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!
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.
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.
On the other side, you’ll find a sign marking the boundary of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, and the trail heads into the trees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you climb, make sure to look back and to your left to appreciate the views to the south.
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
Humphreys Peak Resources
- Forest Service page for Humphreys Trail No. 151
- To hike this in winter, a free backcountry permit is required
- As previously mentioned, lightning strikes are common, especially in the afternoon. Keep an eye on the weather and turn around immediately and head below tree-line if thunderclouds loom.
- Be sure to carry the Ten Essentials
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!