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Arizona is a desirable destination for worldwide travelers and for good reason- our mountains and vistas are breathtakingly beautiful and provide some of the most unique landscapes in which to enjoy nature.
Having lived in Arizona my entire life, I’ve been lucky to have the higher elevation mountains only a two hour drive away from my home, perfect for escaping the summer heat. Even the desert mountains nearby provide easy access for a morning trail run or hike when the weather is more favorable.
All of these mountains should be on your Arizona adventure bucket list, for each is special in its own way and will certainly give you the memorable adventure you’re searching for.
1. Humphrey’s Peak
The highest point in Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak stands at a soaring 12,637 feet elevation with the city of Flagstaff nestled in its shadow. This mountain is accessible year-round for a variety of outdoor sports and activities.
In the winter, enjoy the slopes on skis or a snowboard. Arizona Snowbowl resort is constantly improving and updating their ski lifts and terrain, and just recently added a high-speed gondola, the first of its kind in Arizona.
The remaining seasons are where Humphrey’s Peak really shows off. In spring, the wildflowers are incredibly colorful and plentiful. In summer, the afternoon monsoon storms can create some truly spectacular lightning shows. The fall colors, primarily the golden aspens, are a popular tourist attraction in several areas on and around Humphrey’s Peak.
There are two trails that will take you to the summit of Arizona’s tallest mountain. The more popular Humphrey Summit Trail starts at Snowbowl Resort, and the longer but still scenic Inner Basin trail connects to another route to the summit from inside the ancient volcanic caldera.
Humphrey’s Peak is an immensely attractive destination for people visiting from out of state, and also the go-to adventure spot for many Arizonans due to its variety of terrain and activities available.
Camping is dispersed on the southern and northern sides of the peak; for a more comfortable stay, opt for a hotel in nearby Flagstaff where you will find excellent restaurants and a bustling downtown scene.
2. Mount Baldy
Located in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, the alpine meadows and towering rock formations of Mount Baldy makes this a worthwhile destination for any adventurer.
The peak itself is off-limits to most hikers, as it is located on White Mountain Apache tribal land and is sacred to the people there. However, there are two main trails (East Baldy and West Baldy) that meet near the top, making a longer loop perfect for a day hike.
The trees and other vegetation is different from almost anywhere else in Arizona; the elevation hosts an alpine ecosystem, including Douglas fir, aspens, and spruce trees. In the autumn months, the aspens dance in the cool breeze with golden leaves.
In the areas surrounding Mount Baldy, there are many open camping sites as well as nearby Big Lake, which is popular for trout fishing and kayaking. Elk, deer, and black bears freely roam the White Mountains around Mount Baldy, making this a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
3. Superstition Mountains
Named for the mysterious folklore that surrounds the history of these mountains, “The Supes” as they are lovingly called by locals is a wild desert landscape with miles of hiking trails. The iconic ridgeline is visible from most of the East Phoenix Valley, and in the evening light one is reminded of the lyrics “purple mountains majesty”.
There are several hiking trails that are popular in the Superstition Mountains. Flatiron is one of the most difficult ones, climbing 2,600 feet in just under 3 miles; the views at the end are more than worth the climb. Peralta Trail is another favorite, giving hikers a look at Weaver’s Needle, a rock formation that towers up to 1,000 feet above the valley floor.
The ruggedness of these mountains cannot be overstated, and don’t be fooled by their proximity to the city. Summer temperatures can soar to 110+ degrees F, and the sun can be relentless even on a cool day. Always bring plenty of water when you are venturing into the Superstition Mountains, as running water is rare here.
For classic desert hiking and camping, the Superstitions have plenty to offer.
4. Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain rises up dramatically out of the city, sandwiched between Scottsdale and Phoenix. It is quite the trendy hike for anyone visiting the valley, making parking scarce on busy days. Don’t underestimate this mountain- it’s a doozy of a climb.
Starting from the Echo Canyon side, this trail gets your heart pumping quickly as you climb over 1,400 feet in just one mile! Take plenty of water and definitely avoid doing this hike during the hottest days of summer, as it is completely exposed to the sun. Night hiking is not allowed due to the dangerous nature of this trail; people have fallen off the rocky outcroppings on Camelback.
From the Cholla Trail side, you get similar trail conditions with a little bit less elevation change, but still just as difficult. The proximity of this mountain to the city below makes people more likely to hike beyond their abilities- mountain rescues are not uncommon here (and very expensive for the rescued party!).
For views of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, and other cities in the region, Camelback Mountain is a top destination. Try doing this hike before sunrise for that Instagram-worthy moment when the sun peeks over the horizon.
5. Cathedral Mountain
Located in the red rocks of Sedona, Cathedral Mountain towers over the other mountains and cliffs in the area. Its iconic silhouette can be seen from most areas in Sedona. The hike to the “top” actually takes you to a saddle between the two huge red spires of rock. Getting to the true top of Cathedral Mountain is impossible given its sheer cliff faces.
The hike itself is fairly easy and actually kind of fun; hopping up the red rocks and shimmying up a narrow fissure in the rock face (perfectly safe for any age) makes you feel like a kid again! The trail can be easy to lose at some parts, so be sure to be on the lookout for the rock cairns to guide your way.
Once at the saddle, a sign will tell you “end of trail”. Over to the right, there’s a long natural platform on the cliff face that you can walk out on to get the perfect photo to commemorate your hike. The views from here are fantastic, so be sure to take your time and relax in the shade created by the two rock spires.
Be sure to get there early or try to hike during the off season, as parking fills up quickly. In nearby Sedona, there are plenty of touristy gift shops and restaurants to finish off a day of hiking and adventuring.
6. Red Mountain
While you cannot hike Red Mountain itself (it sits on tribal land and is protected for its sacred nature), I include it on this list due to its iconic ridgeline and for all the many adventures to be found in the vicinity.
The Salt River runs near Red Mountain, and is popular for paddle boarding, tubing, kayaking, and fishing. You can make a full day trip on the river depending on where you start and finish. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at any of the recreational areas along the river.
There is a whole series of hiking trails across the river and highway from Red Mountain, and several of these trails give you a perfect vantage point to take in the beauty of this famous edifice. The mountain glows even more red than seems possible at sunset.
The trails are also popular for mountain biking and horseback riding. The Hawes Trail System is always being improved upon and added to, making this an increasingly busy recreational area.
Nearby Usery Park also offers plenty of opportunities for long hikes in the rugged desert landscape.
7. Mount Lemmon
Mount Lemmon towers over nearby Tucson, Arizona, stands at an elevation of 9,157 feet, and is considered a “sky island” since it starts in the desert and rises to the pines. Even though it is surrounded by desert, Mount Lemmon can get up to 180 inches of snow every winter!
Multiple hiking trails offer views for miles. The Lemmon Lookout Trail will take you up to a fire lookout, and a side trip winds through the “wilderness of rocks”, a group of interesting rock formations. The Meadow Trail is a great choice during wildflower season. Test your hiking skills on the 8-mile Mount Lemmon Loop.
There is even a ski resort on Mount Lemmon, featuring sky rides in the summer and skiing on 21 runs in the winter; Ski Valley Resort is the southernmost ski destination in the United States. There are also restaurants and a gift shop, making this a great option for a day trip up to the pines.
8. Four Peaks
The familiar outline of Four Peaks is visible from the east Phoenix valley, and is actually the highest point in Maricopa County. Rising up to a height of 7,659 feet, the northernmost peak of the four points on this mountain is called Brown’s Peak and is the one most frequently summitted.
The other peaks are accessible by what’s called “the traverse” but it should only be attempted by experienced hikers or climbers. There’s no trail, only rocky outcroppings requiring minor bouldering skills. The road to the trailhead is 18 miles of rough dirt road, so high clearance vehicles are recommended.
Four Peaks is frequently covered in snow during the winter season, and becomes more picturesque than ever when it glows bright in the sunset. After a big snowstorm, photographers flock to the area to capture the iconic peaks in their winter scene.
9. Piestewa Peak
Another popular Phoenix area hike, Piestewa Peak is named in honor of the Native American woman Lori Ann Piestewa. This mountain is second only to Camelback Mountain for height among the Phoenix Mountains peaks.
The hike itself is fairly difficult, requiring almost 1,200 feet of climbing with a 2.1 mile round trip. Like most Arizona desert hikes, the entire trail is exposed to the elements and the brutal summer sun makes this hike a better choice for winter and cloudy days.
There are other trails within the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, allowing trail runners and more experienced hikers to link trails together for longer excursions. The views from the summit of Piestewa Peak include nearby Camelback Mountain, the surrounding city lights, and the McDowell Mountains to the east.
The summit trail is open until 11 pm, making this a fantastic sunset hike option and the city lights add a magical touch.
10. Mingus Mountain
Mingus Mountain is unique in that it is one of the few places in Arizona where paragliding and hang gliding are allowed. You must be a current member of the Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association to use their launch pad, but you can always enjoy watching the gliders flying overhead from below.
Located outside Prescott, this Mingus Mountain has many different activities available for all ages and abilities. Enjoy the sparkling night sky on a camping trip, or escape the heat with a hike into the pines. For the more adventurous types, there’s 14+ trails that allow mountain biking.
Mingus Lake is stocked with fish, and it also allows swimming to cool off from those hot summer days. The town of Jerome is nearby; it’s a quaint little mountain town that is a popular destination for those who enjoy local art and Arizona history, and is technically the largest “ghost town” in the country.
Mingus Mountain is perfect for those who want to avoid the more crowded trails and campsites near Prescott and Sedona, and is close enough to the Phoenix valley for a day trip.
11. Chiricahua Peak
Located within the Chiricahua National Monument, Chiricahua Peak is another one of Arizona’s “sky islands”, or a peak that has more than 5,000 feet of prominence from the foothills to the top.
This mountain and the surrounding national monument are known for the incredible rock formations- stacks and spires of spindly towers called hoodoos that were created by an ancient volcanic eruption.
The trail to the top of Chiricahua Peak is an offshoot from a larger loop that carries you through the heart of the monument. The loop itself is around 13.5 miles with over 4,000 feet of climbing, so come well prepared. There is a shorter (8.6 miles) route that is an out and back, but you would miss some of the unique hoodoos on this route.
There are other shorter hikes in Chiricahua National Monument, making this a great option for all ages and abilities for a weekend adventure. The Bonita Canyon Campground is by reservation only, and would make a great base camp for a weekend of day hikes.
The hoodoos of Chiricahua make this a desirable destination for geology enthusiasts, and the challenging climb to the peak would be a bucket list hike for any adventurer.
12. Thompson Peak
Located in the McDowell Mountains near the retirement town of Fountain Hills, the climb to Thompson Peak is a challenge for any experienced hiker. The “trail” actually turns into a paved road that leads up to the radio towers at the top, but it reaches an incredible incline of almost 50% at some points!
For the first 3.5 miles, there is a gradual climb through the cholla and other desert flora, before turning into a hands-on-the-knees grind up the last mile, climbing over 2,000 feet overall. The whole trail is exposed to the relentless sun (just like most Arizona desert hikes!) so be sure you are prepared physically, and with plenty of water.
Once at the top, pat yourself on the back for conquering that climb, and take a good rest before heading back down- that steep decline can be hard on the knees!
If the climb to Thompson Peak is a little out of your comfort zone, there are many other trails within McDowell Mountain Regional Park with varying distances and difficulty levels. The areas around Thompson Peak are especially beautiful in the spring, when wildflowers and green grasses can be plentiful.
Frequently Asked Questions
Arizona is one of the more exciting states for travelers in the southwest for its diversity of ecological areas, from scalding deserts to lush alpine forests and everything in between. It’s no wonder that Arizona is increasingly becoming more popular for tourists, hikers, and RVers; there’s an adventure to be found for anyone who wants it.
Arizona’s mountains provide the perfect escape from the heat in the summer months, and even the desert mountains can be incredibly beautiful in the cooler seasons. Any of the mountains from this list would give you a memorable and classic Arizona experience.
For more outdoors adventures check out our list of the best hiking trails in Arizona as well as our guide about the state’s National Parks and Monuments, and if you want to cool off during the hot summer we have listed the best swimming holes, the best beaches, and the best waterfalls in Arizona.
Alicia is a trail runner, hiker, ultra-marathoner, and adventurer. She previously worked as a physical therapist assistant for 8 years, and now works as a travel writer while being a stay-at-home mom to her little girl. Alicia is a native Arizonan going back 4 generations and has also lived in Utah and Montana. She is happiest in the mountains with her family, running long miles on trails, and bagging peaks with her baby in tow. Alicia currently resides with her husband, baby, and chocolate lab Maggie in Mesa, Arizona.