Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness has 19410 acres of wilderness area with a 1000 foot deep canyon in Graham and Pinal, Arizona counties. The area is most noted for its 11-mile long Aravaipa Canyon and the Aravaipa Creek, which flows year-round. The area also boasts high tablelands and nine side canyons. The Bureau of Land Management manages the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, and the project was established to protect the ecosystems, wildlife habitat, unique geological formations, natural scenery, and the rich history of the area.
Aravaipa Creek flows through the area all year, which is unusual in the arid Arizona desert. The water source fosters the growth of large sycamore, ash, cottonwood, and willow trees, which thrive along the stream and provide colorful foliage in the fall. The riparian areas and vegetation provide unique color and landscape in the surrounding Sonoran Desert and provide outstanding scenery that is unique to the region.
Activities in the BLM lands include primitive camping, backpacking, hiking, hunting, and horseback riding. Pets, drones, and motorized vehicles are not permitted in the wilderness area. There are restrictions on group sizes of no more than ten people, and no more than five horses per group. The duration of stay is restricted to three days and two nights to preserve the pristine natural area, and minimize the impact on the environment. Visitors require a permit to hike, ride, hunt or backpack the Aravaipa Canyon. Permits are available online and can be obtained up to 13 weeks in advance of your trip. Only 50 permitted visitors are allowed in the wilderness area per day, 30 from the west trailhead, and 20 from the east trailhead. There are no facilities in the area, and rugged terrain and numerous stream crossings characterize the region.
Nearby towns at Mammoth, Arizona, and Winkleman, Arizona, provide services and amenities. State parks you can visit in the area include Catalina State Park and Roper Lake State Park. Looking to stay with an RV nearby, check out Arizona RV Rentals.
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness can be accessed from two trailheads, one on the east side, and one on the west side.
The east trailhead can be accessed from Highway 70 between Safford and Bylas. The access road is dirt surfaced and requires a 4 wheel drive, high clearance vehicle to negotiate the rough terrain and several creek crossings where there are no bridges to reach the trailhead. The route is subject to flash floods and may be impassable during severe weather events. The west trailhead can be reached from Highway 77 using a 12-mile access road located between Mammoth and Winkleman that is paved for the first three miles, and dirt surfaced for the remaining nine miles.
Visits can also park at the information kiosk and walk 1.5 miles west across the nature conservancy lands to reach Turkey Creek and the east boundary of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area. If you plan on hiking one way, you will require someone to shuttle a vehicle between trailheads. Local outfitters can arrange this. If you plan on only hiking in and out for the day you may want to opt for the west trailhead which has better vehicle access.
During the summer months, temperatures in the area can soar, make sure your vehicle has all fluid levels topped up and do not leave passengers or pets in vehicles in the area.
Exploring the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area with your RV? Accessible RV camping in the area is available at the Fourmile Canyon Campground, just over a 1½ hour drive from the BLM area.
There are 14 developed campsites here that can accommodate RVs 22 feet or smaller. The campground is open from May to October on a first-come, first-serve basis. The campground is treed with mesquite trees that provide shade to sites and privacy between campsites. The campsite surfaces are compacted gravel and have room for up to two vehicles at each location and separate parking areas. Amenities include flush toilets, vault toilets, picnic tables, water supply via a water pump, and fire rings. Full services, such as water and flush toilets, may not be available later in the year when temperatures drop.
This is a great recreational campground at a high altitude, and well treed with desert grass landscape, that is within driving distance of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness.
Backpackers in Aravaipa Canyon can stay overnight and camp in the Bureau of Land Management Lands for up to two nights and three days. No vehicle access for RVs is available at Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. All overnight primitive campers require a permit which is available online.
There are no facilities or amenities in the wilderness area. Campers are encouraged to use previously used camping sites and must pack out trash, and bury human waste at least six inches deep and 200 feet away from trails, campsites and water sources. Local outfitters in the area provide guided overnight trips and overnight camping equipment as well as shuttle service from the trailheads.
The spectacular canyons, geological formations and rich riparian lands along the creek are excellent for exploring on overnight camping trips in the BLM lands. Only a limited number of people are allowed in the canyon wilderness area at one time, so book permits well ahead of time, especially during the peak season from March until May.
The presence of the Aravaipa Creek provides a year-round water supply to the wilderness area and provides vegetation, which can be both a food source and shelter for area wildlife. The deep 1000 foot canyon walls also provide unique habitat for animals in the area that thrive on rocky terrain, which provides protection from predators.
Animals you can spot in the wilderness area include bighorn sheep, javelina (boar-like animals), coatimundis (raccoon-like creatures), and ringtail cats. The creek is home to several species of native fish, rare in desert environments, and there are more than 200 species of birds that reside in the riparian areas and vegetation along the creek. Wildlife watching in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness provides not only opportunities to see animals native to the Sonoran desert, but animals that are only present in this area due to the geological formations and presence of water all year.
The hiking distance through the Aravaipa Canyon wilderness between the east and west trailhead spans just over 12 miles. The terrain is very rugged and involves a variety of natural landscapes including desert scrub, creek crossings, and dense riparian vegetation. It takes most hikers about 8 to 10 hours to traverse the wilderness area.
If traveling between trailheads you will need to arrange for a vehicle to be taken to the opposite trailhead. The logistics of this can be arranged with local outfitters who can also provide guided hikes in the BLM lands, or hikers can do in and out trips from the west trailhead which is more accessible for vehicles. It is recommended that hikers wear sturdy shoes that can tolerate water crossings.
There is a 430 feet elevation gain from the west side to the east side. Permits are required even for in and out visitors not staying overnight. Extreme temperatures in the summer will require you to generously apply sunscreen and pack plenty of water. Spring and early summer are peak season for hiking in the area.
There are no designated campsites trails, signs, or facilities in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. Backpackers are permitted to hike and camp in the region with a maximum three day, two-night stay, and permits are required. The terrain is rough with water crossings and elevation gains and requires appropriate footwear for riparian crossings, water supplies, and gear to protect from the desert sun.
Overnight backpackers can explore the nine side canyons which have geological formations like caves, rocky outcrops, chimneys, and windows. Outfitters can provide guided overnight trips as well as day trips and provide overnight camping gear and supplies as well as shuttle service between trailheads. While staying in the area, explore canyons earlier or later in the day when temperatures are cooler.
Equestrians can bring their horses to the west entrance and enjoy horseback riding through the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness areas. Stock is not permitted in the canyon overnight so you will need to plan day trips. Groups are limited to five stock animals per party.
Summer temperatures skyrocket and are inhospitable to strenuous activities including horseback riding in the canyon. Equestrians prefer off-season temperatures which are cooler. The creek provides a water supply for thirsty horses; however, to minimize impact on the natural habitat, equestrians can bring their own water supplies in trucks and trailers.
Shooting is prohibited in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area. However, bow and arrow hunting is permitted. Hunting for game is permitted on BLM lands in the appropriate season along the Aravaipa Creek flood plain and in the first 50 vertical feet above the streambed. Hunters will require a permit to access the area, as well as appropriate licenses.
Observe appropriate gun safety practices and watch for equestrians, hikers, and backpackers that also use the area in the offseason.
Arizona is known for its hot summers and desert landscapes, but there is also mountain terrain that receives snowfall in the winter that facilitates winter sports. There are private ski resorts are within a few hour's drive of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area and the Bureau of Land Management lands in the region.
During the winter, ski resorts offer cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails, downhill skiing, and snowboarding runs. Equipment rentals are available at the resorts. Winter fun is accessible even from this beautiful desert area!