Hiking in the Grand Canyon state doesn’t just mean hiking in the Grand Canyon. Stopping by the world’s greatest chasm is an obligatory pilgrimage for anyone inclined towards jaw-dropping natural phenomena. Nevertheless, this sun drenched state is home to miles and miles of trail systems in unique and special wilderness ecosystems that won’t be mobbed by crowds from all over the world. This is our list of the best scenic hikes of Arizona – some off the beaten track and some so good that you will want to brave the crowds to be there. Pick your path:
#1 Grandview Trail
It would be impossible to cover hiking in Arizona without mentioning the Grand Canyon, so we won’t. You could spend a lifetime exploring the nooks and crannies of this truly epic place and never reach every corner, but if you are forced to choose just one trail it should probably be the Grandview. The magnificent vistas and stomach-wrenching plunges visible from this trail are what make it the classic hike for a quick trip into the canyon, and its cribbed cobblestone construction (originally built by miners in 1893) will fascinate trail enthusiasts as well. Whether you hike to Horseshoe Mesa (6 mi round trip) or beyond, bring plenty of water. With a minimum 2500 ft elevation change, this one is a butt-kicker.
#2 Wildcat Trail
MONUMENT VALLEY, NE AZ
Monument Valley will be instantly familiar to any with a taste for Western films with its eponymous rock formations seemingly erupting skyward from the earth. This landscape lies within the Navajo Nation, so visiting this place usually requires permits and guides. However, the Wildcat Trail’s 3.2 mile loop is one of the few places where visitors are encouraged to explore on their own. This gentle and usually underpopulated trail snakes through wildflowers and desert scenes to provide an up close and impressive view of the massive rock formations that mark the landscape. *If you’re planning to visit soon, be sure to check for COVID-19 restrictions as they may differ from statewide policies.
#3 Horton Creek Trail
TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, AZ
STRENUOUS, DOG-FRIENDLY (LEASHED)
When you think of Arizona you might not be thinking of lush pine forests, waterfalls, and the red gold leaves of autumn, but that’s exactly what you will find in Tonto National Forest. Horton Creek Trail is a reasonably tough 8.3 mile out and back hike that climbs up through beautiful forests alongside the creek that gives it its name. It’s a popular hike among visitors to the area so be sure to arrive early and well prepared for all 2431 feet of elevation that you’ll need to climb to reach the impressive view from the valley rim.
#4 West Oak Fork Creek Trail
COCONINO NATIONAL FOREST, SEDONA
EASY OR STRENUOUS, DOG-FRIENDLY (LEASHED)
Utah has become world famous for its desert slot canyons, but you will find incredible nooks and crannies in Arizona as well. The West Oak Fork Creek Trail in Coconino National Forest is 14 miles of twisting tangled canyon with towering cliffs and tight squeezes that occasionally require you to get wet to pass through. The first three miles of the trail are maintained with casual hikers in mind, to give you a glimpse into the fall colors, winter icicles, and spring wildflowers that mark the seasons’ changes in this beautiful corner of the world. Whether you make it a quick and easy day trip or a rugged overnight, you will not be disappointed.
#5 The Wave
MODERATE TO STRENUOUS
Last but in no way the least comes Arizona’s most sought-after hike: The Wave. Visitors from all over the world hope to get a glimpse and a photo of the sinuous twisted Navajo sandstone. Still, getting there is easier said than done. In order to protect the area, just 20 permits are available each day to enter this wilderness. If that weren’t obstacle enough, no traditional trails exist to guide you to your goal, so expect some wayfinding. With your permit comes a map as well as GPS coordinates and color photos of six waypoints. If the orienteering sounds like a hassle, you can hire a guide. On the other hand, for many visitors the adventure is at least half of the appeal.
This post is part of our local recommendations series. If you’re like us, when you go to a beautiful place you want to spend your time exploring it, not reading and researching it on your phone. These posts attempt to save you some screen time and point you in the right directions so you can leave the stress of decision making to us and lose yourself in places of wild scenic beauty. Because we’re keeping it simple, we had to leave out some truly incredible places and experiences and stick to the best of the best. If you are looking for something specific a little farther off the beaten path, contact our itineraries department for a custom trip designed just for you.