Arizona, known as the Grand Canyon State, is home to one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world. And while that alone can be enough of a reason for a visit, it’s far from being the only one.
The state features a variety of environments, from the Sonoran Desert, home to the giant saguaro found nowhere else on the planet, to highlands, alpine areas, and spectacular red rocks. You can start your day in the desert and a few hours later hike to the top of a mountain covered with spectacular pine forests. This diversity of terrain assures that you can find a trail to hike somewhere in the state, no matter when you visit.
Grand Canyon National Park
The combination of geology, the multitude of colors and rock formations, and its sheer size make the Grand Canyon deservedly popular. Expect to battle crowds at the more accessible South Rim, no matter when you go. But if you drive out to the North Rim (open between May 15 and October 15), you can experience the views surrounded by fewer people. No matter when or which side you go to, you will want to hike at least a few trails for the best experience.
1. The Trail of Time, South Rim
A 1.3-mile segment of the Rim Trail between Yavapai Point and Geology Museum and the Verkamp Visitor Center, the Trail of Time offers a paved, wheelchair-accessible stroll along the canyon’s edge, offering stunning views from the South Rim. Interpretive signs, spotting scopes, and rock samples offer a glimpse into billions of years of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon.
2. South Kaibab Trail To Ooh Aah Point, South Rim
If you want to hike into the canyon, this trail is your best choice, offering an easier hike and gorgeous views from a dramatic ridgeline. It is very busy though, and you might even share it with mules. It’s best traversed from March to October since it gets icy in the winter. The trail is steep with no shade. Make sure you carry water and wear a hat. A trekking pole would also be helpful.
3. Trail To Bright Angel Point, North Rim
Starting near the North Rim Visitor Center, this 0.5-mile paved trail offers an easy way to experience some of the best views of the canyon from this side. It’s wheelchair accessible, but no pets are permitted on this trail. Bright Angel Point is the centerpiece of the views.
4. Trail To Angel’s Window And Cape Royal, North Rim
Another short, 0.6-mile, flat, paved trail offers interpretive signs and one of the most spectacular views at Cape Royal. Along the path, you’ll find a great place to stop and take photos of Angel’s Window and the Colorado River. The trail starts at the Cape Royal parking lot, about 14 miles from a right turn at the intersection after the entrance at the park.
The diversity of the landscape in Northern Arizona offers almost unlimited opportunities for hiking year-round. You’ll find dense pine forests and high deserts, alpine peaks, sandstone canyons, rugged granite mountains and volcanic plateaus, red rocks, trout streams, and isolated springs. The coolest in the state, this area is the best place to enjoy the outdoors in Arizona during the summer months.
5. Kachina Trail, Flagstaff Area
This is one of two of my picks for the best hike in Arizona. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Showcasing some of the most beautiful forest scenery of the San Francisco Peaks, the Kachina Trail winds through ponderosa pines, groves of aspens, and open meadows. Although the full trail is 10 miles long, the easiest and most traveled hike consists of the first mile and a half. Watch out for tree roots growing across the trail and a few rocky areas. The trail starts in the upper parking lot at the Snowbowl Ski Area.
Editor’s Note: Here’s more on the beautiful city of Flagstaff.
6. Lava Flow Trail, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
The Lava Flow Trail offers the best way to experience the otherworldly scenery of Sunset Crater. Showcasing the Bonito Lava Flow, the trail is an easy walk on black lava sand, and it features two loops. The upper 0.25-mile loop is paved and wheelchair accessible, while the lower one descends into the lava flow and down to the base of Sunset Crater. The trail starts in the parking lot just past the visitor center.Editor’s Note: The National Park Service announced on August 18, 2022 that the Sunset Crater Volcano is partially open with limited services following the Tunnel Wildfire destruction. The Lava Flow and A’a trails are open. The Visitor Center, Lenox Crater and Lava’s Edge Trails, as well as the Cinder Hills Overlook remain closed. For the most up-to-date information, please visit NPS.gov.
7. West Fork Oak Creek Trail, Sedona Area
Walking up Oak Creek’s west fork offers one of the best hiking experiences in Sedona. Known as one of the most scenic in the state, the 3-mile trail is deservedly popular. An easy, level trail, perfect for all seasons, it follows Oak Creek through steep canyon walls in the shade of tall pines, oaks, and aspens, and crosses the creek several times. It starts at the Call of the Canyon picnic area 11 miles north of Sedona on the west side of Highway 89A.
Pro Tip: Stopping for over 15 minutes in and around Sedona’s Red Rock Country requires the Red Rock Pass, or the America the Beautiful Pass, which you’ll need to display in a visible place in your vehicle’s windshield.
8. Long Logs And Agate Loop Trail, Petrified Forest National Park
This 2.1-mile loop trail takes you through the highest concentration of giant petrified wood logs in Arizona. The first half mile of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible. Though the rest of the trail is narrow, it still offers an easy walk among these colorful petrified wood rock giants while offering scenic views of the badlands showcasing all shades of gray. The trail starts at the Rainbow Forest Museum parking area.
Home to the Sonoran Desert and Phoenix Metropolitan Area, Central Arizona also comprises a few mountains and basins that form a transition zone between the lower deserts and the Colorado Plateau. Here, you’ll find rugged mountains, high-elevation basins, grassland valleys, and deep canyons beside the greenest desert in the world, where the giant saguaro, the symbol of the Southwest, grows. This area of the state is best experienced in the winter and early spring.
9. Horseshoe Loop, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
This 1.7-miles flat, easy loop is, in fact, a combination of a few trails that showcase some of the best features of the Sonoran Desert. You start at the Gateway Trailhead and walk alongside desert shrubs, saguaros, and other cacti with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. Start with the Desert Park Trail, then Horseshoe trail, then Gateway Loop Trail, finally taking the Saguaro trail back to the trailhead.
10. White Tank Waterfall Trail, White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Phoenix Area
The two-mile round trip White Tank Waterfall trail showcases a variety of cacti and rock formations, ancient petroglyphs, and a seasonal waterfall at the end. The first part of the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible; later it passes a few rocky areas but remains flat. Although you might not see a waterfall unless you hike it after a rainy day (rare in Arizona), the surrounding desert and mountain vistas make it worthwhile. The park charges an entry fee.
11. Treasure Loop Trail, Superstition Mountain Wilderness
The 2.4-mile trail at the foot of the Superstition Mountains is an easy way to experience the surroundings. You’ll pass through great rock formations and desert vegetation. In the spring, you’ll walk among desert wildflowers and cacti in bloom. You’ll have great views of the towering rocks of the Superstitions. This trail starts in Lost Dutchman State Park.
12. Lynx Lake Loop Trail, Prescott Area
This 2.4-mile trail goes through a mostly wooded area around Lynx Lake, following the shoreline. Partially paved and wheelchair accessible, it has a few rocky areas, and you’ll also cross a dam. If the water level is high, it might be hard to cross, but even if you turn around and don’t complete the loop, it is a pleasant hike.
Editor’s Note: Prescott, by the way, is a very popular city among retirees.
Although Southern Arizona might evoke images of dusty trails, tumbleweeds and dry riverbeds, and a desert environment occasionally broken by giant saguaros, there is more to this part of the state than that. The area is also home to high mountains, like Mount Lemmon, a so-called sky island, and lower elevation ranges, like the Chiricahuas and the Santa Catalinas. With this variety of landscapes, you can find hiking opportunities year-round, desert trails filled with saguaros in the winter, and cool mountain trails for the summer.
13. Tanque Verde Falls Trail, Coronado National Forest
This 1.8-mile trail features giant saguaros, variations in terrain, and impressive panoramic views even before it gets you to the Tanque Verde Falls. You’ll pass a few waterfalls; the first one is easily accessible, so you can turn around from there. Past it, the trail goes through an area with large boulders, then it opens to a sandy beach and the 80-foot-tall waterfall.
14. Echo Canyon Loop, Chiricahua National Monument
This 3.3-mile loop is a combination of the Echo Canyon, Hailstone, and Ed Riggs trails, and it’s the best way to experience the Chiricahua Mountains. You’ll walk through spectacular rock formations and a forested area. It is easier to go counterclockwise, starting at Echo Canyon. Or, for a shorter hike, you can stop at the Echo Canyon Grottos and turn around.
15. Saguaro Vista Trail Loop, Sweetwater Preserve, Tucson
This 2.3-mile loop trail follows the north ridge of the Sweetwater Preserve in Tucson. You’ll be surrounded by tall saguaros throughout the entire hike, and you’ll also have gorgeous views of the Santa Catalina mountain range and Wasson Peak, and a great place for wildflower viewing in spring. The trail is relatively easy, with little elevation gain, but it is rocky at times, so make sure you wear good hiking shoes.
What To Know Before You Go
No matter where or when you hike in Arizona, always carry water, use sunscreen, and wear a hat. This is obvious in the desert, but it is dry even in the high country, so you can easily get dehydrated. Drinking plenty of water also helps with altitude sickness when you are in the high country. Hiking in the desert in spring you might see rattlesnakes on the trail, especially if you go early in the morning; don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you. Avoid getting too close; instead, walk quietly behind them in a wide circle.
Want more Southwest hiking inspiration? Read up on:
- Learning The Hard Way That You Always Need To Be Prepared For Hiking In The Desert
- 5 Perfect Wildflower Hikes In Arizona
- Easy Phoenix Hiking Trails To Experience The Desert Environment
- Hiking In Sedona, AZ: 8 Of The Best Hiking Trails In The Region
- Best Hikes In Bryce Canyon National Park
- Best Hikes In Zion National Park
- The Thing That Surprised Me Most Visiting Petrified Forest National Park
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