Category: Arizona Travel (Page 3 of 8)

horseshoe lake az

Horseshoe Lake AZ: Your Guide to Exploring a Remote Phoenix Lake

Of the lakes surrounding Phoenix, Horseshoe is the hardest to get to and probably the least known. That all makes this little corner of the Tonto National Park a nice place to escape the crowds, and enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, this is definitely a day trip that I would suggest as some unique hiking in the Tonto National Forest. Horseshoe Lake AZ has beautiful mountain vistas, a dam with mossy waterfalls cascading down to the river, and an adventurous approach that makes for the perfect day trip from the city.

The Distant Lake of Phoenix

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake AZ is a man-made lake that serves as one of several reservoirs for the Phoenix metro-area. It feeds off of the Verde River and is maintained by its namesake dam. If you are choosing among the seven lakes in the Phoenix area, this one might be of extra interest to you if you enjoy a bit of tame 4-wheel driving. It’s also great if you are looking for some peace and quiet.

Need to Know Information

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake is located within Tonto National Forest, and as such, you need a Tonto pass or should bring your Annual America the Beautiful pass. The Tonto day pass is $8 and can be purchased online. The America the Beautiful Pass is likewise available online for $80; it covers National Parks and National Forests. If you are planning on boating or camping, please access the Tonto National Forest website to identify the permit that you need. In 2020, since so many visitor centers are closed due to COVID-19, you may need to buy online. If this is the case, make sure to give yourself enough lead time in case you need anything mailed.

The only facilities at Horseshoe Lake AZ are a few outhouses at the end of the dirt road. There is also a small, concrete boat ramp in this area.

The lake is drained fairly often due to water demand. Furthermore, it is drained annually to support native birds that nest in the area, and reduce the population of invasive fish. When drained, do not approach the dam or collect any dead fish that might be scattered along the water’s edge.

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Why You Need to Visit Tonto Natural Bridge

Why Tonto Natural Bridge Is Worth Your Time

tonto natural bridge

Looking down at the bridge (c) ABR 2019

One of my earliest memories of Tonto Natural Bridge is getting there, and then immediately having to turn around and go home, because there actually wasn’t room for any more cars in the park. And the line was far too long to wait in.

Luckily, these days the tourism eye has turned elsewhere in the state, but you might gather from this past fame that this place is very very special. And you’d be right.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is essentially a massive stone bridge that crosses over Pine Creek and connects either side of the steep walls of Pine Canyon. If you aren’t able to hike, you can enjoy amazing views of the canyon and the bridge from several viewpoints along the parking lots. Hikers can explore underneath the bridge and marvel at the travertine formations that line either side. This limestone creates formations that almost look like stone waterfalls in their own right.

tonto natural bridge

Travertine formations (c) ABR 2019

Due to the relatively high elevation of the area (compared to Phoenix), this part of the state is far more lush than the desert lowlands. The snow and snow melt together feed Pine Creek, along with several springs in the area. Several of these you will be able to see from the parking lot and as you hike around. The most important of these (in my humble opinion) is the little spring that runs out onto the bridge. It is a very small little flow, but it pours over the edge of bridge, creating a beautiful and delicate waterfall that you can enjoy above and below.

In short, whether you just want to stop by to take some exceptional pictures, or stretch your legs on the trail, there is plenty of beauty to be enjoyed at this state park. The historic lodge will also give you a special glimpse into Arizona’s past, which is perfect for architectural and history fans alike.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking: Why I Both Love and Hate This Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking- Is It Good?

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

No… in my opinion, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is not good.

That being said, before I dive into the reasons why I don’t like this park, and I will briefly describe why you might actually enjoy hiking here.

Why You Might Like McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(1) There aren’t a ton of desert parks across the region that allows you to enjoy the natural beauty of the valley floor. Most have mountains, and mountains can have very different plant and animal communities.

(2) McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is perfect for beginners. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain in the park, so it’s a great place to build strength and trail experience.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

(3) There are AMAZING views from the park! Even hiking through a wash, you can see some of the most iconic mountains in Maricopa county. This includes Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks.

(4) There is plenty of very nice birding that you can do from Stoneman’s Wash, which isn’t a prohibitively long hike from the Pemberton trailhead.

(5) When the season is right, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking can provide a reprieve from the foot-traffic crowds. For instance, if I try to go to Dreamy Draw at 11am on a Sat in winter, I will struggle to find parking. The trails are absolutely full of people. In McDowell, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot and you can have some true solitude.

What’s So Bad About McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking?

Ok, so if there are all those reasons that someone might really enjoy hiking in this particular park, why do I dislike it? Let me give you some of my thoughts.

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Hiking the Hassayampa River Preserve: Walking Along the Upside Down River

The Emerald of Central Arizona

hassayampa river preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Central Arizona is a dry place. Stay here long enough and you will start to see water as the precious resource that it is. Due to this, green places are very special. The Hassayampa River Preserve is one of these green gems, and its right in Phoenix’s backyard. Furthermore, thanks to the hard work of the Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, a stretch of the habitat offered by this unique river is protected for all to enjoy.

What is the Hassayampa

The Hassayampa River was given its name due the unique way in which it tends to flow underground along most of its length. While the river bed is apparent in the desert, it often appears to be dry. This is because the water is below the surface until there is sufficient rain and runoff. In the Hassayampa River Preserve, the river surfaces due to changes in the depth of the stone layers that the water flows over. This makes the area of the preserve into an oasis in the desert, which has drawn people and wildlife for hundreds of years.

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Things to Do in Phoenix in the Summer: 12-Hour Travel Challenge

About the 12-Hour Travel Challenge

The goal of the 12-Hour Challenge is to explore new places throughout the Phoenix-Metro area. Specifically, our first challenge forced us to discover new things to do in Phoenix in the Summer. For each one, we define a distinct area within which we have to limit our explorations, based on the different boundaries between cities. We also avoid hiking during the challenge, in Phoenix at least, because we are working on in-depth guides to the trails in the area.

For our debut challenge, we limited ourselves to activities in Central Phoenix. Mapped below with the help of Google.

things to do in phoenix in the summer

The Search for Breakfast

The day began with a search for some of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. We planned to have our morning start with a hearty breakfast at the Original Breakfast House, but unfortunately, our 9 a.m. start time ruled that option out. Despite its unassuming location, the OBH is VERY popular in the area, and waiting visitors were filling the patio by the time we arrived. With no time to spare, we decided to try an alternative option. (Tip: If you do visit OBH, they are a cash-only establishment.)

Oink Cafe

4326 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Oink Cafe is one of R. and my favorite places to get breakfast in Central Phoenix. This little place is located in a strip mall next to a Target and REI. They specialize in bacon (surprise, surprise), and giving one of their bacon flights a try is real fun. The flavors aren’t crazy, just really savory and delicious. Any of them are available for pairing with a regular breakfast meal as well, and you can even enjoy a bacon donut from the bar. I usually enjoy one of their waffles.

With its slight cinnamon/vanilla flavor, these sweet breakfast treats are some of the best in the city. This time, however, I opted for the Oink French Toast, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected.

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Wasson Peak Trail: Explore the Sonoran Desert

wasson peak trail

Trail Summary

The Wasson Peak trail is a great option for hikers in the Tucson area looking for a trail with some fair length (around 8 miles). There is just a bit of elevation gain, and some beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert. It is moderate to difficult due to its length and the climb to the summit of the mountain peak. If you are prepared, however, the climb offers some amazing vantage points on the city. You can also see the sky islands that surround it, making Wasson Peak the perfect place for photographers.

This is a great hike for challenging yourself without tackling the massive slopes of the Catalinas or the Rincon mountains. It is also a wonderful place to explore and enjoy the Sonoran Desert. There is a huge array of desert plants that you can enjoy on this trail, as well as the artifacts of Arizona’s extractive, mining industry. There is also a beautiful picnic area towards the beginning of the trail for people looking for a more relaxing day with the family. In short, the Wasson Peak Trail is a moderately difficult track that can cater to a wide variety of (prepared) travelers. It is also near some great attractions that you can check out for a full day of exploration.

wasson peak trail

If you’d like to learn more about some hiking options in the area, check out our Guide to Arizona.

Length: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1863 ft

Difficulty Level: Moderate to difficult

Cost: Free

Bathrooms: None

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Seven Springs Trails: The 4 and 246 Loop

The Perfect Seven Springs Day Hike 

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

The Seven Springs trails are a great place to spend the day, or a weekend for both Phoenix locals and visitors to Arizona. It’s slightly cooler than the city due to its higher elevation (and distance from the city “heat island effect”). And there are some beautiful oases among the mountains where the spring runs.

For locals, Seven Springs is relatively close; from central Phoenix, it’s about an 1 to 1.5 hours away. However, its proximity to the city doesn’t mean that it isn’t a refreshing break from the urban landscape. As you follow the dirt road back into the Cave Creek mountains, you will find yourself heading deeper and deeper into a more grassy and green dryland than can be found anywhere else in the Phoenix-area. When you are close to the spring, you will also be delighted by the splash of green trees that have grown up surrounding the water source. While it isn’t a particularly cool place in the summer, during the spring and fall it is a great escape from the heat for hikers, campers, and picnickers alike.

For travelers visiting Arizona, the Seven Springs trails represent some very unique vistas and great hiking experiences. Whether you are just visiting Phoenix for a few days, or exploring Arizona more thoroughly, this area will give you the chance to see the impact of water on the desert, shaping the mountains and growing vibrant, green forests so striking you won’t believe your eyes.

Why You Might Love It Here

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

  1. Short drive from the city for a beautiful escape; you won’t even remember that Phoenix is right around the corner!
  2. Views of a unique desert landscape that lives between the drier Valley of the Sun and the higher forests and scrublands of northern AZ.
  3. A peaceful place to picnic and explore a spring in the desert.
  4. Plenty of trail options for people wanting to hike short and long, and all kinds of different vistas along the way.
  5. Camp grounds on-hand and nearby to lots of good restaurants in the Cave Creek area so you can make a day of it.

The 4 (Cave Creek Trail) and 246 (Skunk Creek Trail) Loop

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

While there are many options among the Seven Springs trails, my favorite loop is a mix of Trail 4 and Trail 246. This loop feels very long, so it isn’t necessarily an easy hike. But it does bring together many of the best views of the area, and lets you both explore the spring and head up into the grassy hills and mountains. It’s also fairly easy to navigate (but for a few parts which I will explain below). If you are looking for a day hike, this is definitely a great option, and if you’d like a shorter hike, I would suggest starting on Trail 4 and just turning around when you start to get tired.

Trail Stats

Seven Springs trails

Length: ~10 miles; our GPS’ could not agree on the exact length but it felt like 11-12 miles.

Difficulty: Difficult. This loop is long and has sections with considerable elevation gain. Walking short sections of Trail 4 would be relatively easy, however, for anyone looking for an alternative option.

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,722 ft

Cost: Free (as long as you park at the Cave Creek trailhead parking area); elsewhere you will need a Tonto Pass, which is $8 and can be purchased in town (see locations to buy these here). For camping it will be $75 dollars, and you will need to either call 1-877-444-6777 or go to to get a permit. See more information here.

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes; check Forest Service website for information on the bathroom’s status. 

What to Bring

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

You will need to develop your packing list based on what you plan to do while you are on the Seven Spring Trails. But here is my list of essentials.

(1) Safety gear and first aid kit appropriate for the amount of time you will spend in the wild and the number of people in your group.

(2) Food and water. Even though it is slightly cooler up here, you will still want to keep hydrated. This is an essential safety and hiking equipment for hiking in the desert (or anywhere). You’ll also want to bring plenty of snacks! If camping, plan your meals.

(3) Good, broken-in hiking boots, and if you plan on walking through the spring, hiking sandals.

(4) Maps of the area (you can find a basic one from Hike Arizona, here.

(5) Clothing layers for a cool morning and hotter afternoons.

Getting There and Where to Park

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

In order to get to the Seven Springs Recreation Area, you will need to drive to north Phoenix, and up through or past Carefree. There are several roads that will take you up in the right direction, depending on where you are coming from. Most likely, you will need to take the 101 north and then get off on Pima, Scottsdale, or Cave Creek. Then you will head north until you hit Cave Creek Road or until Cave Creek turns east.

Then you will just keep following Cave Creek as it winds back north, past the road leading to Lake Bartlett. Cave Creek Road will eventually turn into Seven Springs Rd, and the pavement will run out. The following dirt road feels fairly long for people driving cars, but it is do-able. I have driven that road with my little cars over the past decade pretty regularly. Just take your time and you will be fine. If you are in a vehicle with higher clearance, this will be no problem. That being said, there is flooding sometimes on the road, and the creek passes directly over it at a few points. So, no matter what you are driving, obey signs warning of dangerous conditions, and avoid crossing the water if it is too high.

Trail Experience

While there are plenty of options among the Seven Springs trails, I will be covering the 4/426 Skunk and Cave Creek loop here. Being as it is a loop, you can take it clockwise or counterclockwise. Either is fine, but I personally like the counterclockwise direction the most. This allows you to amble along the stream and really enjoy this part of the trail before hiking up into the mountains. However, you will need to be well aware of your hiking ability on this route, as it might be easy to feel like you can keep going while the trail is relatively flat and then get tired on the second half. If you go clockwise, you will do the hard part first, but when you get back to the stream, you will be pretty tired and you really won’t appreciate the slight uphill climb back to your car.

Up From the Parking Lot

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

There’s a bit of a trek from the parking lot to the rest of the trail system in the area, but it quite a lovely stretch. Before you leave, make sure to snap a picture of the map at the trailhead for further reference. Then you will walk up a steep stretch of the trail where you will catch some great views of campground and forest. While short, this part of the journey gives you a little taste of the alpine, with some evergreen trees and higher elevation scrub trees. Luckily, particularly for your way back, it’s pretty flat for here as well but for the initial elevation gain and the walk back down to the road at the end.

Walking Along the Creek

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

Once you hike down from the higher parts of the trail, you will cross the road and then follow Trail 4 as it follows the creek. As you get to the bottom of the hill, follow the trail as it turned to the right, and cross over the cattle fence into the forest. You will then keep to the right and follow the trail through the forest of riparian trees that grow along the watered soils of the creek. This is a beautiful place to stop for a picnic. Shady places with flowing water are rare in central Arizona, and its always worth enjoying them when you have the opportunity to see one.

As the trail continues on, the relatively flat bottom of the stream bed will narrow, and you will find yourself following the track along rocky cliff sides overlooking the creek. The forest will fall behind you and you will find yourself heading back down into the Sonoran Desert landscape. Saguaros are perched on the trailside, and while the water maintains a vibrant plant array, the trees will become more scarce.

Eventually, the trail will take you right down to the stream, where you will have to cross over the water to continue on. While less shaded than the forest, this is another good place to stop for a snack and rest before continuing on through the desert.

Up, Up, Up and Into the Mountains

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

Just when you are wondering just how far it must be to the junction for 426, you will find a wooden sign pointing you up into the grass-covered mountains to your left. From here, you will follow the trail as it climbs its up and up… and up. While this is the most strenuous section of the trail, you will be afforded with exceptional views of the surrounding landscape, and if you look carefully into the stoney nooks to your right, you might catch water a glimpse of water flowing down the mountain side. These are places that remain dry for much of the year, but when there is snow melt or rain, they offer a special glimpse at the rate beauty of desert waterfalls.

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

When you reach a saddle in the rolling mountains, you will pass the little grassy area that gives this section of the trail it’s name. Skunk Tank. Here, the stones of the mountain catch water and provide the plants and animals with water in an otherwise dry section of the mountains.

From there, you will continue upwards for a time, crossing back into the land of puffy, short trees. The trail will widen at this stage, turning into something of a narrow dirt road, and this will take you back down towards the creek. The trail does get a little lost and hard to navigate once you need to cross the creek bed, so keep your eyes peeled for cairns and the familiar sights of Trail 4. Eventually, you should get back to the road, which you will cross again and then hit the first section of the trail back towards your car.

Safety Tips

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

(1) Always remember that your safety on the trail is your responsibility. Be prepared and be cautious. Bring food, water, sturdy shoes, and first aid equipment.

(2) Always let someone know where you will be hiking and when you expect to get back.

(3) Exercise caution as crossing the stream bed, the round rocks, particularly in the water, can be unstable and hard to walk across.

(4) There are some large carnivores that live in this area, so be aware. You may wish to carry bear spray if you are worried, but also researching what to do if you run into any large predators can also be helpful. The odds are slim that you will see them, but it’s something to be aware of.

Seven Springs trails

Seven Springs trails

An Arizonan’s Guide to the Pinnacle Peak Hike

Why Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

The Pinnacle Peak hike is an insular island of mountain goodness tucked away on the northern edge of Scottsdale. The star of this hiking show is Pinnacle Peak itself, which will immediately dominate your view when you pull up and park. It isn’t particularly tall, comparatively, but this little peak is characterized by some really neat boulders and the rocky spire itself is definitely picture-worthy. Pinnacle Peak Park is a great place to take the family for a short trek to see the peak and some wonderful views of the McDowell Mountains. For regular hikers, it is also a good exercise trail and you will immediately see that it has more of a work out culture than a hiking one.

You can also go rock climbing at Pinnacle Peak, but I have never been, so I would suggest checking out the park website for more info.

Trail Statistics

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Length: 3.5 miles round trip (1.75 in one direction)

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult due to the incline, particularly in the final section of the trail

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft

Cost: Free

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes

 How to Get There

pinnacle peak hike

Almost no matter where you are coming from in the Phoenix-area, you will need to head north to reach Pinnacle Peak Park. You can take the 101 to either the Pima or Scottsdale exit. Then follow either of those roads north. You will then take Happy Valley Rd to the east until you hit Alma School Rd which you will take north. Finally, follow signs to the parking area.

Infrastructure at Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak hike calls Scottsdale, one of the richest parts of the city, home, and it shows. The trailhead has a very nice building where you can go to the bathroom and get information about the trail. There are maps available and staff/volunteers to talk to. Along the trail you will also note that there is very good signage for different landmarks. This is really nice for the photographers among us. There are also emergency markers along the trail. And there are volunteers that hike it every so often to keep an eye on things.

Rules for the Trail

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Pinnacle Peak Park has some special rules that you will need to know before you head over there. In addition to the average rules and manners to keep in mind, they have some restrictions on hiking times and photography.

This park has strict hours and you will not be allowed to hike when the park is closed. The hours change with the season, so reference the following link to see when the park will be open on your hiking dates.

Commercial activities are not allowed in the park, and that includes photography that will be directly used for commercial purposes. As I mentioned previously, volunteers do monitor the trail, so if you are planning on setting up an Instagram shoot, make sure that you are allowed at the information station. If not, you will likely get caught.

Trail Culture

The Pinnacle Peak hike has a trail culture that is becoming more and more common in Phoenix. Specifically, it is dominated by people who are either visitors or people working out. For old-school hikers, this means that you shouldn’t expect to see Leave No Trace or hiking etiquette. There also tends to be a lot of people on the trail and most won’t greet you like in less exercised-focused trails.

Journey Across Pinnacle Peak Park

Inwards and Upwards
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak Trail starts at a beautiful trailhead with all the amenities, bathrooms, maps, helpful volunteers, and water fountains. From there, you will pass through the metal gate that is closed off-hours, and begin winding your way up towards the peak itself. After making you huff a bit, the trail will give you a bit of a break as it takes you around the mountain. The path will turn away from the trailhead and climb up to the rock spire for which the park is named. It then snakes out across the boulder-covered mountain to the west.

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

A bit more elevation gain and you will be up high enough to get some great pictures of the spire. There will also be views of Scottsdale and Phoenix stretching off in all directions. For some, this will be the place to turn around. But if you want to complete the trail, you will keep walking as the path dips down into the saddle between the spire and the rest of the mountains in Pinnacle Peak Park.

You will then climb upwards again, before running into some signs that warn you about the difficulty of the rest of the trail. From here, should you decide to continue on, you will follow a steep decent back into the neighborhood. The hard part is that this trail is not a loop, so everything you just went down, you will need to get back up.

Inwards and Upwards… Again
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Make your way back up the steep section of the trail. You will get a bit of a rest as you trek across the flatter parts of the path that come directly after. But your trek home won’t finish climbing uphill until you pass the spire again. Overall, all the elevation gain and loss makes this an impactful workout for its relatively short length. And the spire, Pinnacle Peak, makes it a unique place for visitors.

Need More Arizona Inspiration?

For more information and inspiration on all things Arizona, be sure to check out our guide to our home state. I guarantee there will be places on there that you hadn’t thought about before.

pinnacle peak hike

pinnacle peak hike

A Complete Guide to Hiking West Fork, Sedona

Why West Fork Trail

west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

West Fork Trail is one of the most popular trails in Oak Creek Canyon, and for good reason. This 6-7 mile (3-3.5 miles in one direction) trek will take you through a beautiful side canyon. There, as you walk along the stream, you can enjoy a higher elevation riparian forest and a flowing stream. Both of these are rare in Arizona, thus locals love this area. Visitors to the state will also be treated to dramatic views of a pine-lined canyon with sweeping stone walls. In the fall, West Fork, Sedona gets even better, as it is one of the few places that you can see the trees change color in the state.

Reasons to Hike West Fork Trail

  • Great views of a unique canyon in Arizona
  • Get a sense for how diverse the landscape and ecosystems of Arizona are
  • Nice trail for people trying to get into longer hikes, as it is relatively flat
  • Lovely spot for families to stroll along (and through) the stream
  • One place to escape the heat in the early or late summer
  • Perfect place to see fall colors

Getting There

west fork sedona

In order to get to the West Fork Trail, you will need to take AZ State Route 89A, no matter which direction you are coming from. If you are coming from Phoenix, take the I-17 north to 179 towards Sedona. Once in town, you will come to a big round about with the 89A going in two directions, head north. West Fork is north of Slide Rock State Park on the left side of the road.

If coming from Flagstaff, take the I-17 south until the junction for 89A and then drive down through Oak Creek Canyon until you reach the parking area. This will be on your left.

Parking and Permits

west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

There is a parking lot at the West Fork, Sedona trailhead, and it is $10 per vehicle to park. You can learn more about the permits and trail here. You do not need to purchase ahead of time, and this trailhead is manned during its hours, so you will pay when you get there, at the gate. Due to this, the trail is only open from 9a-7p.

This trailhead typically fills up extremely fast, so I would suggest getting there at least 30 min before the trail opens. The website says that parking will be full by 9:30a, so you might also want to know of alternative places to go. Some people will park along the edge of the road, but this is dangerous, so it is not recommended.

If you get there early and get in, there are toilets available for use at the trailhead.

Hiking the Trail

Getting Started
west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

West Fork, Sedona, if you start from the Call of the Canyon trailhead, begins in one of Oak Creek Canyon’s grassy flats. After using the bathroom before you head out, you will head straight into the tree covered track and cross a sturdy bridge over the stream. Don’t get used to this, as this is really the ony bridge on the trail. The rest of the 13 creek crossings will be either across pebbles or just through the water.

The trail will take you south down Oak Creek for a short time, before twisting to the right, into West Fork. Here, the canyon walls will close in a little bit, and you will find yourself following the creek even closer. Once in the canyon, you will soon find yourself needing to cross the stream. Having good shoes on will immediately come in handy. With waterproof boots, you will be able to brave the water in cooler weather. With sturdy hiking sandals, you can splash into the water in the warmer months and cool off.

Crossing the Creek
west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

This first creek crossing is a great place for families to stop, if they have members that won’t be able to cross. There is lots of room here for picnics and you will already be able to enjoy the tree cover and beautiful canyon walls here.

For those who continue trekking inwards, you will follow the trail as it weaves across the stream and twists along through the forest. The entire route is well shaded by trees. If you keep your eyes peeled, however, you will see all kinds of trees and shrubs, as Oak Creek sits in a transition area where the higher shrub forests give way to the pine forests that surround Flagstaff. Small mammals, many kinds of birds, and sometimes even deer may be apparent from the trail as well.

In terms of elevation gain, West Fork trail isn’t particularly difficult. From start to finish, there is about 400-500ft gain, so while you will be climbing in places, it shouldn’t be exceptionally strenuous. Of course, that being said, you will need to navigate the trail as it goes down to the stream, back into the forest, and then down to the stream again. There are spots where you will need to deal with narrow sections of the trail and climbing up short spans of rocks.

The End
west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

You will know that you’ve reached the end of the main section of the trail when the trail becomes completely submerged in the stream. Here, the canyon narrows even further, cutting off the forest from the water. People prepared to wade can keep going for some beautiful views of this part of West Fork, which resembles a slot canyon with its sweeping stone walls. People looking for an even longer trek can continue on through the canyon, however, most people turn around at this point so that they won’t require a shuttle.

Safety Tips

  • Your safety is always your responsibility. Do your research and always stay safe on the trail.
  • West Fork Trail follows and crosses a running stream, so take all precautions necessary around water, particularly with children.
  • The trail will cross the stream several times, so bring waterproof shoes or hiking sandals (Keens or Tevas) and cross with care.
  • Make sure that your hiking shoes are broken in and fit comfortably.
  • Bring extra food and water for your journey as well as first aid supplies.
  • Avoid the heat and do not hike when it is above 100 F.
  • Listen to your body and don’t hike further out than you have the energy and strength to get back from.
  • Flash flooding happens throughout AZ; avoid hiking during storms.
  • Let people know where you are going if you are going solo.
  • Don’t climb anything or stand on cliffs for selfies or photos.
  • Bring sunscreen and hats! During some times of the year, bug spray will also be necessary.

Best Times to Visit

west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

West Fork, Sedona is best visited at any time but the dead of summer. Even in Sedona, it gets dangerously hot in Arizona and I would not suggest going on a long hike during this time.

Fall is an extremely popular time to hike the West Fork trail, and for good reason. This is the time to see all of the changing colors in the canyon.

Spring is also a lovely time to visit, particularly on years when Arizona has good winter rains. This means that there will be a higher chance of wildflowers. However, spring weather in Arizona can be somewhat variable, so make sure that you check the weather before leaving.

It does snow in the Sedona/Oak Creek area, so you may have to deal with snow if you go during the colder months. Depending on the year, however, the snow might come and go (or never really happen), so winter can be a great time for longer hikes in Arizona. It’s the best time to avoid the heat, particularly if the cold doesn’t bother you too much.

Sedona and Overtourism

west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

I would be remiss if I wrote about any hiking near Sedona without mentioning that this area of Arizona is suffering from overtourism. This is a beautiful part of the state, there is no arguing that, but Sedona is often one of the ONLY places that travel bloggers suggest for my home state. Thus, everyone flocks there.

In the past ten years, it has become harder and harder to hike and hang out in Sedona, and West Fork trail illustrates part of the problem. While this was always a popular trail, it wasn’t always necessary to get there before the crack of dawn in order to enjoy its sights and sounds. Like many (or most) of the trails in Sedona, this is a place where local people are being pushed out by all the visitors.

It doesn’t stop at trails. The last time that I went to see the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross when some friends from New Zealand came to visit, I ended up having to drop everyone off and then sit with my car elsewhere because of the overcrowding.

Traffic in Sedona can also be a huge issue these days. The last time I visited, there was a traffic jam that snaked its way all the way from downtown to out of the town. Luckily for us, we were on our way out at the time. In either case, just be aware of the conditions that you may be facing if you visit Sedona, particularly in the high season.

How to Help

west fork sedona

(c) ABR 2018

While I understand wanting to go somewhere despite the crowds when you are visiting. It is up to travelers to help address issues of overtourism. So, if this is something that you are likewise concerned about, here are some tips on how to help address this issue.

Tips and Suggestions

(1) Visit Sedona in the shoulder or off-season. Help spread out the love to more of the year. This also helps local tourism operators by creating less of a down season and supporting more jobs year-round.

(2) Limit the length of your visit to Sedona. Make a list of the main things that you want to see, and then spend the rest of your time exploring other amazing places in Arizona. Believe me, this state really does have so much to offer people that visit, and it isn’t just in Sedona. If you want some inspiration, we have plenty of posts to give you ideas about some lesser known locations.

(3) If you have to visit Sedona during the high season and want to spend most of your time there, be very contentious of the rules and be flexible. As visitors, we are just passing through, but our collective impact can make the lives of local people very difficult. In particular, parking can become a frustrating ordeal for everyone. Please, stay out of residential areas and out of dangerous roadside parking.

(4) Keep yourself safe. It may sound silly, but travelers being unprepared and getting themselves into danger is a major problem on some trails here. Do everything you can to be prepared and safe so that emergency services aren’t being overwhelmed.

A Guide to Exploring Havasupai Falls

Why Havasupai

Fifteen years ago, long before Instagram, Havasuapi was a far-away destination in the corner of Arizona. Plenty of people went, but the experience was far more secluded and peaceful than what you can expect now. Now, the average explorer and hiker might find themselves feeling more like an set piece on someone’s photo shoot than a traveler through a serene oasis. So, if you aren’t looking for Insta fame, or just aren’t a fan of the travel social media culture, is exploring Havasupai still worth your time?

Well, maybe.

exploring havasupai

Havasu Falls (c) ABR 2018

I’ve gone to Havasupai several times over the past 20 years, and I’ve personally seen the change from an remote camping destination, to a guided tour hotspot, and to the current social media craze. I can honestly say that I miss the days before this little spot in Arizona exploded, and I can seriously do without people monopolizing the falls for 30 minutes to an hour because they want the perfect photo of themselves. That being said, I’ve never once regretted visiting, and I still find the crowds manageable if you go during the shoulder seasons.

Making Up Your Mind

So, how can you decide if this place is still worth visiting after all the hype and over exposure? Here is what Havasupai can offer you:

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

(1) The brilliant blue waterfalls are even cooler in person than in the pictures.

(2) The hiking in the canyon is amazingly beautiful from the trailhead to the confluence.

(3) Camping in Havasupai supports a community of Native Americans who have been trying to make a living via a nature-based form of tourism that has ecotourism potential.

(4) While the crowds might make some backpacker experts feel disappointed, it is a good place for people to start backpacking because there are plenty of people and little chance of getting lost. (You need to be prepared, however!)

But here are the drawbacks:

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

(1) This is a busy and increasingly popular place, which makes it hard to get permits and people who prefer solitude will not find this spot enjoyable.

(2) You will see first-hand the social media craze and the impacts of overtourism. If you’ve been previously, you will need to prepare yourself for this.

(3) You may be exposed to unprepared hikers on the trek into the canyon or trying to climb down to Mooney Falls. This can increase your risk or potentially impact your trip. 

Planning for Your Trip

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

So, you’ve decided that exploring Havasupai is worth your while. Great! There are several key steps to planning for your adventure.

(1) Make sure that you are physically prepared for 20+ miles of hiking. If you don’t have a lot of experience, get out on the trail and get your body into shape! Continue this practice throughout your planning process.

(2) Get your permit. (See below). [We no longer support the use of pack animals in Havasupai due to the overwhelming evidence of abuse. If you can’t carry your gear, you should consider going somewhere else until the tribe sufficiently addresses this problem.]

(3) Get your gear together.

Here is the key packing list that I would suggest using as a basis.

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

(0) Permit paperwork. ID, wallet, etc.

(1) Hiking boots which fit well and are broken in. Opt for high tops as these protect your ankles and feet with the extra weight of your pack on. Hike at least 40+ miles in your boots before you take them backpacking. Make sure that your toes don’t hit the front. They should fit well enough to stop your feet from sliding inside the shoe.

(2) Backpacking pack that is fitted to your body type.

(3) Sufficient water (!!!!) and salty snacks that will be accessible for your hike in. Remember, Arizona is a desert and dehydration is a major danger.

(4) First aid kit for the number of days you will be on the trail. REI has great options for this. Be sure to add extra blister care, bug spray, and sunscreen. If you have any essential meds, of course, don’t forget those!

(5) Shelter- tent, hammock, etc. Whatever you are most comfortable with. I suggest a lightweight tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

(6) Bring a head lamp for the night time.

(7) Pack food for your time camping and everything you will need to cook. A small, light stove, fuel, cooking utensils, bowls, cups, and general utensils will all be necessary. Fires are not allowed. If you have it, bring a rat sack. If you can’t get one, you can ask for a bucket from the rangers at the camp entrance in order to protect your food. Hanging it will not be enough. The squirrels will get it. There is also a restaurant in Supai.

(8) Bring extra clothing and anything you’d like to have on hand for swimming (swimsuit, hiking sandals like Keens and Tevas). Depending on the season, you might also need a jacket for the cooler nights/early mornings. 

Getting Your Havasupai Permit

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018


You must have a permit to explore Havasupai. All permits must be reserved and purchased online. The tribe asks that you DO NOT call them unless you have a customer service matter.

The first step to buying permits is registering an account on the Havasupai Reservation website. Do this before Feb 1st.

As of 2019, everyone is required to stay for 3 nights and four days. There are NO day hikes allowed in the canyon, and people will be checking.

Weekday nights are $100 per person, and weekend nights are $125 per person.

One name is required for the permits, and whoever’s name is on the permit will need to be present at Supai for check-in.

There are NO REFUNDS on permits.

Getting to the Trailhead

exploring havasupai

No matter where you are coming from, you will need to take the 66 to Indian Road 18. This is a little southeast of Peach Springs and north of Seligman after the Grand Canyon Caverns hotel (well-worth the stop if you like caves- not great formations, but just interesting). You will take Indian Road 18 all the way to its end. You won’t really be able to miss the trailhead. There will be tons of cars and the dry end of the canyon will be immediately apparent.

There are bathrooms at the trailhead.

The Hike to Havasupai

The hike down to Supai and the falls has four main sections in my mind. Overall, from the trailhead down to the campground is around 10 miles. It’s 8 miles to Supai and then 2 more miles to the campground. At all points, be aware of and listening for the horse trains that move up and down the trail. Best to keep out of their way as they can move quickly and there are people checking permits that ride through as well. [Please report to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribal government, and SAVE if you see instances of abuse.]

Down Into the Canyon
exploring havasupai

Hiking down into the canyon (c) ABR 2018

The first section is the steepest, and is the most difficult on the way out. You will descend down steep and dusty switchbacks all the way down to the canyon floor. At the top, there are some wonderful views of landscapes that you aren’t otherwise going to see. So it is a great spot to stop to take pictures before you get started. The switchbacks themselves aren’t particularly steep, but they will be a huff for most people on the way out. This can be extremely difficult for non-backpackers in the heat of the day when you are trying to leave. So plan accordingly. Also, when I say that this part of the trail is dusty, I mean it. There are parts where you will be sinking up to your ankles in the dust and it can be tiring to walk in.

exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

The second section is the longest stretch of the trail and will take you through the dry parts of the canyon. This is relatively flat, with some lost in altitude on the way in and some climbing out when you leave. Overall not particularly difficult except in its length. I personally think that this part of the trail is very lovely. There is a kind of desert desolation here. You will pass through short stretches without so much as a bush between the smooth, stone walls of the canyon. In other places, you will pass through patches of desert bushes and walk by impressively large trees rooted deep into the water running below ground.

Towards Supai
exploring havasupai

(c) ABR 2018

This part of the trail ends when the canyon opens up again, and you start to hear the blessed sounds of flowing water. The absolutely vibrant, green riparian forest will also come into view, beckoning you onwards. When you reach this point, you are very close to Supai. You will turn left (following a sign) into the woods. Here, in the shadow of the trees, the trail will follow along the brilliant, blue waters of the stream. Slowly, you will start to make out houses here and there, tucked away from the hustle of the trail.

exploring havasupai

Not the tourism office (c) ABR 2018

In Supai, you will need to stop at the tourism office to check in and get your wrist bands. This building will be easily apparent. There will be signs and it is in the most densely built up area of the town. Near here there are also restaurants, snack shops, and a gift shop!

exploring havasupai

On your way down, you can climb down to look at these falls (c) ABR 2018

After Supai, you will be on your final stretch. You will follow the trail out of town, and continue to follow the stream for two miles downhill. Before reaching camp, you will start to see some beautiful waterfalls. Havasu Falls will be before the campgrounds to the right of a sharp decent into the canyon on another very dusty part of the trail.

When you arrive in camp, you are allow to choose any open camping spot. 

Alternative Transportation and Accommodation Options

If you want to explore Havasupai, but have some issues hiking and/or camping, there are options for you.

If you are unable to hike to camp, there is the option of taking the helicopter in and out of the canyon. The flight is $85 each way (limit 20-40 lb backpack). You may end up needing to wait quite a while to catch a flight. So, if you decide to go this route, I would advise you to arrive very very early.

If you are not up for camping, you may also consider the Havasupai Lodge. Reservations open on June 1, 2019, and rooms go for $200 a night. They are described as accommodating up to four people, however, I have never personally stayed in one, so be sure to check out the website and see for yourself.

Campground Life

exploring havasupai

The spring in camp (c) ABR 2018

Camping sites are first come first served. There are bathrooms spread throughout, and a fresh water spring that you can safely drink from.

The squirrels at the campground WILL get your food if you don’t bring a rat sack or store everything in a ranger-provided bucket. Absolutely DO NOT store food in your tent or backpack (unattended). The last thing you need is a squirrel chewing through your gear.

Camp is also relatively close quarters, so be sure to be quiet and respectful of all your neighbors. Afterall, the quieter you are, the better you can hear the nearby stream flowing. 

Exploring the Falls

While there are several falls to be enjoyed, Havasu is the one that you will see most often. This is most easily accessible from camp, and is a great place to hang out at, picnic, and swim. Exploring Havasupai doesn’t stop at camp, however.

Mooney Falls
exploring havasupai

Mooney Falls (c) ABR 2018

If you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and not afraid of heights, Mooney Falls is a short hike past the campground and then down a cliff. While I am not afraid of heights (more than the average human being anyway), I find this climb to be a bit scary. You will first walk down through some narrow tunnels in the stone. Then you will start lowering yourself down from very slippery, slick chains, which lead to a ladder and more chains. The steeper the trail, the closer you are to the waterfall and everything is covered in at least a fine layer of water. Go slow and insure that you don’t have anything in your hands on the way.

exploring havasupai

Hiking down to Mooney (c) ABR 2018

Beaver Falls
exploring havasupai

Beaver Falls (c) ABR 2018

Beaver Falls is down the trail past Mooney about four miles (one direction). Even though you will be tired of hiking at this point (most likely), I would highly suggest continuing on as a day trip from camp. The trail itself crosses the stream several times. It passes through some amazingly beautiful stretches of forest and strange assemblages of desert plants. It is a beautiful trek. Beaver Falls, while not as high as Mooney or Havasupai, is really lovely and the perfect place for a swim. It is often slightly quieter than Mooney, although if you go in the high season, you won’t be able to escape the crowds. I’ve even heard rumors that people have been stuck waiting for an hour to get up or down those chains near Mooney.

If you want to learn more about what to explore in Arizona, be sure to check out Nightborn Travel’s guide to Arizona!

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