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The Trail: Humphreys Peak

Top out on Arizona’s highest summit after pushing through this physically challenging, but nontechnical 9.4-mile out-and-back route up Humphreys Peak (12,557 feet). Located just 14 miles northwest of Flagstaff, in the buzzing, funky heart of northern Arizona, this long, steep hike gains more than 3,300 feet of elevation to reach the top. The rewards are big, with a 360-degree panoramic view across peaks, desert and canyons from the summit. And be prepared, much of Arizona may be warm, but cold, windy conditions are the norm up here. Depending on the winter, climbing Humphreys in March may require snowshoes or traction devices. Other years, hiking boots will do just fine.


To reach the trailhead from Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north for seven miles. Turn right and follow the Arizona Snowbowl Road for six-and-a-half more. Turn left into a parking lot just below the ski area lodge to find the trailhead. Begin hiking from the signed trailhead at the north end of the lot. Cross an open meadow near the base of the chairlift in Upper Hart Prairie and enter the forest, which begins as a mixture of ponderosa, Douglas fir and aspen trees.


After a gradual ascent, begin climbing a long series of well-graded switchbacks that guide you through the dense forest.


At about 10,500 feet, the aspens begin disappearing and trees thin, offering views into the Snow Bowl area to the right. As you continue ascending, the forest changes, giving way to firs, bristlecone and limber pines and Englemann spruce. The gnarled, sparsely distributed trees illustrate the role that wind, water, and snow play in shaping a high altitude landscape.

Agassiz Saddle

Continue on the Humpreys Peak Trail across the west-facing ridge to reach the saddle at 11,800 feet. Here, the Weatherford Trail comes in from the south, but the peak trail turns north to skirt the west side of the ridge. (Note that the Forest Service prohibits off-trail hiking here above 11,400 feet, so stay on the trail.) Before pressing on, take a break and layer up if needed. The next mile of trail cruises above treeline so there is no shelter. If thunderstorms or snowstorms threaten, stop here and turn around.

False Summits

If you decide to push on, follow the Humpreys Peak Trail north to follow the west side of the ridge. After just 0.2 miles, leave behind the last of the gnarled trees to follow the trail, climbing steadily over rocky terrain toward the top, but you can’t see it from here. Don’t let a number of false summits fool you. Press on along the ridge, enjoying your first views east and into the inner basin.

Highest Point in Arizona

Though the footing to reach this summit was tricky, with loose gravel and jagged rocks, you’ve made it the top!  Take shelter in a stone windblock and pause to absorb views in every direction. On a clear day you can see the White Mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Mogollon Rim, the Painted Desert, Oak Creek Canyon, the Hopi Mesas and Utah’s Navajo Mountain.

Trail Gear

Scarpa Spin

Featuring sock-fit construction, a Mega-grip sole and a full-length rock plate, the 8.9-ounce Spin (in size 42 Euro) has the guts to deal with the rugged, rocky trail on Humphrey. This shoe was built for trail running, however, meaning that all protection won’t slow down your stride. $130;

Outdoor Research Endurance Gaiter 

This ultralight, protective soft shell gaiter keeps out rocks, snow and gravel. Made of stretchy waterproof-breathable material that moves with you, it sports a step-in, zip-up design that makes it easy to take on and off of both bulky boots and trail runners. $87;



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