Be sure to bring plenty of water and wear sun protection!
Due to the winter rain, plenty of Arizona waterfalls are currently flowing at full force or close to it.
Although there are classic Arizona waterfall sites like Grand Falls, the Grand Canyon, Fossil Springs, Havasupai, and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, our Arizona hiking expert Mare Czinar and author of several Arizona hiking books (check out her hiking blog here) tells us that many of them are either currently closed or have restricted access. But don’t despair.
“Water is valuable here. Water is life,” says Czinar. “My hope, anyway, is that when people go and visit these places that are mostly spring fed, or ephemeral, fed by snow melts or monsoon rains, that they kind of get a clue of just how precious these waters are and how rare they are. And hopefully, you get a better appreciation for the preservation that’s necessary to preserve these sites.”
If you’re looking to see waterfalls in person before it gets too hot and they dry up, here are 10 Arizona waterfall hikes. Be sure to bring plenty of water, wear sun protection, and lace up your hiking boots soon—according to Czinar, waterfall hiking season ends around early May.
First, Second, Third Crossing and Water Wheel Falls
The name of Payson’s Water Wheel Falls says it all. Expect to come across a water wheel on this 1.6-mile out-and-back hike. The water roars past rocks on this trail. You can park at the Water Wheel parking lot to access that trail, but you also can park at the First Crossing lot if you’re up for a longer hike. Be sure to wear your swimsuit if you’d like to get in the water. Just avoid the water if it’s too forceful.
“It’s walk right up to the water, waterplay, waterfalls. It’s just a beautiful area, great for families,” says Czinar.
Czinar tells us that this hike is great for families as it’s relatively easy. She does caution that this area is prone to flash floods. Be sure to check the weather report before you head out. Sites fees are charged daily from April 1 to Oct. 31. Fees are not required from Nov. 1 to March 31. A Tonto Daily pass costs $8. Read more about the passes in the link.
Horton Creek Trail
Although a tough trek at just over 8 miles long with over 1,000 feet in elevation gain, Payson’s Horton Creek Trail pays off with a truly spectacular waterfall at Horton Springs.
“It gets you up to a beautiful, spring-fed waterfall that comes right out of the cliffs up underneath the rim,” says Czinar.
Fun fact: Acclaimed Western novelist Zane Grey and his guide Anderson Lee “Babe” Haught both traveled on this trail to access hunting areas, according to the Forest Service.
The roughly 8-mile plus Barnhardt Trail is another tough hiking trail (the total elevation gain is less than 2,000 feet) with stunning scenery as your reward for taking on the challenge.
“This is magnificent,” says Czinar. “Right from the beginning you get to waterfall after waterfall after waterfall, and it culminates with a slot canyon with a three-tiered waterfall that usually falls through April beginning of May.”
You’ll have to drive on a gravel road to access the trailhead, but you can reach it in a street car.
Camp Creek Falls via Blue Wash Trail
You can access Camp Creek Falls via the Blue Wash Trail. The trailhead is located just off North Cave Creek Road. The roughly 3.5-mile out-and-back trail in the Tonto National Forest is relatively flat and leads to a surprising waterfall.
“It leads to another little rocky grotto where water just cascades to about a 20-foot waterfall into a beautiful reflective pool. That’s right here in Phoenix. I mean, who knew, right?” Czinar says.
Massacre Grounds Trail to Massacre Falls
The Massacre Grounds Trail Is a roughly 6-mile, out-and-back trail and gains about 1,000 feet in elevation. The trail leads to a waterfall during certain times.
“To see these waterfalls, you have to catch it right after a rainstorm or during snowmelt. That’s an ephemeral one, but it’s very popular,” says Czinar.
Why the name? According to lore, gold is hidden somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. During one gold-finding expedition, a family was massacred by Apaches, which is where this trail takes its name from.
The 3-mile, out-and-back Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstition Wilderness eventually takes you into a canyon where you can find water. As an added bonus, this hike will likely be covered in wildflowers this time of year. Read more about wildflower hikes here.
Czinar says this trail “leads to a series of spring-fed tiered cascades, and there’s also petroglyphs along the rock face.”
If you’re up for a true adventure (you’ll have to backpack or start incredibly early as it will probably take all day to reach this waterfall), consider the Reavis Falls Trail. The 13-mile, out-and-back hike also features stunning vistas of the surrounding area.
If you decide to tackle this hike, a portion of SR-88 is closed to traffic. If you want to access the trailhead, you’ll have to drive to Globe and access the trail from there as opposed to driving from Apache Junction.
Bridal Wreath Falls Trail
Located in Saguaro National Park, the 5.6-mile, out-and-back trail leads to a waterfall. Expect an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. Follow the Douglas Spring Trail to reach this waterfall hike.
“You get to a steady rock face that dribbles a very smooth, I would say effervescent, kind of waterfall that ranges from a raging waterfall to a very trickling kind of a bridle wreath kind of waterfall,” says Czinar.
Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools
The 2.8-mile one-way Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools trek will take you up to “shallow catchments on canyon streams,” according to the Catalina State Park’s website. From the trailhead to the pools, expect an elevation gain of about 900 feet. The trail brings you to a series of carved-out rock pools that water cascades over.
This trail is accessed via Catalina State Park, which charges an admission fee of $7.
Photo credit: Arizona State Parks & Trails
Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve
Roughly 15 minutes from downtown Flagstaff, the Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve features plenty of Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and provides a riparian habitat for wildlife. Admission is free. Take the 3.7-mile Tom Moody loop trail to find the waterfall.
“It brings you to a canyon-bound gusher that channels part of what they call the Rio de Flag, which is a waterway that channels water off of the springs from the San Francisco Peaks,” says Czinar. “It’s just beautiful to look at.”
Best of all? It flows year-round.
Located about halfway between Williams and Flagstaff, the Keyhole Sink Trail—named because it’s shaped like a, you guessed it, keyhole—takes you to a box canyon. But there’s more to this 1.5-mile, out-and-back hike than just a waterfall. You also might spot wildflowers here, and this area is best known for an abundance of petroglyphs.
“After rain and after snow melt the waterfall drops over the vertical cliffs into a drop pool,” says Czinar. “Kids love it. It’s easy access.”
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