As a prime example of the Southwest's desert country, narrow and twisting Aravaipa Canyon has few if any equals. It is a stretch of incredible scenic wonder, filled with biological treasures that have attracted enough human traffic to make overuse a problem since the 1960s. Aravaipa Creek, shaded by cottonwoods, has cut a trough up to 1,000 feet deep in the Galiuro Mountains, and the canyon walls are wondrously carved and painted in subtle sandy colors. The creek runs year-round from springs, seeps, and tributary streams, and along the water grows one of the lushest riparian habitats in southern Arizona. The main canyon's length is about 11 miles, and the Wilderness extends well beyond it to include surrounding tablelands and nine side canyons. Seven species of native desert trout may be found here, along with desert bighorn sheep, an extensive variety of large and small mammals and reptiles, and at least 238 species of birds. Caves and ledges provide habitat for 12 known species of bats. Solitude may be difficult to find in Aravaipa, and without an advance reservation you may not find yourself here at all. The attention is well deserved since you'll find few places in the state where canyon hiking is as spectacular. Although no trails are marked, a route follows a well-used path along the canyon, crossing through the creek several times. Most people rate the hiking as easy. The canyon grows so narrow in places that wading in the creek is the only option. Be prepared to encounter lightning storms, flash floods, and poisonous snakes, insects, and plants. Even though the high walls and water keep the canyon floor more humid than the surrounding desert, the summer heat can be extreme.
A permit is required for access to the canyon, and you will be entering the creek multiple times, so wear appropriate shoes. It gets colder in the canyon than the forecast for local towns, so plan accordingly. The canyon gets increasingly beautiful the further you hike, so I would recommend a 3-day backpacking trip. On day 1, hike in about 7 miles and set up camp. On day 2, leave your camp up and grab some snacks and a water filter for a day hike to the end of the canyon and back (8 miles). On the day 3, break down camp and head back out.
Sarah M. on Aravaipa Canyon Trail
One of my favorite hikes
Beautiful area tucked away from everything! We were there on one of those lucky days when it was raining so the canyon was full and the waterfalls were all flowing. Great place fairly close to Phoenix, super backpacking and camping, we will be going back. The sign says they don't allow dogs kind of a bummer.