Aravaipa Canyon is one of the most beautiful canyons of the Southwest, and fortunately, access to the canyon is strictly regulated. Only 30 people a day are permitted to enter the canyon from the west side (20 from the more remote east side), via a bumpy dirt road about an hour southeast of Phoenix. Given its southern latitude and low elevation, fall colors hang on in this riparian valley well into December. Sycamore, ash, cottonwood and willow trees line the swiftly flowing creek, and they are ablaze with color in early December.
I secured my permit weeks in advance, and hoped for plenty of sunshine for my hike. The weather cooperated, with high temperatures in the lower 70s. The hike began along the creek and continued for about a mile before entering the canyon. Then, the walls of the canyon quickly narrow, and from that point on most of the hike is straight through the creek. The water was never more than knee deep, but it was swiftly moving and keeping my balance was a constant challenge! 1000 foot vertical walls line the creek along the way, and the scenery is jaw-dropping. Besides the amazing landscape, the hike features a diverse collection of flora and fauna, and ancient cliff dwellings that date back 100s of years.
I hiked about halfway through the canyon, or about 5 miles, before turning around to head back to the western trailhead. I was glad that a couple trail posts indicated where the exit from the canyon was located. I only saw a few backpackers on the trip in, and I had the creek all to myself for the second half of the trip.
Such a beautiful and serene place! It is truly one of the great gems of the Desert Southwest. I hope to return soon and explore the canyon from its east side.