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:
This entire list could be in the Mt. Baldy Wilderness. You can make any hike you want here. A good sized 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 (Editor’s Note: It appears AZGFD will not be stocking the stream AGAIN this year, so consider other streams in the area if fishing is your priority.). To keep this hike in the “easy” category, take the West Baldy Trail a few miles and turn around before the trail really starts climbing.
Fred Haught from General Springs:
Normally this slot was reserved for the delightful Huston Brothers Trail. Unfortunately the 2016 Pinchot Fire burned almost the entire length of Huston Bros, and although InciWeb describes the fire as “Low Intensity,” I don’t feel comfortable recommending anything in the burn area until I have checked out the trail myself. Stepping in is another trail from the criminally under utilized, Cabin Loop trail system, the Fred Haught Trail. Starting from General Springs at a little more than 7000′, the Fred Haught Trail initially climbs one small hill before following a wide open, gradually sloped creek bottom that occasionally has water but is always dwarfed by ancient Ponderosa pines. The best turn around point is Fred Haught Cabin, which a little way’s off the trail but worth the trip.
After Fred Haught Cabin expect a few steep, non-kid friendly climbs, and some burned area near the trail’s end. Best to turn around here.
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 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.
Lesser Places Posts: Jack Hears a Who
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 the heat and the peak storm times tend to coincide 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.
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. Or, incase that wasn’t clear enough…
Warning: Its dangerously hot. 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.
Ash Creek Trail
Update: As of the time of this writing (June 14, 2017) the Ash Creek Trail is closed due to the Frye Fire. Read more about this fire HERE.
This is a climber, but it is well shaded, short, and high, which together put this hike on the tougher side of moderate in my book.
Starting from near the top of Mt. Graham, the Ash Creek trail steeply descends through the impossibly lush Ash Creek Drainage. Most people turn around at Ash Creek Falls, which is necessary to keep this hike in the “moderate” category. Regardless, be prepared for a landscape that looks more like it belongs in the Pacific Northwest than Southern Arizona. Also, my kid is adorable:
Lesser Places: So You Want to Take Your Toddler Camping
Big Loop Chiricahua National Monument
Hoodoos are weird.
Giant rock spires, some the size of small buildings, created by the left over lava spouts of a long dead volcano, hoodoo’s are weird and Chiricahua National Monument is littered with them. It would be impossible to count how many can be seen 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.
Warnings: 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.
Lesser Places: Rocking the Rocks
Mt. Humpreys via Inner Basin
Sure, you could hike Mt. Humpreys via the regular, shorter Humpreys Peak Trail, but then you would be a loser. That’s because 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: few(er) 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 will be green, because this is a summer hiking guide, but pretty just the same. 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 to moderate 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 you will join the peons who have been schlepping up 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 killed hikers on Mt. Humphreys last summer. Watch the weather and don’t get caught above treeline in a storm. Humphreys Peak can remain snow packed and inaccessible until late summer.
Lesser Places: Not all the way to the peak, but this hike is briefly mentioned in In Praise of Weekend Warriors
Mt. Baldy Loop
If you liked the sound of Mt. Baldy, but wanted something a little more challenging your best option is to hike the entire wilderness in a 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.
Warnings: This is another hike with significant lightning risk. Watch the weather and don’t get caught above treeline in a storm.
Cabin Loop excepted, 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.