Despite being an arid, desert state, Arizona is home to the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest and 3,456 named mountains. The state’s lowest point is in the Colorado River, at 70 feet, while the highest is Humphrey Peak, which stands at 12,635 feet.
Arizona can be divided into two major physiographic regions: the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province. However, the Transitioning zone, the area between the two regions, contains characteristics of both the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province and is home to a series of rugged mountain ranges.
The Colorado Plateau occupies portions of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and covers 40 percent of Arizona’s landscape. The tallest peaks in Arizona are located along the southwest border of the Colorado Plateau, including notable mountains like the San Francisco Peaks and the White Mountains.
The San Francisco Mountains are one of Arizona’s most popular areas for outdoor recreation. Located in north-central Arizona, near Flagstaff, the San Francisco Mountains collectively characterize six summits that circle the caldera of a volcano. A recognizable feature in the Colorado Plateau, the San Francisco mountains include Arizona’s tallest peaks: Humphreys Peak, Agassiz Peak, Fremont Peak, Aubineau Peak, Rees Peak, and Doyle Peak.
The Grand Canyon, one of the world’s seven Natural Wonders, is also one of the most famous locations in the Colorado Plateau. Carved over five to six million years, the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and winds for 277 miles down the Colorado River.
Notable mountains in the Transition Zone are part of the Mogollon Rim, a dramatic cliff or bluff that cuts across Arizona and extends for 200 miles, forming the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The White Mountains, an isolated mountain range located in eastern Arizona, are known as a four-season outdoor recreation wonderland. The tallest peak in the White range is Baldy Peak, which extends to 11,391 feet.
The Basin and Range Province occupies the southern portion of Arizona and contains several rugged mountain ranges dispersed amongst lengthy deserts. The Chiricahua Mountains, a recognizable mountain range within the Basin and Range Province, is home to the Chiricahua Monument, an area characteristic of vast expanses of volcanic rock and dramatic pinnacles, and Chiricahua Peak.
Another striking range, the Pinaleno Mountains, are a remote mountain range in southeastern Arizona and the tallest of Arizona’s Sky Island mountain ranges, a term that defines isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland landscapes. The highest point in the Pinaleno Mountains is Mount Graham, which soars to 10,719 feet. It is the most prominent mountain in Arizona. Mount Graham is highly revered by locals and typically the whole Pinaleno Range is referred to as Mount Graham.
The Four Peaks Wilderness contains over 60,000 acres of mountainous, rugged terrain to explore. The Four Peaks, four distinct mountaintops of a north-south ridge that form the massif's summit, dominate the landscape. Part of the Mazatzal Mountains and nearby Phoenix, avid hikers travel to Four Peaks to traverse Browns Peak on the Browns Peak Trail, a 5.1-mile trail with approximately 1,952 feet of elevation gain and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
The trek to Havasupai Falls is a popular destination for backpackers looking to visit the incredible blue-green waterfalls hidden in the Grand Canyon. The 10-mile hike, each way, requires reservations and is known to be a demanding, but rewarding adventure. Day hiking in this area is not permitted, so this paradise involves a lot of preparation.
The summit of Humphreys Peak is one of the most scenic peaks in the San Francisco Mountains and is the tallest in Arizona. Just north of Flagstaff, Humphreys Peak is also home to Arizona Snowbowl, a twelve-month winter recreation area. In the summer, visitors can use the SkyRide to take in panoramic views of the surrounding landscape or trek for 4.5-miles to the summit of Humphreys Peak. In the winter, this area is a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.
Hikers, bikers, and climbers will agree that Phoenix is a mecca for outdoor recreation in Arizona. Phoenix offers a variety of hiking opportunities, like Echo Canyon, Cholla, Double Butte, and Pinnacle Peak – all of which provide incredible mountain views. Minutes from downtown Phoenix, visitors can also experience Papago Park, home of red rock buttes and South Mountain Park and Preserve, a 16,000-acre preserve that offers 50 miles of hiking trails within the Sonoran Desert. Visitors can also take a short 5.5-mile drive up Summit Road to check out Dobbins Lookout and experience skyline views.
At 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is the perfect place to escape Arizona’s arid desert landscape. Nestled within the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest, Flagstaff is home to the world-famous Lowell Observatory and the ideal place for a family adventure. Flagstaff is considered an all-season recreational hotspot in Arizona because it is only 80 miles from the Grand Canyon, close to the San Francisco Mountains, and adjacent to seven national parks and monuments.
Sedona, in central Arizona, is notorious for its proximity to iconic red rock formations and is known to be a perfect place to stay for visitors looking to experience Arizona’s diverse landscape. The Enchantment Resort is a popular destination for visitors interested in trekking through Boynton Canyon or hiking to Bear Mountain, Fay Canyon, or the Vista Trail. In addition to a variety of hiking trails, Sedona is close to the Grand Canyon and several popular scenic drives, like Oak Creek Canyon, which is one of the top scenic drives in the United States.