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Aravaipa Canyon | A Stunning Canyon Hike In Arizona

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is a rugged but beautiful area right in the middle of Arizona.  The area is best know for the Aravaipa river that flows year-round.  The scenery of this remote area is very stunning.

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area

The canyon is surrounded by craggy, cactus-filled mountains, and the lush canyon floor is home to all kinds of plants and animals.  The winding 12-mile canyon is a popular hiking and backpacking destination for adventure seekers.  There are no maintained trails, and the majority of the time you must hike in the river.  So prepare to have soggy feet.  But for those willing to hike this untamed wilderness, it’s a rewarding experience.

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Permits For Aravaipa Canyon

Only 50 people per day are allowed in the canyon.  Permits must be reserved in advance online, and then printed for your vehicle and in-person.  Permits can be secured up to 3 months in advance of the date.

The cost is $5 per person, per day. (plus a single $6 reservation fee)

Get Permits Here.

The canyon can be accessed via an East Or West access.  Per day, there are 20 permits from the East Trailhead, and 30 permits from the West Trailhead.

Accessing The Aravaipa Canyon Trailheads

West Trailhead

Most people prefer the west trailhead because it is closer to the more populous regions of Arizona (Phoenix, Tucson, etc).  The road is also better maintained.  It still however requires driving 9 miles of dirt road to reach the trailhead.  A 2wd vehicle will be capable of reaching the trailhead under normal conditions.

East Trailhead

The East Trailhead is much more remote and requires driving a 46-mile dirt road.  The road has numerous creek crossings with no bridges. High-clearance 4×4 vehicles are required for making this drive.  This area is also subject to frequent flash flooding that makes the road impassable.

Hiking From Aravaipa Canyon West Trailhead

River Crossing in Aravaipa Canyon

From the West Trailhead, it’s a short trail down to the river.  Depending on the water level, you can usually hike along the left side of the riverbank for the first ¼ mile or so.  The vegetation eventually closes in and forces hikers into the river.  From that point on, there are occasional trails parallel to the river, but it’s mostly just walking right in the river.

You can try to fight the dense vegetation for a while.  But for the preservation of the vegetation, hikers are urged to just stick to the river or sandy/rocky areas directly adjacent.

Aravaipa Canyon

The canyon starts pretty wide but quickly begins to narrow with tall rocky walls.  The scenery in the canyon is beautiful with lush vegetation surrounding the river.  This is in contrast to the arid desert land above the canyon.  In the fall, the colors in the canyon pop and add even extra beauty.

Aravaipa Canyon

Hiking From Aravaipa Canyon East Trailhead

Starting the hike from the East Trailhead offers a similar experience.  The trail begins wide open, but quickly descends into the narrowing canyon.  Due to less permits, and a less accessible trailhead the East Trailhead probably offers even more solitude than the West Trailhead.

The East Trailhead is much closer to Deer Creek (AKA Hell Hole), one of the most interesting side canyons to explore.  It’s about 4 miles from the East trailhead.

Hiking Distance and Route Options

Aravaipa Canyon

Hiking in Aravaipa Canyon may be anywhere from a day hike of several hours up to the maximum 3 day (2 night) backpacking trip.

The distance between the West and East trailhead is 12.5 miles, but you may make the hike as long or short as you would like.  No matter which side you choose, I would recommend going at least 4 miles in to get a good dose of the deeper parts of the canyon.

Doing the entire canyon would require at least an overnight because its over 24 miles to go from trailhead to trailhead and back again.

And there are numerous opportunities for exploring side canyons.  It would take more than 3 days to possibly explore it all, so check maps beforehand and make a plan for what you hope to accomplish.

Aravaipa Canyon waterfall off the side of the trail
This waterfall off the side of the trail

The only thing we explored off the trail was this waterfall and pool.  My best guess is that it’s about 2.7 miles from the West Trailhead on the right side of the trail.  The sound of rushing water alerted us to this cool spot.  Who knows what other treasure’s are hidden in this beautiful natural labyrinth.

River Conditions And Flash Flooding

Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa Canyon is prone to flash flooding, so please use the following resources to check conditions before you hike.

Weather Forecast

Flow Data

And reference the bottom section of this webpage for more important safety information.

The numerous trail crossings and sections completely in the river will slow down even the most experienced hikers.  So plan on a slower pace than hiking on a solid, dry trail.

I recommend wearing footwear with good traction.  Either socks and river hiking shoes/boots, or an adventure type sandal like Chacos.  But either way, plan on getting your feet completely soaked.  Depending on the water level you may even get wet up to your waist.  If backpacking, it would be smart to have extra pairs of socks and a dry pair of footwear for camping.

Bear and Javelina Country

Aravaipa Canyon has black bears and javelina (wild boars), both of which are known for approaching humans for food.  Never leave gear with food or cooking supplies unattended in the canyon.  If you are overnight camping you should have an approved bear-proof container. I wouldn’t count on being able to find a suitable tree for a bear hang in the canyon.

Takeaway | Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa Canyon is one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Arizona.  However, don’t expect a perfect trail to guide you through this rugged area.  Visitors should be prepared for un-maintained wilderness experience, that includes unpredictable conditions.  Be prepared for walking through the river for miles and route-finding to navigate this beautiful place.

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