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Tue, Nov. 12

Johnson: Good first Arizona hikes for visitors or newcomers

The High Line Trail along the base of the Mogollon Rim north of Payson would be a good choice for a first hike in Arizona. (Courtesy)

The High Line Trail along the base of the Mogollon Rim north of Payson would be a good choice for a first hike in Arizona. (Courtesy)

My friend’s grandkids are visiting her from Wisconsin the third week of March and they’d like to hike in Arizona for three days. Any recommendations as to where they should start? They have never been to Arizona, as far as I know. The only other thing I know is that the selected site should not be too far from their grandparents’ home in Yavapai County in the event a rescue is in the works. You never know, right?

I don’t know if they would prefer to hike in a familiar environment, like a forest or a so-called signature site, such as the Grand Canyon. The latter offers contrast in the form of a hike with a distinctly Arizona flavor. The former would be more recognizable. I think familiarity would be more enjoyable, hence a better introduction to hiking in Arizona for people new to the area.

Additionally, sites like the Grand Canyon, including Havasupai, may be difficult to secure a reservation, while places like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Superstition Wilderness may be uncomfortably warm, which could also be an issue with the Grand Canyon.

Timing is critical. March is a time of transition. It could be over 100 degrees in the desert. Yet, it could also be snow-packed above 7,000 feet. It will surely be windy. Since they plan on hiking for three days, surface water is essential, at least for hikers from wetter climes.

The High Line Trail along the base of the Mogollon Rim north of Payson comes to mind first. It varies in elevation between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, hence access should not be an issue. The trail is relatively well-marked and easy to follow, though quite rocky in spots. Surface water is frequently found in small streams crossing the trail.

Secondly, Sycamore Canyon, south of Flagstaff would be excellent. However, access could be a problem. Checking with the Forest Service would be necessary to make sure you could get to the trailhead for Dorsey Spring. The elevation of this hike ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 feet. The views are spectacular. You could set up a base camp at Dorsey Spring and explore areas of the canyon without carrying all your gear.

Thirdly, going back to the Mogollon Rim, the Cabin Loop Trail is most worthwhile. It includes a short section of the Arizona Trail. There are several small streams to be crossed, providing a wide variety of camping possibilities. Route finding could be tricky, though and access might be a challenge depending on snow cover. This is a 25-mile loop, ranging in elevation from 6,700 to 7,700 feet.

Fourth, West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon would provide a mesic site, yet offer a stark contrast to the more gentle terrain in the Midwest. Access from Oak Creek Canyon should be easy enough, but there are fees and other restrictions. For example, camping begins at the 6-mile mark. This is a linear route, so it’s not a matter of hiking a great distance, but hiking through an incredible slot canyon where getting wet would be a guarantee. In fact, water levels could be problematic depending on snow melt runoff. Checking with the Forest Service ahead of time, would be smart.

Arizona offers innumerable hiking possibilities any time of year for hikers of all abilities and interests. What’s your recommendation?

Next: Hiking the Guindani Trail Out of Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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