArizona


BLUFF SPRINGS LOOP

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So, you liked the sound of the Superstitions, but want to stretch your legs a little bit? Starting at the (always busy) Peralta Trailhead this classic loop will take you up and over Miner’s needle, nearly to Bluff Springs, and then back through a nice deep canyon to the trailhead. 9 miles of solid up and down is enough for most people, but if you want to add a little more, you can walk to the most impressive cactus I’ve ever seen.

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To add the cactus section, take the Dutchman Trail past Bluff Springs and keep an eye out to your left. The cactus is a monster, so it’s pretty hard to miss, but if you hit LaBarge Springs you’ve gone too far. Watch out for other monsters too.

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DISTANCE: 9 Miles

DETAILS: HikeArizona (N.B. I don’t recommend of off trail section of the Hike Arizona write up– you’ll get plenty of good views of Weaver’s Needle from the trail. If you want more distance add the cactus section)


HARD


REAVIS RANCH via 109N

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Reavis Ranch is close to nowhere, requires a long hike from any direction, and can get awfully cold awfully early in the season, yet it’s packed all fall. Why? Apples.

In the late 1800s Reavis himself planted an apple orchard that produces a variety of apples that you can’t buy in the store. Sweet, but soft, and quite small they are incredible and well worth the hike.

But here’s the thing: the apples are dead in the winter because it is cold. This might seem like a downer to you, but look at it this way: you can go to Reavis Ranch right now without being mobbed by people. Bring a jacket.

DISTANCE: 9.5 mi each way

DETAILS: HikeArizona

LP POSTS: How ‘Bout Them Apples


BRIGHT ANGEL to INDIAN GARDEN (or PLATEAU POINT)

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This is the smart Grand Canyon hike. The reasonable Grand Canyon hike. Sure, its hard, but if you are in somewhat good shape it won’t kill you. I can’t say that for the Grand Canyon hike below.

DISTANCE: 4.5 mi each way to Indian Garden, 6 mi each way to Plateau Point

DETAILS: NPS

LP POSTS: How to Not Go Insane While Hiking the Grand Canyon this Summer, Staircase to Heaven


VERY HARD


RIM to RIVER to RIM

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Look, NPS tell you explicitly not to do this hike:

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And frankly, they’re probably right. Plus, everything is harder in the snow.

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And the Grand Canyon is snowy in the winter.

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But some of us like doing stupid things. If you are going to go, head down South Kaibab, where the views are better…

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…and go up Bright Angel…

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…where the hiking is (somewhat) easier.

DISTANCE: 13.7 mi round trip

DETAILS: Backpacker

LP POSTS: There and Back Again


ABSURD


WEST BALDY w/ SNOWSHOES

West Baldy, in summer, is an easy hike.

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West Baldy, in winter, is an absurd hike. Don’t do it.

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DISTANCE: 7 mi on trail each way, plus a long road walk along the (closed in winter) HWY 273.

DETAILS: HikeAZ

LP POSTS: Max tries snowshoeing, isn’t very good at it


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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.

2 thoughts on “Where to go hiking right now: Winter 2016/2017 Edition

    1. Thanks, Colleen! I just started planning the Spring edition, so I’m glad you found this one useful. If you’re in the Supes regularly it’s just a matter of time until we run into each other on the trail. Have fun at Reavis– should be a perfect weekend for a winter trip!

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