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.
Sure, my back injury has been keeping me off the trails lately, but you can still go hiking for me in the meantime.
If you’ve been reading LP for any period of time you know that this is my most favorite place in the world. It’s easy to see why:
Aravaipa Canyon is the best hike in Arizona. Full stop. And it is super easy. There is only one downside: Permits. Permits are required and can be really hard to come by during spring and fall. However, if your group is small and you’re willing to try the middle of the week you’ve still got a chance.
DISTANCE: 11 mi each way (maximum)
WET BEAVER CREEK (to BELL CROSSING)
My favorite Sedona alternative, Wet Beaver Creek comes into its own before the crowds arrive with the summer heat. 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
SYCAMORE CANYON via 144
Sycamore Canyon is 80% as good as West Fork of Oak Creek with 80% fewer people. The first couple hundred yards of this hike are stupid hard, but after that it’s smooth sailing the entire rest of the way.
DISTANCE: 4 mi each way
WEST CLEAR CREEK (to LAST CROSSING)
Big views. Cool water. Easy walking. West Clear Creek is criminally underrated.
Or, at least it was criminally under rated until the NFS started (wisely) limiting entry to the nearby and ballistically popular Fossil Springs. Usage is up, but few people walk more than a mile from the parking lot.
DISTANCE: 4.5 mi each way
WEST PINTO to OAK FLAT
Even though the Superstitions butt right up against Phoenix, essentially no-one visits the eastern side of the range. That’s a shame, because the area is chock-full of history, big views, and easy walking.
Remote enough to feel adventurous but easy enough to be attainable,West Pinto, in particular, is a gem. Best of all, in 6 months of constant deer scouting over the fall, we saw a grand total of two other hiking groups.
If that sounds good to you, but you want someone a lot harder, consider side trips up the Campaign
Or Cuff Button Trails, both of which are very picturesque, very steep, and very little used.
But be warned, this is what you’ll feel like going up either of those:
DISTANCE: 2.5 mi each way (to Oak Flat)
File this one away for “when it gets a little warmer.” This nice easy family hike is perfect for late spring days when Phoenix temperatures are in the low 90s.
DISTANCE: 3.5 mi each way
LP POSTS: Jack Hears a Who!
As the skinniness in this picture indicates, its been a while since I’ve been back to Hell’s Hole. Think of it as Hell’s Gate-lite.
DISTANCE: 5.3 mi each way
CHIRICAHUA BIG LOOP
I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot. Tibet, Central America, Europe, I’ve done them all. That being said, the Chiricauhas are one of the most amazing places I’ve seen. Littered with thousands (millions?) of building sized rock spires, the whole place feels like you’re wandering some sort of Flintstones downtown. Unfortunately the Chiricahuas are long way from anywhere, so you are going to want to get the most of your trip. The Big Loop will take you through all the highlights.
DISTANCE: 8.5 mi round trip
LP POSTS: Rocking the Rocks
REAVIS RANCH via 109N
Mark my words: the crowds at Reavis Ranch will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and makes the NFS move to a designated campground system in the Superstitions. Reavis is full. Full all the time. Full of annoying people. All because in the 1800s Reavis himself planted apples. Sweet, but soft, and quite small they are incredible and well worth the hike. Or at least they would be if you could see through the crowds.
Lucky for you though, spring isn’t apple season so most of the riff raff will be off on other hikes. Still, don’t expect to have the place to yourself.
DISTANCE: 9.5 mi each way
LP POSTS: How ‘Bout Them Apples
BRIGHT ANGEL to INDIAN GARDEN (or PLATEAU POINT)
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
I love Hell’s Gate. It’s beautiful. It’s peaceful. I’ve even heard the fishing is good. However:
So is it worth it?
DISTANCE: 7 mi each way
LP POSTS: Highway to Hell
RIM to RIVER to RIM
Look, NPS tell you explicitly not to do this hike:
And frankly, they’re probably right.
But some of us like doing stupid things. If you are going to go, head down South Kaibab, where the views are better…
…and go up Bright Angel…
…where the hiking is (somewhat) easier.
DISTANCE: 13.7 mi round trip
LP POSTS: There and Back Again
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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.