Originally Published: May 17, 2018 6 a.m.
Aravaipa Canyon is a linear oasis on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. It is a must-see destination for any serious Arizona hiker. It’s also on the edge of civilization. You’ll drive and hike past some homes as you wade into this Canyon on the west end. Here you will not only hear the sound of water constantly, you’ll feel it too, as you are almost always in it. Refreshing. Plan accordingly. Having the right footwear makes a big difference. I just had some sneakers, so I was constantly stopping to dump gravel out of my shoes.
In spite of the high temperatures common in June, Aravaipa Canyon remains a popular hiking destination. How do I know? The reservation system is in real time and you can go online and check to see if the dates you are interested in are available. If they are, you can purchase them online. It’s $5/day/person plus a $10 reservation fee. You don’t have to wait for weeks or months, as with many popular spots. I prefer hiking Aravaipa Canyon in the winter, but since you are almost always in water, many hikers hike Aravaipa year-round.
As with any narrow canyon, Aravaipa is prone to flooding. Therefore, the monsoon season is potentially hazardous. On my last hike, the evidence was everywhere. Trees down. Debris snagged high overhead in the branches of trees left standing. Flood events change the nature of the canyons they help to shape. So, as you hike along, look overhead for evidence of the last flood and consider, “How much water was flowing through here, 5 feet over my head, across the width of this Canyon?” Not the place to be at such a time as that.
Two trailheads are available. The distance between them is only about 15 miles through the Canyon. The drive around from one to the other will take most of the day. Both are far off the beaten path. The one on the east end is approached from near Safford. The entry on the west end is south of Winkleman, which is south of Superior (east of Phoenix). So, plan accordingly. Both trailheads are on private property, so camping is not permitted at either trailhead. Also, day use requires a permit just like any overnight trip. Water is the obvious attraction, and you might also be fortunate enough to see desert bighorn sheep.
I can’t say that I consider Aravaipa to be particularly scenic. It’s not a narrow slot canyon like West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon and the rocks are not colorful like Bryce Canyon. Yet, it offers an accessible wilderness trek with permanent water in the desert. That’s pretty special.
Now that we have been on this journey as writer and reader for one year, I thought I might create an index to the destinations and topics we’ve considered thus far. The most frequently mentioned destination was the Grand Canyon. Not a surprise. The most frequently mentioned topic was Robert and Martha Manning and their books “Walking Distance” and “Walks of a Lifetime.” What might we expect around the next bend in the trail? Good question. Once we consider a few more canyons, we’ll turn our attention to alpine summits. We are bound to find a few surprises along the way too, just like on any hike.
Next: West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.