These trips of a lifetime will challenge you physically and engross you spiritually, leaving an unforgettable and enduring impression of the richest wild places on the planet. The southwest contains literally thousands of amazing hikes. Therefore, we decided to separate the wheat from the chaff and give you the absolute cream of the crop. We rounded up 7 of the grandest adventures in the southwest, treks we have experienced firsthand.
As you immerse yourself in this landscape, you will understand why hiking in the southwest should be on every adventurer’s travel bucket list.Experiencing it fully isn’t just about putting one foot in front of another; it’s about stepping into the geology, history and stupendous scenery of canyon country.
#1) Buckskin Gulch 31 miles, 4 days
Trekking Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon is about walking down narrow gorges; places where sunlight seldom enters, obscured from even the most intrepid of hikers. When you journey down these two canyons you enter the sublime. The Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness beckons adventurers who hanker for solitude, scenic glory and the chance to explore some of the most majestic canyons in the world. Serpentine red rock walls are streaked with desert varnish and canyons are so narrow in places that the sky is reduced to a narrow ribbon of blue.
Words cannot describe the rock walls, amphitheaters and labyrinth shadowed hallways. Navajo Sandstone cliffs tower 1,500 feet overhead. While hiking Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world, you will start to see
water seeping from canyon walls. Shortly thereafter you come to the Paria River. At this point, your “trail” will continue down the Paria River. You will notice springs, old homestead relics and a side canyon which features Wrather Arch, a cave type natural arch measuring 165 feet in height and 250 feet across. National Geographic once wrote “the Taj Mahal would fit comfortably into the arch.”
On your last day trekking Paria Canyon, impressive panels of Anasazi petroglyphs are located along the stream course. Before long you will reach Lee’s Ferry and the storied Colorado River, culminating an unforgettable canyon country adventure.
Turn up your speakers and enjoy Seven Awesome Canyons of the Southwest.
Best time to go? March to May and September to November
Extra Credit: Explore the Wave and Coyote Buttes and take in unearthly, multi-colored sandstone beauty, scene by few people.
How challenging is it? Moderate hiking involving frequent creek crossings.
#2) Grand Canyon - Deer Creek/Kanab Creek Loop 55 miles, 8 days
Best time to go? May and June, September and October
How challenging is it? Moderate hiking including numerous stream crossings.
Extra Credit: The Zion Subway
#5) Coyote Gulch 25 miles, 4 days
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” Edward Abbey, the famed western writer and fiery environmentalist, elegantly summed up the canyon country in this iconic quote. And Coyote Gulch, located on the fringes of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, is a prime example of the canyonlands at their best.
Coyote Gulch is a dramatic side canyon of the Escalante River, said to be the last river to be discovered in the continental United States. It is reminiscent of what the old Glen Canyon used to be before it was flooded by Lake Powell in the 1950’s. Check out Mitch's full article on backpacking Coyote Gulch.
For prime vistas, we recommend you access the canyon via Crack in the Wall, south of U.S. 12, off Hole in the Rock Road. Turn left at Forty Mile Ridge Road and follow it for 4.3 miles to the trailhead.
After an easy two miles, you will reach the rim of the canyon. The Crack in the wall is a narrow slot sliced through sandstone, just wide enough for hikers to squeeze through unencumbered by packs. Backpacks can be lowered down a 30-foot cliff utilizing ropes. Once at the canyon bottom, exhilarating views of gargantuan red rock formations and Stevens Arch in the distance will open up. Of all the hikes in the southwest, this stretch of trail may be the most impressive of all.
To complete an amazing three or four-day backpacking loop, hike up Coyote Gulch and exit at Hurricane Wash. You will take in natural arches and bridges, numerous springs and hanging gardens, huge sandstone amphitheaters, luxuriant vegetation and the cascading Coyote Creek, cutting through the Navajo and Kayenta Formations.
Ed Doran, a talented photography and hiking enthusiast, describes Coyote Gulch, “Magical rock formations, geologic wonders full of color, texture, and spellbinding beauty inhabit the area. One becomes acutely aware of how small and insignificant we are against the backdrop and solitude of the area. Endless slot canyons and crevices beckon you, each with its own unique perspective and hidden secrets." Check out Ed’s excellent narrative and photography.
Turn up your speakers and enjoy “Walkingin a Dream“ a five-minute cyber journey showcasing the sublimity of Coyote Gulch and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Best time to go"? March - May, September - November
How challenging it is? Moderate backpacking through the creek
Extra credit: Spooky & PeekaBoo slot canyons
#6) Stillwater Canyon, Canyonlands National park 40 miles, 6 days
One of our favorite places is Stillwater Canyon at Canyonlands National Park. A float trip down the Green River is one of the premier adventures of the West. Although this isn’t a backpacking trek, there are many great hiking opportunities along the Green River. Soaring rock formations, intriguing side drainages, old pioneer relics, Anasazi ruins, rock art and crystalline air add to the allure.
At the confluence, the Green River, which originates in Wyoming meets the Colorado River, born in the snows of the Rockies, The Colorado engulfs the Green and then goes on to chisel some of the most awesome canyons in North America, Cataract Canyon, Glen Canyon and The Grand Canyon.
Stillwater canyon is a place to savor such scenery. Besides observing varied riverside panoramas, by taking a hike at any of the side canyons you will begin to grasp the essence of this place.
Consider Water Canyon. As you walk up this canyon, you will eventually top out at the rim overlooking the Maze. You will gaze at windows, arches and the geologic layer cake characteristic of the Colorado Plateau. The Maze was one of Edward Abbey’s favorite haunts in fact. Glimpses of red rock spires, twisting canyons and snowcapped mountains are unforgettable. Water Canyon is just one of the many attractions of the Green River, one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever experience.
Turn up your speakers and enjoy "The Journey".
Best time to go? April and May, September and October
How challenging is it? An easy float trip down the Green River
Extra credit: Delicate Arch
#7) Arizona’s Galiuro Mountains, The Place Time Has Forgotten 32 miles, 4 days
Not many hikers people venture into Arizona’s amazing Galiuro Wilderness, one of the best kept secrets in the southwest. Early pioneers vanished, leaving many of their belongings behind. This superb 4-day adventure will start out at beautiful Ash Creek, resplendent in the fall with fiery maples which sport riotous colors.
The Galiuro Mountains rise to over 7,500 feet, comprising one of the dozens of Sky Island mountain ranges in the western U.S. Giant saguaro cactus and other Sonoran Desert vegetation surround the mountains while huge Arizona cypress trees, sycamores, maples and cottonwoods flank riparian areas. The high-country encompasses stands of ponderosa pines, Douglas Firs and Quaking Aspens. You will visit these life zones and more.
Your hike will span not only Ash Creek but Rattlesnake Canyon, one of two main drainages in the Galiuro Mountains including Redfield Canyon. If you are lucky you might see a jaguar, a few have been spotted roaming southern Arizona’s mountains. Mountain lions, bighorn sheep, mule deer and coatimundi also make their home here.
Active volcanos, which occurred 18 to 35 million years ago, formed red rhyolite cliffs and other igneous strata in the wilderness. These volcanoes created mineral rich deposits which drew many prospectors to the area to develop mines. Some of their cabins, machinery and relics are still present and you will come upon them along your route. Early settlers also grazed cattle there.
Hiking along the West Divide trail in Rattlesnake Canyon, you will access Powers Garden. The historic cabins and gardens are in an idyllic setting, a meadow bordered by Ponderosa pine trees and peaks ascending above. The Power family farmed, ranched and mined in Rattlesnake Canyon shortly after the turn of the century. They eked out a living there until 1918.
It was then when one of the most famous shootouts in the West occurred. A sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed in the vicinity in 1918, leading to the biggest manhunt in Arizona. A few miles from Powers garden you will visit Power’s mine and cabin where the famous shootout took place.
You will conclude you epic backpacking excursion in the Galiuro Wilderness by hiking down a steep but lovely trail to the Deer Creek Trailhead, capping a memorable journey.
Turn up your speakers and enjoy “Ash CreekFall Color".
Best time to go? February - May, October - December
How challenging is it? Moderate backpacking
Extra credit: Chiricahua National Monument - Heart of Rocks Loop
Read Mitch's original post here.
Read Mitch's original post here.
Mitch Stevens is the founder and lead guide of Southwest Discoveries. Born and raised in New York City, Mitch came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. Through his countless trips across the state and region, Mitch made it his mission to encourage fellow hikers and enthusiasts to protect the beauty of the desert.