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The Aravaipa Canyon Hike In Arizona

The Aravaipa Canyon Hike in Arizona

If you want a unique hiking experience, then the Aravaipa Canyon hike needs to go on the must hike list. The canyon, located between Phoenix and Tucson in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, sits in a landscape of soaring cliffs with a beautiful creek flowing through it  year-round. Massive trees, thick riparian vegetation and lots of birds and wildlife make this a one of a kind Arizona experience. Reportedly when the leaves change colours in the fall, the canyon is even more dramatic than what you see in the photos below.

Do not do the Aravaipa Canyon hike if you only like obvious and well-signed hiking trails. Once you hit Aravaipa Creek (12 minutes into the hike from the west trailhead) you can expect to follow a mix of animal and human trails, though sometimes there’s nothing at all.

Throw in frequent creek crossings and what you have is a hike that is fun and way more adventurous than most. Once you get into the rhythm of the trail – after about a mile – you won’t be able to wipe the grin off your face.

If you’re planning to camp along the trail you won’t find designated campsites – though you will find loads of beautiful places to pitch a tent. Just be hyper aware of the forecast, especially in summer when flash floods are more likely to occur.

The only map and signage is at the start of the trail
Take a photo of the only map located at the start of the trail
A map showing a large section of the trail
A map showing a large section of the trail starting at the West Trailhead – the final few miles are missing in the photo
Dramatic scenery near the start of the Aravaipa Canyon hike
Dramatic scenery near the start of the Aravaipa Canyon hike at the western entrance

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What the Aravaipa Canyon hike looks like

You’re in for a huge treat on this hike. We only got into the canyon about three miles – appreciating that we had to return the same way. I felt like the scenery just got better and better at every turn. The photos will give you a pretty good idea of what the first three miles look like.

It felt like we were hiking on either narrow trails through sometimes dense vegetation or in the water. In the afternoon, once it had warmed up, we were happy to wade in the creek. (I suspect in summer you’d be even happier to hike in the water as much as possible.) There were a few places where we had to clamber up and over rocks but if it ever looked dodgy, we simply retreated to the creek.

All told the Araviapa Canyon hike is 12.25 miles one way with an elevation gain of just 430 feet – if you’re hiking from the west trailhead (2630 feet) to the east trailhead (3,060 feet). That doesn’t sound like much but it would take fit hikers somewhere between 8 – 10 hours to do. 

If you’re a nature lover, birder or photographer and you’re keen to explore the side canyons then take one or two nights so you can enjoy the canyon at a leisurely pace.

Read: 12 Safety Tips for Crossing Rivers & Streams

The first crossing within 10 minutes of the trailhead
The first crossing within 10 – 12 minutes of the trailhead
Our only large animal sighting in the canyon
Our only large animal sighting in the canyon though on the drive in 3 out of 4 people saw a bobcat
My friend Jo navigating some rapids
My friend Jo navigating some minor rapids
The Aravaipa Canyon hike was not quite knee deep on the day we did it
It was ankle to knee deep on the day we hiked
A pole comes in handy on the Aravaipa Canyon hike
A pole comes in handy on the Aravaipa Canyon hike for balance and testing water depth
Some grand scenery on the Aravaipa Canyon hike
Some grand scenery on the Aravaipa Canyon hike
The Aravaipa Canyon hike is a great one for birding
The canyon is a haven for birding
Getting into some great scenery near our turnaround point on the Aravaipa Canyon hike
Getting into some great scenery near our turnaround point

What to take on the hike

You spend a lot of time in the water, so it’s important you show up prepared.

I’d recommend lightweight hikers with support and a pair of waterproof sandals. Chacos are my go to sandal, though my husband prefers Tevas. I wore a pair of socks in the sandals to prevent chaffing and to help keep my feet warm. My husband threw on a pair of neoprene booties instead. You wouldn’t need those in the warmer months but we did the hike in January and the water was COLD!

The other essential is a hiking pole. It’s useful for keeping your balance and for testing water depth, especially when the water is cloudy.

If you’re allergic to bees don’t forget the epipen. And I’d suggest including Benadryl in your first-aid kit on this hike. There were two occasions where we heard bees swarming. Fortunately they were high in the trees but I can tell you it wasn’t a pleasant sound. In fact we detoured to avoid them at all costs. 

Bring a pair of tweezers in case you have a close-up encounter with a cactus. I also recommend a water filter in case you haven’t carried enough water with you – or you’re camping overnight.

Always take a few extra energy bars and some warm clothing in case you get chilled.

Aravaipa Canyon Permits

You cannot hike in Aravaipa Canyon without a permit. You can buy a day permit but if you’re planning to hike the whole canyon (and camp) you can get a permit for a maximum of two nights and three days.

Before you buy the permit, you must figure out what trailhead you’re starting at. If you stay at Aravaipa Farms then you’ll be starting at the West Aravaipa Trailhead. A maximum of 30 people a day can enter from the west entrance and 20 people from the east entrance.

We did this hike in January – considered the off-season so it wasn’t hard to get a permit. In fact we met a couple of hikers who were able to get a cell signal and buy one on the spot at the trailhead. But in high season, that wouldn’t be possible – especially as the canyon hike is becoming better known and thus more popular.

To organize a permit visit recreation.gov. Click on permits and then search for Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness permits. The cost is $US 5 per person per day plus a $US 6 reservation fee.

Finding the trailheads for the Aravaipa Canyon hike

The West Trailhead

Take Highway 77 south from Winkleman or north from Tucson. From Winkleman drive 10.8 miles south, and turn east onto East Aravaipa Road. Follow it for 12.3 miles to reach the trailhead. Only the first three miles are paved. You can drive the dirt section of the road with a regular car – but it’s very wiggly. From the Tucson Airport it’s a two hour drive via Highway 77 north.

The East Trailhead 

According to the government website access is from “Highway 70 between Safford and Bylas on a 46 mile dirt road that has creek crossings without bridges.” Google has a different take so double check this. They also say that a high clearance vehicle is a necessity because of numerous stream crossings. The road is obviously impassable when flash floods occur. The west trailhead sounds a lot more straightforward!

Aravaipa Canyon Lodging

Our group of four spent four fantastic nights at the Aravaipa Farms Orchard and Inn, just 5 miles from the west entrance to Araivapa Canyon.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Arizona and I was looking for a place with charm that didn’t break the bank. I hadn’t actually clued into the Aravaipa Canyon hike until I visited their website.

One entry in the guest book described the rooms as “rustic chic”. I think that’s a great description but I would also add colourful, comfortable and close to nature. I loved throwing open my door to the sight of orange trees and waking up to the sound of birdsong. While we never took advantage of the indoor and outdoor fireplaces, I thought they were a lovely touch.

Breakfast comes with the room. For the first few days – because it was a weekday, it was left in our fridge. On the weekend we joined other guests in the main room for home baked granola, yogurt, fresh fruit and omelettes. Our rooms also came with a coffee maker and freshly ground coffee.

We chose to eat dinner every night in the main dining room. Much of the fresh produce is grown on the property. The orchard is home to apple, peach, pear and plum trees. In addition there are orange, lemon and grapefruit trees so you don’t lack for fresh fruit. And they have a large vegetable garden.

Dinners are three course affairs – and include a salad, main course and dessert. The cook staff are absolutely lovely and accommodating. Because we were there for more than two nights, a packed lunch was provided daily too. 

We hiked three times over our visit but left room for R&R that included time by the pool (bloody cold in January), reading, wandering the property, birding and drinking wine with good friends. 

The inn is a find. We all loved it and would happily return again. The owners and hosts are extremely hospitable and do everything to make your stay a memorable one.

(Note – this is NOT a sponsored post, but a great experince!)

View of Aravaipa Farms
View of Aravaipa Farms – note the water crossing on the bottom left; if it’s running high someone will drive you across
Colour is everywhere at Aravaipa Farms
Colour is everywhere at Aravaipa Farms
Our roomy garden casita
Our roomy garden casita at the Aravaipa Farms
Our private patio
Our private patio – not shown is the outdoor fireplace
Real farm to table dining
Real farm to table dining with the cook picking fresh greens for dinner
Lemons the size of grapefruits
Lemons the size of grapefruits around the pool
Jo chillin' by the pool
Jo chillin’ by the pool
Look for clourful birdhouses all over the property
Look for clourful birdhouses all over the property – most are for sale
Our friend's colourful casita
Our friend’s colourful casita

Other things to do near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

If you stay at Aravaipa Farms Orchard & Inn I highly recommend taking advantage of a couple of the nearby hikes. 

The easiest hike to access is right behind the property. It will take you about 75 minutes to bushwack around the cacti to the top of the hill. From there the views are superlative. But be VERY careful around the cacti. We’re still picking small thorns off our shoes and body, five days after leaving.

Views from the top of the hill behind the inn
Views from the top of the hill behind the inn

The other hike to do is the one up Brandenburg Mountain. We didn’t go all the way to the top. Instead we walked along a seldom-used four-wheel drive track once we got to a point above the cliff band. It was a lovely way to spend about four hours. And it’s only a two mile drive from the turnoff to the inn.

Very enjoyable hiking on Brandenburg Mountain
Very enjoyable hiking on Brandenburg Mountain

Further reading on things to do in Arizona

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Aravaipa Canyon hike in Arizona - halfway between Phoenix and Tucson

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. This looks like an awesome hike in an area of Arizona I’ve never explored. I wouldn’t do the whole trail, but it looks like it would be fun to do part of it.

    1. @Cindy I’d like to go back and camp 2 nights. I think I’d hike in 7 miles with a pack and set up camp for 2 nights. Go to the east end and back to camp and then out on day 3. Then off to Aravaipa Farms for a few nights of R&R.

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