For a majestic wilderness canyon experience in Arizona without the hoards of people of Sedona or the Grand Canyon, look no farther than Aravaipa Canyon. 

Welcome to the beauty of wilderness and serenity! Within the boundaries of Aravaipa Canyon, you will not find any designated trails, campsites, or facilities. This canyon is one of Arizona’s hidden gems, and it is not mentioned in many travel books or in international travel magazines – yet. The terrain is rugged so hikers should be in good condition to pass through dense, diverse vegetation of cacti, cottonwood, maples, reeds, sycamore and willow trees. From the west trailhead (2630′), hikers gain a gradual 430′ elevation over uneven, partly slippery terrain for about 11 miles to the east trailhead (3060′) - assuming you go the entire distance, which is only advisable if you are camping (not for day-use). No matter whether you plan to visit Aravaipa Canyon on a day trip or whether you choose to have some extended fun on a weekend backpacking trip, you will need a permit. You can buy them as early as 13 weeks in advance at www.recreation.gov. Get a permit as early as possible, especially for an over-nighter on the weekends because the number of daily visitors is limited, and permits will be fully committed quickly, particularly in peak season (autumn).

The 19,410-acre Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is located about 120 miles southeast of Phoenix, in Pinal and Graham counties. Once you get close to Aravaipa, cell phone reception becomes spotty, and it is non-existent in the Canyon – the phone companies still have some work to do!

After you turn onto East Aravaipa Road, it is a 9 mile drive to the Brandenburg Ranger Station West and Campsite. After you get to the one-lane bridge, you’re only 2 miles from the trailhead. The pin on the below map marks the location of the trailhead parking area. Expect a 12-mile drive from highway 77 to the trailhead parking area, of which 8 miles is dirt road. 

After about 10 minutes of hiking through some of the harsher elements of the desert from the trailhead, the tranquility of Aravaipa Creek and a canyon oasis will greet you. You can walk in the stream or on the footpaths alongside of it, take breaks and setup camp as you find opportunity. There is no way to get around walking through the creek at some point (you must get wet!). The pathways along the stream are lined with reeds and tall trees, which makes this an idyllic experience. Don’t forget that these are not maintained trails – which makes everything just a bit more adventurous!

When traversing the canyon, you may notice that a diverse group of people use this almost sanctuary-like location, including day hikers, campers, people meditating with drums/chimes, fathers and sons camping out by the creek, and photographers capturing the beauty of the autumn foliage. There were even a couple of birdwatchers observing the menagerie in this Sonoran Desert jewel. I encountered some hikers that were bushwhacking just to get through (they clearly were not familiar with Leave No Trace). This is actually not necessary, and if you find yourself needing to, you haven’t been keeping your eyes open for the informal trails and paths of least resistance.

For a day trip, I recommend an 8-mile or so round trip without trying to explore any of the side canyons. If you have more time, especially if you want to spend a night or two in this serene nature, you can explore Virgin Canyon, or Horse Camp Canyon with its steep walls and stunning little waterfall. Climbing up towards the spring requires some skill, but it’s doable (BE CAREFUL!!!). Beware of dead, dry plants and loose rocks, which may make you slip.

For more detailed information, check out this post

Pack List

  • Bring plenty of food and water (no water available at the trailhead)
  • Water shoes (Chacos, etc.) are strongly recommended, though be prepared for the water temperature to be a bit refreshing if you are present in the Autumn 
  • Camera and tripod if you want to capture idyllic shots of this unspoiled canyon!
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RT Distance 8 Miles
Elevation Gain 200 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Photography, Yoga, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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