Category Archives: Arizona

Coronado National Forest

Coronado National Forest

Arizona

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,859,807 acres (1,786,620 federal/ 73,187 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/coronado

Overview

Coronado National Forest is sprinkled across the southeastern Arizona landscape, encompassing many forested “sky islands” that rise above the surrounding Sonoran Desert.  The isolation of these ranges has led to the evolution of some endemic species of plants and animals unique to this region.  That isolation also allows for clear night skies, so there are several peaks with astronomical observatories.  The most visited portion of the forest is the Santa Catalina Mountains, easily accessible along the paved 35-mile-long Catalina Highway east of Tucson, Arizona. 

Highlights

Catalina Highway, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Mt. Lemmon, Windy Point, Madera Canyon, Sky Island Scenic Byway, Mt. Graham, Onyx Cave, Madera Canyon, Mt. Hopkins Observatory, Pena Blanca Lake, Ramsey Canyon, Miller Peak, Cochise Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

The Santa Catalina Mountains offer many recreational opportunities, from road biking to downhill skiing at the top of 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon (the southernmost ski area in the U.S.).   The scenic beauty and expansive vistas along the Catalina Highway are worth the many switchbacks, and you might drive past some of the most famous triathletes in the world who train here in the winter.  The drive ascends through multiple life zones from saguaro-dotted desert to ponderosa pine forest.  At the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains is the busy Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (fee).

Best Trail

Box Camp Trail is special to us as it was the site of our first date, marriage proposal, and wedding ceremony.  Over the course of 13 miles, Box Camp Trail drops 5,000 feet in elevation from ponderosa pine forest through pinyon-juniper woodland to the desert of Sabino Canyon dominated by saguaro cacti.  The rugged trail disappears in places, but offers incredible views along the way.  Route finding is required as the trail is somewhat overgrown (with downed trees from wildfires), plus the one-way hike requires two cars, one left at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and one at the trailhead on the Catalina Highway. 

Watchable Wildlife

The Sonoran Desert is home to numerous unique wildlife species from roadrunners to Coues white-tailed deer.  Many of the animals are nocturnal to avoid the heat of the day, including ringtails (or ring-tailed cats), kangaroo rats, and javelinas (or collared peccaries).  The “sky islands” provide habitat for black bears, coyotes, skunks, mountain lions, bobcats, pronghorns, mule deer, and elk.  Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is known for its coatis, relatives of raccoons that typically travel in packs.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Windy Point is a spectacular overlook along the Catalina Highway in the pinyon-juniper woodland zone.  Not a bad spot for wedding photos, if we do say so ourselves.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

There is a fee to park at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, plus a charge for the tram ride. Check the USFS website for details.

Road Conditions

The paved Catalina Highway is sometimes closed due to snow and ice in the winter.  There are some rough roads in this part of the Sonoran Desert, and especially be aware of the potential for flash flooding.

Camping

There are designated campgrounds along the Catalina Highway and throughout Coronado National Forest.  We dispersed camped near Dragoon Springs Station south of Interstate 10, but the access roads were in bad shape.

Wilderness Areas

Chiricahua Wilderness

Galiuro Wilderness

Miller Peak Wilderness

Mount Wrightson Wilderness

Pajarita Wilderness

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Rincon Wilderness

Santa Teresa Wilderness

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacácori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Saguaro

Conifer Tree Species

two-needle pinyon pine, alligator juniper, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Apache pine

Flowering Tree Species

Emory oak, Arizona oak, Mexican blue oak, Arizona rosewood, black alder, Arizona walnut, velvet ash, Arizona sycamore, quaking aspen

Explore More – Who was the famous ecologist that studied the similarity of increasing elevation to increasing latitude more than a century ago in the Santa Catalina Mountains?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Arizona

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,013,804 acres (1,855,955 federal/ 157,849 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/coconino/

Overview

Coconino National Forest has an elevation range of 10,000 feet from the Verde River up to 12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona.  It borders four other National Forests: Kaibab, Prescott, Sitgreaves, and Tonto.  The National Forest encompasses two busy recreational areas: the red rocks around Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.  While in college for three years at Northern Arizona University, Scott probably hiked 100 different trails and more than 1,000 miles through Coconino National Forest.  He and his Siberian husky would often wake up early to get a hike in before class, including one moonlit summiting of Mt. Humphreys completed in time for an 8 a.m. lecture.

Highlights

Oak Creek Canyon, Bell Rock, Vultee Arch, Cathedral Rock, Sycamore Canyon, Honanki Ruins, Wet Beaver Creek, San Francisco Peaks, Mt. Humphreys, Lockett Meadow, Mt. Elden, West Clear Creek, Upper Lake Mary, West Fork Trail, Kachina Trail, Bear Jaw Canyon Trail

Must-Do Activity

North of Sedona is the deep, shady Oak Creek Canyon that houses a diversity of plant species, including riparian trees like sycamore and walnut.  The steep, forested walls make for beautiful scenery, but also create ideal conditions for crown fires as evidenced in 2006 and 2014.  The steep Wilson Mountain South Trail #10 provides extraordinary panoramas and the shady West Fork Trail #108 is perfect on hot summer days, though in the winter it is also beautiful covered in snow and ice.  The remains of the historic lodge and orchard at the latter site provide a glimpse into the past of a place immortalized in Zane Grey’s novel The Call of the Canyon.  Continue driving north up Highway 89A for unforgettable hairpin turns that lead to Oak Creek Vista and on to Flagstaff.

Best Trail

The San Francisco Peaks are the remains of an extinct volcano that forms the dramatic mountain skyline north of Flagstaff.  You cannot actually see the highest summit (12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys) from town, but you will if you drive Highway 180 toward Grand Canyon National Park.  The shortest route to the top leaves from 8,800 feet at Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort and is nine miles roundtrip.  For the more adventurous: start on the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow, hike 19 miles roundtrip via the Weatherford Trail, or tack on seven miles to Snowbowl on the scenic Kachina Trail.  The San Francisco Peaks are beautiful (especially when aspen trees turn in the fall), but can be dangerous during thunderstorms that occur almost every afternoon during monsoon season.  

Watchable Wildlife

Elk are the most prevalent charismatic megafauna in Coconino National Forest, although mule deer and pronghorns are also common.  We have encountered black bears in the San Francisco Peaks and rattlesnakes in Sycamore Canyon.  Tassel-eared squirrels are the noisiest residents of the ponderosa pine forests, enough so that Bertie the talking squirrel became the main character in the children’s book Scott illustrated while working for the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The cliff dwelling in Sedona’s Lost Canyon is in a beautiful spot overlooking a wide green valley that cuts between the red rock buttes and escarpments.  There is water in this narrow canyon, feeding the tall Arizona cypress trees below.  Just outside the cave, juniper trees offered firewood, pinyon pine produced edible nuts, and yucca plants provided thread for its former residents.  To the north numerous canyons drain the ponderosa pine forests where elk and mule deer reside in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

A day-use fee applies at nearly every trailhead in Sedona, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

Most of the dirt roads through Coconino National Forest are well maintained, especially around Sedona.  One exception to that is Woody Mountain Road that requires high-clearance once you get past the first 20 miles or so towards the Mogollon Rim above Sycamore Canyon.

Camping

Lockett Meadow Campground is special place that came in at #4 on our Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests list.  The coveted campsites in Oak Creek Canyon on scenic Highway 89A are full throughout the summer and fall.

Wilderness Areas

Fossil Springs Wilderness

Kachina Peaks Wilderness

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness (also in Kaibab National Forest)

Mazatzal Wilderness (also in Tonto National Forest)

Munds Mountain Wilderness

Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

Strawberry Crater Wilderness

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness (also in Prescott and Kaibab National Forests)

West Clear Creek Wilderness

Wet Beaver Wilderness

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce, alligator juniper, one-seed juniper, Utah juniper, Rocky Mountain juniper, Arizona cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, New Mexico locust, boxelder, bigtooth maple, Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, Arizona alder, velvet ash

Explore More – What is largest natural lake in the state of Arizona, which is found atop Coconino National Forest’s Anderson Mesa (although it is often dried up in the summer)?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1906 National Monument, 1962 National Park

221,390 acres

Website: nps.gov/pefo

Overview

East of Flagstaff, Arizona on Interstate 40 (the historic Route 66) is Petrified Forest National Park, which started as one of the first National Monuments created by President Teddy Roosevelt.  It is hard to believe in the dry expanses of the Painted Desert, but 225-million years ago this land existed in a tropical climate where trees grew to 200 feet in height.  Some of those trees were buried in mud when they fell and over time silica crystalized in their decaying cells forming colorful rocks.  You can still see annual growth rings and rays from the wood preserved on the cross-sections that look like they were cut by a chainsaw.  The rocks are protected inside the park, so for a souvenir head to the gift shops around the park’s borders. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Rainbow Forest Museum, Giant Logs Trail, Agate House, Newspaper Rock, Painted Desert Inn, Blue Mesa Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is the kaleidoscope of colors that makes this park so beautiful and unique.  The intricate weave of minerals in each bit of petrified wood is found in an array of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, purple, black, and white.  A paved walkway behind the Rainbow Forest Museum is a great place to start, as rangers give guided tours there throughout the day.  In the warm season, watch for the bright colors of a collared lizard hiding among the rocks.  It is worth a hike to Agate House and a connection to the Giant Logs Trail to see more petrified wood, but be sure to bring water with you in the summer since there is no shade.

Best Trail

Blue Mesa Trail is only one mile in length, but you will stop so often for photos that it seems much longer.  In this area the blueish bentonite badlands are striped by reduced iron and rust (as depicted in our logo illustration).  The trail can be muddy if there has been recent precipitation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Painted Desert often lives up to its name during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset when the pink adobe walls of the Painted Desert Inn can positively blaze.  After summer thunderstorms, watch for rainbows that hang under the billowy cumulus clouds.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads in the park are paved and the 28-mile paved scenic drive is nice in either direction.

Camping

There are no overnight facilities within the park, but there are private campgrounds in both Holbrook and Winslow, Arizona.  Lyman Lake State Park also offers camping.  A free backcountry permit is required to camp in the Wilderness area north of the Painted Desert Inn.  There are no trails and the only requirement is that you cross Lithodendron Wash about a mile from the rim, which sometimes means walking through shallow water.

Related Sites

Coconino National Forest (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

This design we created to celebrate this National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many pounds of rock are mailed back to Petrified Forest National Park every year by people who claim their theft led to a string of bad luck?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Apache National Forest

Apache National Forest

Arizona, New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/asnf/home

Overview

Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974.  The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico.  On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort).  The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.

Highlights

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore.  Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out.  To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation.  About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire).  The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.

Best Trail

A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.  At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference).  There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.

Watchable Wildlife

We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors.  The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country.  We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves.  Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.  We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River.  Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.

Wilderness Areas

Bear Wallow Wilderness

Escudilla Wilderness

Mount Baldy Wilderness

[Blue Range Primitive Area]

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest (Arizona)

Conifer Tree Species

Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita

Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Overview

The spring at Apache Pass has attracted humans to this part of the Sonoran Desert for hundreds of years (at least).  As you might have guessed from its name, the Apaches were the area’s inhabitants when the Butterfield Overland Mail route built a station here in 1858.  Four years later, after Apaches ambushed the Union Army during the Civil War, they constructed Fort Bowie to help keep peace in New Mexico.  The fort received an upgrade in 1868, and then was used to fight against Cochise and Geronimo until it was finally abandoned in 1894.

Highlights

Fort Bowie ruins, cemetery, stage station ruins, site of wagon train massacre

Must-Do Activity

To visit the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, the literal “must-do activity” is to hike 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  You do pass interpretive signs, a cemetery, and ruins along the way, plus you earn an “I Hike For Health” pin just by getting there.  For those unable to hike the trail, contact the NPS for alternate access directions.

Best Trail

Getting to the NPS visitor center means hiking three miles roundtrip in a shadeless desert.  If it is a nice day, make a loop of it by taking Overlook Ridge on the way back to the trailhead.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The post cemetery has freshly-painted wooden grave markers, including one for Geronimo’s two-year-old son.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fobo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access to this NPS site requires driving a graded dirt road that is impassable during flash floods.

Camping

Private campgrounds are available in Bowie and Wilcox, Arizona, but we recommend a night at the NPS campground in Chiricahua National Monument (which is well-known for its ringtail and coati sightings).

Related Sites

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – When did Geronimo finally surrender to U.S. troops before being sent to Fort Bowie and on to Florida’s Fort Pickens (now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore)?