Hiking in the southwest offers some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. Deep canyons, roaring rivers, majestic rock formations, desolate valleys, and tight slot canyons are just a few of the wonders you can experience in the southwest. Everywhere you turn there seems to be a new place to discover and explore.
Our friend, Mitch Stevens, lead guide and founder of Southwest Discoveries, has compiled a list of 7 grand adventures in the southwest. As a tour guide and avid hiker, Mitch has hiked through numerous southwest environments and has decided to share with us his favorites.
It’s no surprise that the southwest adventures listed here are not as popular or as well-known as others. These places are off the beaten path, offering solitude, a cohesiveness with nature, and the pristine beauty of untouched earth.
Mitch offers detailed descriptions about these favorite destinations, including how long the explorations take, the best times to visit, the level of difficulty, and other options for exploring in that area. Included on Mitch’s list of the 7 grandest southwest adventures are:
Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon
On this southwest adventure, you can hike through narrow gorges and majestic canyons and gaze upon red rock walls, natural arches, and the infamous Colorado River. Navajo Sandstone cliffs will tower over you, 1,500 feet overhead. When you’re here, hike through Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world, and see water seeping from canyon walls. Continue along the Pariah River and hike down the side canyon with Wrather Arch, a cave type natural arch measuring 165 feet in height and 250 feet across.
The Deer Creek/Kanab Creek Loop of the Grand Canyon
Start this hike from Monument Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. During your journey, you hike past natural springs, waterfalls, impressive canyons, along with 1.7-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite rocks. Backpacking here takes you to a quieter part of the inner Grand Canyon that few experience.
The Nankoweap Trail of the Grand Canyon
Constructed in 1882 by western explorer John Wesley Powell, this trail begins at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This challenging hike takes you deep into the canyon, with views of Marble Canyon, Mt. Hayden, and the mighty Colorado River. You’ll walk by Native American granaries and pottery shards, see stunning waterfalls, and even Anasazi ruins.
The Zion Narrows
Over the course of 2 days, experience the thru-hike of the Zion Narrows. Start out following the Virgin River when it is only a creek and you walk alongside it. Eventually you’ll witness the river enlarging and cutting through the sandstone; now you’ll be trekking through the river, crossing from river bank to river bank. On the second day of the hike, the Narrows envelopes you within its 2,000 foot walls. I did this 2 day, 16 mile trip with my husband back in 2008. I have plenty of stories about that journey to share- read about them here.
Another amazing southwest adventure can be found in Utah’s Coyote Gulch. A side canyon of the Escalante River, this area is reminiscent of what the old Glen Canyon used to be before it was flooded by Lake Powell in the 1950’s. Backpack this loop in 3-4 days and cast your eyes upon natural arches and bridges, numerous springs, hanging gardens, and huge sandstone amphitheaters.
You can find Stillwater Canyon in one of my favorite national parks, Canyonlands. Take a trip on the Green River, floating by soaring rock formations and colorful canyons. Even though this southwest adventure is afloat, there are plenty of exciting hiking opportunities, including a trip to Anasazi ruins and pioneer relics. This epic journey takes you 52 miles to Spanish Bottom near the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Witness the chiseling power of these rivers by floating through these amazing canyons.
Arizona’s Galiuro Mountains
Mitch’s last southwest adventure features the Galiuro Mountains of Arizona. While rising over 7,500 feet high, these mountains are home to giant saguaro cactus, cypress trees, sycamores, cottonwoods, along with Douglas Firs and Quaking Aspens. Along the way, you might spot a mountain lion, bighorn sheep, mule deer, or coatimundi (a member of the raccoon family). Many relics of the days of prospecting scatter the landscape, including cabins, machinery, and more. Not many hikers come to these mountains; enjoy the solitude while you immerse yourself in nature.
So if you are planning a trip to the spectacular southwest or if you’re just looking for information on amazing adventures, check out Mitch’s post: Take a Hike: 7 of the Grandest Adventures in the Southwest. Find out more information about other hikes along with his touring company Southwest Discoveries, here.