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Hiking to Humphreys Peak in the Coconino National Forest

Hiking Humphreys Peak

Hike up Humphreys Peak

The highest point in all of Arizona, Humphreys Peak towers above the surrounding region. Millions of years ago a massive stratovolcano called San Francisco Mountain stood around 16,000 feet tall, but it eventually collapsed leaving an arc of peaks which rim the Inner Basin. Hike through a beautiful forest of conifers and aspens up along the panoramic ridge that leads to the top of Arizona!

Trail Details
Summit Elev.: 12,633′
Distance: 10.5 miles
Time: 6-8 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 3,406′
Dogs: Yes
When to go: Spring, Summer, Fall

Getting to the Humphreys Peak Trailhead

From Flagstaff, head north out of town on Hwy 180. After mile marker 222, turn right onto N Snow Bowl Rd. following the sign for the Arizona Snowbowl. Continue up the windy road for 6.5 miles. You will come to a sign pointing left that says “LOT 1 Base Area Parking Humphrey Trail”. Turn left into that parking area for the trailhead. There is no water at the trailhead, or along the trail, so make sure you show up with plenty. During summer, there are usually a few porta-potties in the parking lot.

Humphreys Peak Trailhead

Lightning Danger

In the summer season, thunderstorms are your primary concern. Check the weather forecast, start early, pack layers even if it’s hot in town, and keep an eye on the sky for developing storms. It gets windy and cold on the ridge, and sometimes you won’t see storms coming until you get to the saddle. Even if you don’t expect anything but blue skies, plan to be back down off the mountain by early afternoon. On summer afternoons, the summit area has reportedly been struck by over one hundred lightning strikes in a single hour. In July 2016, a 17 year old boy was struck by lightning and died at the summit. If there appears to be any chance of a storm while you are above tree line, turn back and get down as fast and safely as you can, and live to hike another day. The mountain is not going anywhere.


Hiking Humphreys Peak

Start your hike from the trailhead at the northeast corner of the parking lot. Cross the open meadow to the forest on the far side, and pass under one of the ski lifts along the way. In winter this meadow is the beginner’s slope.

Crossing the Bunny Slope

On the other side, you’ll find a sign marking the boundary of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, and the trail heads into the trees.

Entering Kachina Peaks Wilderness

The first half of this route is a series of long switchback, followed by a few short switchbacks, all below tree line. Flanked by birch and pine trees, this lower forest feels like a sanctuary. The trail is mostly clear, but some downed trees remain across the path.

A little beyond the half mile mark is the first switchback turn, and little before the one mile mark is the trail register. Fill out the register with your information, and take a break to drink, eat and adjust if necessary. Where the register pedestal is located is also a trail junction, so make sure you turn left onto the next switchback. If you go straight, instead, you would end up at the ski lodge.

Humphreys Peak Trail Register

The trail continues up through the beautiful forest hitting some rocky and root-covered sections at times, but overall smooth sailing.

The switchbacks remain rather long with a right switchback turn at 1.3 miles, a left switchback turn at mile 1.7 miles, and an easily missed right switchback turn at 2.3 miles. The last one is easily missed because it coincides with an old avalanche path.

When you come to this broad boulder field that runs up and down the mountainside, do not cross it. Turn right onto the next switchback.

At this point you start to get small views opening up in windows between the trees, especially if you step out onto the boulder field. Two more turns between long switchbacks remain – left at 2.8 miles and right at 3 miles. The trail then curves left as views of the ski runs and Agassiz Peak, Arizona’s second tallest, open up.

View of Agassiz Peak

Around three and three quarters of a mile, the series of shorter switchbacks begins. After a couple turns you get to about 11,400’ of elevation, where there’s a sign explaining to not hike off trail or camp above this point. This is because you are entering an alpine zone. Many people are tempted to cut straight up to the saddle here, but you should continue along the switchback you are on. The terrain and ecosystem near and above tree line are very fragile. You should avoid hiking off-trail anywhere, but it can be especially harmful here.

Stay on the trail

At this point the saddle is so close, you can smell that view of the Inner Basin.The saddle sits at about 11,700’ elevation and a little beyond the 4 mile mark. With amazing views down into the backside bowl, here is a great place to take a break. It’s also a good spot to assess incoming adverse weather and decide if it looks safe to proceed.

Panorama from the saddle

Here you are firmly reminded of the fact that you are on the rim of an extinct volcano, looking down into its crater. You can just about see the true peak, but take note of how the ridge undulates up to the summit. When you’re on that ridge, you can be fooled into thinking you are at the top, when you still have a way to go. Also here is a trail junction, make sure you go left up the ridge.

Trail Junction on the Ridge

The species of trees up here is the bristlecone pine, which in some regions grow to be thousands of years old. Continue on the path through these resolute figures, staying on the left side of the ridge. Among the final trees, and above them, there are wooden poles marking the trail at varying intervals. If in doubt, stay left and scan ahead for the next post.

Posts marking the trail

As you climb, make sure to look back and to your left to appreciate the views to the south.

View from the side of Humphreys Peak

You will encounter a few small dips, but the trail is mostly up, up, up the rest of the way. Take small breaks to enjoy the view, try not to be discouraged by the false summits, and pay attention to your breathing.

Around five miles and a quarter from the trailhead, you will find yourself standing at the top of Arizona! Views of the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, Bill Williams Mountain, Kendrick Peak, and the Inner Basin are all there for your ocular pleasure.

Take it all in, keep watching for developing storm clouds, and return down the way you came.

Humphreys Peak Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: Humphreys_Peak_AZ_June2019.gpx

Humphreys Peak Resources


2020 Arizona Summer Six-Pack of Peaks ChallengeArizona Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge – Summer Edition

This hike is part of the Arizona Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge – Summer Edition. This self-paced hiking challenge includes six hikes all easily reached from the Flagstaff/Sedona area. They are a great way to explore the area, train for bigger adventures, and you’ll be doing good, with a portion of the net proceeds going to support Big City Mountaineers.

Registration for the summer challenge runs between April 1 and September 15.  Be sure to check out the winter challenge, too!

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