Arizona’s diverse landscape makes it a beautiful state to explore on foot. You can hike through saguaros in the desert or ponderosa pines in the mountains, depending on where your travels take you.
The day hikes selected here offer access to some of the most interesting natural features in Arizona. Canyons, mesas, volcanoes, bizarre rock formations, and plant life you can only find in the Sonoran Desert make this an incredible place to stretch your legs.
Many of these are easy hikes that can be done by anyone. A couple are epic, bucket-list hikes that the average hiker may not want to undertake.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park, located in northwestern Arizona, is the 15th site in the United States to have been named as a national park. The park’s central feature is the Grand Canyon, a gorge of the Colorado River, which is often considered one of the Wonders of the World.
While this year might be an exception, typically the busiest months at the Grand Canyon occur in the summertime from June to the end of August. During this time period, popular lookouts, scenic drives, and points of interest can be pretty crowded. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds in the summer, head to the North Rim for a more secluded experience.
Echo Canyon Trail, Chiricahua National Monument
This land of rock pinnacles high above the desert is an independent mountain range, off on its own, known as a sky island. Hiking here, along the ridges and through the canyons, among the towering stone structures, is unique in Arizona.
The most popular trail is Echo Canyon Trail, a 3.5-mile loop trail with an elevation gain of 454 feet, which takes you through the heart of some of the most scenic landscapes.
The trail runs through narrow passages, between the spires and through a slot in the rocks known as “wall street.” Following along a mountainside for a considerable distance, you can look across to the pinnacles glowing in the late afternoon sun.
If you are interested in a longer hike, the Big Loop links several trails, including a portion of Echo Trail, to form a seven-mile hike.
Another short but spectacular walk in Arizona is the much photographed, Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon, with narrow twisting walls that allow shafts of light to penetrate through from high above, is a photographer’s dream destination.
You need to take a tour to get here, but the process is incredibly simple. It’s only a short ride out to the opening of the slot canyon, where you can wander through the canyon and back at your own pace, with a guide along for safety.
The walk through the slot canyon and back is only a half-mile, and the ground is flat.
Antelope Canyon is located near the town of Page in Northern Arizona. If you are staying in Flagstaff, you can visit Antelope Canyon and other sites on an organized tour of Antelope Canyon and hike to Horseshoe Bend, another interesting area of the country.
If you’ve wandered through a photo gallery in Arizona, in addition to having seen shots of Antelope Canyon, you’ve probably also noticed photos of the Wave, a swirling orange sandstone landscape that looks like a stone wave. This natural feature is found in Paria Canyon, which contains the Coyote Buttes Special Management Area.
While the Wave is the most famous hike here, you can find a number of other great hikes in this area as well.
To hike to the Wave, which is a modest 5.5-mile day hike, you need a special permit for Coyote Buttes North, and it can be very difficult to obtain due to the lottery system and the reduced number of visitors they allow into the area each day. You can apply for a permit four months in advance.
No motorized vehicles are allowed in the area, including drones.
Humphreys Peak Summit
Enjoy a spectacular view of east and west side of Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,637 feet.
If you think you might only get one chance to hike Humphreys Peak in your life, I recommend this hike so that you can have a unique view experience of the east and west sides of the Peaks. This is a shuttle hike of Humphreys Peak which combines the Humphreys Peak Trail and the Humphreys via Inner Basin hike.
After soaking in the views from the highest point in Arizona, turn around and hike 1 mile back to Humphreys Saddle. Finally, continue down the Humphreys Summit Trail toward Snowbowl for the final 4.1 miles. After finishing the hike you can camp at Freidlein Prairie Dispersed Camping. The scenery of this campground is peaceful and It sits in a grove of pines.
In the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, Aesop cautioned us to temper our “need for speed,” because “slow and steady wins the race.” In the case of the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, slow and steady doesn’t necessarily win any race, but taking a gradual, more mindful approach to this now-iconic symbol of the American Southwest will give the viewer a better appreciation for the true complexity of the area’s geology. And that, in my book, is definitely one for the “win” column!
As you crest the hill, the trail begins to undulate and you’ll notice the tone of the landscape has taken on more jagged, sloping characteristics. Whitish gravel and chunks of sand also make an appearance. These are remnants of the calcite, or limestone layer that was once here. The diagonal stripes in the rock formations tell the story of how the sand dunes were petrified, yet retained their former shape as minerals, rain and snow changed their molecular composition over the course of 20 million years.