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Arizona's Back country Hidden Hikes

Sample Arizona's Backcountry/Hidden Hikes

The state's backcountry is the perfect place for experienced hikers to expand their trail horizons.

Excerpts From Visit Arizona [admin@visitarizona.com]

The following adventures and lesser-known hiking gems range from moderate to difficult, but they share several qualities in common: getting away from the crowds and immersing yourself in the most diverse ecosystems, wildlife and scenic beauty that Arizona has to offer.

Note: Backcountry trails are, by definition, remote and isolated, often without services or access roads. Even trails categorized as "easy to moderate" require a higher than average level of hiking experience and preparation. In some cases, specialized equipment and vehicles may be necessary. Before you hit the trail, we strongly recommend you visit Appreciate AZ to brush up on Leave No Trace principles and important outdoors tips for experiencing Arizona's wildlands.

The Arizona Trail

The Arizona National Scenic Trail comprises 43 passages along 800 miles from the Arizona-Mexican border to the Arizona-Utah border. These two passages offer much in the way of back country exploration.

Passage 34 San Francisco Peaks

Nearest town: Flagstaff

Distance: 35.3 miles point-to-point

Difficulty level: Moderate

This trail skirts the southern and western flanks of the San Francisco Peaks, starting at Schultz Pass a few miles north of Flagstaff and terminating further north at Cedar Ranch. Along the route, hikers are treated to outstanding views of Agassiz and Humphreys Peaks (Arizona's two highest peaks) and the photogenic meadow around Bismarck Lake-with plenty of chances to spot elk, deer and other wildlife. This long trek is well suited to backpacking and camping, with water at Schultz Tank and Alfa Fia Tank, and sometimes at Kelly and East Cedar tanks (make sure to bring a purifier).

Passage 23 Mazatzal Divide

Nearest town: Payson

Distance: 24.3 miles point-to-point

Difficulty level: Moderate

The Mazatzals cut an imposing figure to the west as you drive along the Beeline Highway (Hwy 87), but the hike from the Mt. Peeley Trailhead to Red Hills Trail junction provides a solitary wilderness experience far from the hum of tires. Much of the trail tracks along the ridgeline, offering spectacular views both east and west. Brody Seep junction, where Chilson Camp can be found, is one of the recommended areas to set up for the night. Water, which must be purified, can generally be found at Bear Spring, Chilson Spring, Horse Camp Seep and Hopi Spring.

Kelsey-Dorsey Loop

Nearest town: Flagstaff

Distance: 7.3-mile loop

Difficulty level: Moderate

The adventure starts with the drive to the trailhead-about 21 miles of rugged road from the turnoff from Route 66 onto Forest Road 231-and it's best navigated with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The benefit, of course, is that the jostling ride keeps traffic to a minimum, leaving you in peace to enjoy the panoramic vistas (particularly of Sycamore Canyon), lush vegetation, natural springs and wildlife. If you're not doing a day hike, the camping area near Dorsey Spring offers an outstanding option for sleeping under the stars.

Hell's Gate Trail

Nearest town: Payson

Distance: 14.5 miles round-trip

Difficulty level: Strenuous

Twelve miles east of town, this trail descends from the pine forest into a gorgeous canyon where Tonto Creek flows into Haigler Creek. The hike in has some ups and downs, prior to a final stretch that drops 1,800 feet in 2.5 miles - and you can anticipate taking almost twice as much time and stamina to climb back out. If anything, it's an excuse to spend a night in the canyon, enjoy the swimming hole and bring your gear to fish for trout. Be forewarned that summer weekends will be busy. The creek water is potable if filtered.

More Information

For more adventures and information, see Visit Arizona [admin@visitarizona.com].


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