Location: Winkelman, Arizona
Length: 9.6 miles
Elevation: 649 feet
Cost: $11 per person, per day
(above stats gathered from AllTrails)
More about this hike at Aravaipa Canyon Trail...
Overall Difficulty: I would rate this as moderate. It's quite lengthy, the trail is challenging to follow, the sand is deep, and the rocks in the river are slippery.
Recommendation (on a scale of 1-5): I'm rating this at a modest 3 because, while it was beautiful, it didn't make my 'go back' list anytime soon.
Permit Info: Required - https://www.recretion.gov/permits/251864
4x4 Vehicle: Not necessary
Kid Friendly: Yes, but obviously not if you're planning on going 9.6 miles. And be careful of slippery rocks in the creek.
Dog Friendly: No
Cell Reception: No
Camping: Yes, highly encouraged. Max 2 nights.
More about my experience...
And what a tale to tell! First of all, I should say, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness has two entrances - West and East. You can hike from one trailhead to the other; however, that would be approximately 10 miles one-way. The hike listed in AllTrails as Aravaipa Canyon Trail begins at the West trailhead and brings you just under 5 miles in, then turns back around. I haven't quite been able to pinpoint why this hike just ends there, seeing as you could keep going all the way to the East trailhead. However, the hike I completed was the 9.6 miles one listed in AllTrails.
I secured a one-day permit about two weeks in advance, so be aware they only allow up to 30 permits a day. And weekends, of course, fill up fast. Most people choose to camp overnight – in fact, I didn't run into any other day hikers while I was there, only campers.
The drive from Phoenix was definitely a bit of a task. It took me about 2 hours and some change. It would have taken longer if I hadn't brought the Jeep because the last 10 (or a little fewer) miles are on dirt. Smooth enough to do in a sedan, but my low car would have been crawling. That said, the Jeep on the paved highway is absolutely painfully slow, so who knows – maybe the car would have been faster after all.
As I approached the parking lot for the West trailhead, I was stopped by the park ranger. She was a lovely woman who asked me to confirm my permit and was very happy to answer my annoying questions about the hike. So, be aware, they actually do check permits here. Don't show without one, or you just wasted all that drive time.
The hike begins with a winding path down to the water. From here, I made the mistake of trying to stay "on the trail." That's basically impossible to do, so just stick with walking through the creek – you won't hit as many dead ends.
It was refreshing to take a walk through the water, which wasn't too chilly at all. The sights were beautiful with large canyon walls, lush greenery, and even a unique mix of saguaros. I found this to be a lovely combination. It's rare to find the desert saguaros propped up next to the big green trees that line the more forest-like areas of Arizona.
As you walk through the twisting canyon, you'll be met with a lot of wildlife! I went in mid-May, and the number of bugs trying to attack my face and ankles was distracting, to say the least. I saw several herons, which were absolutely beautiful. On my way back to my vehicle, I also ran into at least seven javelinas. They were relatively small and did run away. Thankfully!
When I went, the water was fairly low – not that I have a previous visit to compare it. There were only a few spots where I could completely submerge myself underwater for a swim. Most of the time, the creek didn't get much above my ankles.
I completed the "full" 9.6 miles partly to say I did it, but mostly because I kept expecting something jaw-dropping around the next turn. But I really never seemed to have that moment. I think I raised my expectations a little too much for this one from the other photos I'd seen before going. Or, perhaps, I just didn't go at the right time of year or close enough to rainfall.
I'm curious to see what the East trailhead has to offer; however, I'm not all that eager to knock it off the list any time soon. I was already disappointed with the length of the drive versus the payoff of views. So, I think the extra nearly 2 additional hours it would take to drive to the East entrance doesn't exactly excite me.
That said, really not trying to diminish the absolute beauty of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. It's definitely one to see if you haven't been yet. And, it's under the radar as a bit of a hidden gem!