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When most people think of Arizona, they think of excruciating heat and miles of nothing but cactus. And this terrain doesn’t really sound like something I’d want to go hiking through. But, Arizona is a lot bigger than most people think. This means that the temperature there varies widely, as does the terrain.
For instance, Phoenix is a two-hour drive from skiing at Flagstaff’s Snowbowl, a three-hour drive from the Mexican border, and a five-hour drive from some of the most otherworldly high desert in the Navajo Nation. If you’re going to Arizona for an off-road or overlanding adventure, it makes a lot of sense to make some pit stops for some less well known hikes in Arizona.
Day Hikes in Arizona: Havasupai Falls (or Other Parts of the Grand Canyon)
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Though the remaining Arizona hikes on this list are all less well known Arizona day hikes, if you have the time to do at least one overnight trip (and the foresight to plan it a little) then you absolutely have to check out Havasupai Falls.
Havasupai Falls is located at the bottom of one of the trails leading into the Grand Canyon. It is one of the hikes in Arizona located on Native American land, which is why so few people get the opportunity to see it. Since Havasupai Falls is on Havasupai land, you have to go through the tribe to get permission to visit.
This means you need to enter a lottery hosted by the tribe every year to gain access to the falls. This trail is 8 miles down to the falls and another 2 miles to the campground.
But, if you truly only have time for day hikes in Arizona, that doesn’t mean you need to completely miss the Grand Canyon. Both Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail lead from the South Rim of the canyon to the Colorado River at the bottom. Though completing the entire trail is not recommended due to the length of the trip (around 18 miles round trip), you can complete as much of it as you feel comfortable doing in a day.
The Superstition Mountains
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If you’ve ever watched Raising Arizona, then you know exactly what the Superstition Mountains look like. These mountains contain a seemingly unending wilderness just a few miles outside of Phoenix.
Though there are dozens of trails within the Superstition Mountains, the most popular is Peralta Trail. Peralta Trail used to be heavily explored by treasure hunters in the 1930s, since legend has it that the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which contains a $200 million treasure, is located somewhere within this mountain range.
Though the only gold you may find on this trail are the blooming gold poppies that happen in the Arizona spring, it is still worth a visit. You’ll find hundreds of Saguaro cactuses, boulders as large as houses, and plateaus with gorgeous views. Peralta trail itself is only 6 miles, but you can easily continue on since almost all of the trails within the Superstition range are interconnected.
For this reason, these are some of the most dangerous hikes in Arizona.
Day Hikes in Arizona: The Arizona Trail
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The Arizona Trail is a 800-mile trail that starts at the Arizona-Mexico border and climbs through the state to the Arizona-Utah border. Of course, I’m not suggesting you do the whole thing, since this takes even the most seasoned of thru-hikers 5-6 weeks.
But, many points of the Arizona Trail are easily accessed by car. This means that no matter where you’re located in Arizona, there will be a gorgeous, well-maintained trail waiting for you.
One of the most sought after hikes in Arizona is a portion of the Arizona Trail known as the Sky Islands, which is located in the southern part of the state outside of Patagonia.
The Sky Islands are named because of their magnifying height. The area is around 10,000 feet in altitude and many of the “sky islands” are rocks jutting out of the landscape hundreds of feet into the air.
The Sky Islands are incredibly well known for their diversity. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge calls the Sky Islands home.
Wet Beaver Creek
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Of all the best hikes in Arizona, many of them are located either in or around Sedona, since the red rocks provide such beautiful views and Sedona is far less hot than other, more southern parts of the state.
But, since so many day hikes in Arizona are overrun with tourists, I didn’t want to direct you to two that would be teeming with people from out of state. This hike, located a little outside the town of Sedona, is one that you may just have all to yourself.
Wet Beaver Creek is a 7 mile round trip, out and back hike. The trail isn’t difficult in that only 340 feet of elevation is gained the entire time. The trail leads to one of the most gorgeous swimming pools and cliff jumping areas in all of Arizona.
This part of the trail, known colloquially as “The Crack,” offers a number of cliff jumping options, ranging from just 8” to over 30”.
So, bring far more water than you ever think you’d need because you’ll want to stay and swim for hours.
One important note about this trail is that dogs are welcomed on leash, but much of the trail is made from rock that can get incredibly hot even in temperatures as cool as 75-degrees. Make sure that your pup has shoes too if you’re planning on visiting any of these hikes in Arizona.
Day Hikes in Arizona: Cathedral Rock
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While I’ve tried to send you to some less well known hikes in Arizona, sometimes you can’t miss the really popular ones. Cathedral Rock is the perfect example of this.
Cathedral Rock is located in downtown Sedona. In fact, it is one of the most recognizable rocks in Sedona, alongside Snoopy.
Cathedral Rock is described as “more of a rock climb than a hike” by the USDA Forest Service because, at times, it will feel like you’re traversing one giant boulder. The hike is relatively easy at 3 miles round trip, but there is absolutely no shade on many parts of the rock. For this reason, make sure you’re bringing plenty of water and sunscreen.
If you’re planning on stopping at Cathedral Rock in a vehicle, make sure to grab a Red Rock Pass (which is required for parking at the trailhead).