Hiking to the Highest Peak in Arizona: Humphreys Peak

· Round Trip: 9.6 total miles (4.8 one way)

· Time Taken: 7-8 hours

· Elevation Change: 3,353 ft.

· Starting/Ending Location: Arizona Snowbowl (Hart Prairie lot)

· Type of Trail: Out-and-Back

· Difficulty Level: Difficult

· Dogs/Pets: Allowed on a leash

· Best time to Hike: June, July, August, September or October

· Permit Required: Only during the winter

Humphreys Trail is an out-and-back trek that will take you to the highest natural point in the state of Arizona above 12,000 ft. From lush alpine forests to mountainous scree fields, hikers will witness some of the state’s most magnificent views.

Mt. Humphreys, along with Mt. Agassiz and Mt. Fremont are within Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, a mountain range located just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. This mountain range is believed to have reached an elevation of 16,000 ft. before a volcanic eruption that occurred more than 1,000 years ago.

As one of the more difficult trails in Arizona, it’s important to note that Humphreys Trail is not for beginner hikers. The steepness of the trek and the elevation increase of 3,000 ft. makes the journey challenging. Full transparency, this was the hardest trek I’ve ever hiked in my life. Kicked my booty!

Making it to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, just north of Flagstaff. The trailhead lot, Hart Prairie, can be accessed from Hwy 180. If you are heading in from Flagstaff, drive North on Humphreys St. and turn left onto Hwy 180. You can also type in Hart Prairie Lot to your GPS.

The Trek

This is an extensive hike, so be sure to start early to ensure enough time to make it to the summit and back before dark. As you begin the trek, you will pass under a ski chairlift and continue through a meadow full of wildflowers and high grass. The trail will take a slight left and you will enter a thick forest with pine trees, aspens, firs, and spruce trees. You will continue to follow the trail through steep and lengthy switchbacks, which will seem like the longest part of the hike. The trail is marked nicely with directional wooden signs.

As you approach the 3.75-mile marker, the tree line will begin to thin, and you may even notice the air thinning as well– this may make it a more difficult to catch your breath. Be prepared for a temperature decrease as you gain elevation.

You will soon reach the saddle between Agassiz Peak and Humphreys Peak. Take a left to continue to Humphrey’s summit, while the Weatherford Trail veers right towards Agassiz. The trail will zigzag through rocky terrain and large boulders. The path remains fairly obvious, but the wooden stakes will continue to guide you. The final mile is extremely strenuous and has a few false summits. Keep hiking. You will know when you made it to the top when you see the legendary sign with the elevation, 12,633 ft.

Rest, regroup, and take in the 360-degree views!!! On a clear day, you can see the Grand Canyon to the north, and the Mogollon Rim to the south.

Once you have had your fill of the incredible panorama views, head back down the same way you came up.


What to Pack

Packing System

· Day Pack: Osprey Packs Kituma 3 Hydration Pack

Clothing and Footwear (This is what I wore for a day-hike in September)

· Short-Sleeve T-Shirt

· Light Jacket OR Flannel:

o The top of the mountain gets cold.

· Pants: North Face Women’s Motivation Leggings

· Cap: Baseball hat to protect your skin from the sun

· Socks: Darn Tough Socks

· Hiking Boots: Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boot

o Ensure your boots are broken in before your hike to avoid blisters

Food

· Snacks Options: Granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky, pop tarts, dried fruit, smoothie packs, almonds, apples, bananas, etc.,

o Favorite Hiking Snack: Spread peanut butter on a tortilla. Top with dried fruit and trail mix.

o PSA: I did NOT pack enough snacks/water on the way up. The elevation will make you hungry– so pack EXTRA!

Water

· Camelback: 2.5 liters

· Gatorade

Other Gear and Accessories

· Headlamp: LED Headlamp

o All it takes is a wrong turn or the trek taking longer than anticipated, and hikers are walking back in the dark. A headlamp to light the path back to the trailhead is a crucial benediction. Packing extra batteries is a bonus.

· Trekking Poles: Cascade Mountain Aluminum Lightweight Poles

o Especially if hiking during snow season.

· Sunglasses: goodr (no-slip, no bounce, polarized)

· Sunscreen: Goddess Garden Sport SPF 50

· Lip Balm: Burt’s Bees SPF15 Lip Balm

· Powerbank: USB Portable Charger

· First Aid Kit: Small First Air Kit with 66 pieces

· Mole Skin: Dr. School’s Moleskin Plus Padding Roll

NOTE: WHAT YOU PACK IN, YOU PACK OUT. As always, do not leave any trace of snacking or drinking on the trail.

‼️BE CAUTIOUS:

Elevation: With the trail beginning at 9,200 ft. in elevation and rising to over 12,500 ft. the air gets immensely thinner which leaves hikers at risk of altitude sickness.

If altitude sickness occurs to you or another hiker in your group, you should stop and rest, drink water or Gatorade, and begin to descend back down. I felt a little bit winded as we approached the top, but it was nothing extreme. You can prevent altitude sickness by hydrating excessively a few days before your hike. Make sure you have eaten adequate carbs and calories. Avoid alcohol.

Storms: Always check the weather before any hike! When storms are brewing toward the San Francisco Mountains, Humphreys Trail is at high risk for avalanches. During the monsoon season (July to September), rainstorms along with thunder and lightning can blow in rapidly. Be prepared to head back to lower ground if a storm is in the distance! For current weather, visit National Weather Service. For more information on avalanches, visit the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center Snowpack Report.

Wind: As hikers proceed towards the summit, prepare for aggressive gusts of wind. Bring a jacket or thicker layer to cover up with at the top (I had a flannel). You will thank yourself later!

Difficulty Level/Training

As mentioned earlier, this was one of the most strenuous hikes I have experienced (yes, more difficult than Havasupai Trail in my opinion). Before you step foot on the trail, ensure you are in proper shape to handle not only the steepness, but the elevation change as well. You can train by using a stair stepper, using weights to strengthen thighs and back, and increasing your cardio by running or hiking outdoors.

Q & A

Can you drive to the top of Humphreys Peak?

No, only hiking to the peak.

Is there a water source along the way to the top?

No water source, so make sure you are fully stocked and prepared to stay hydrated throughout your trip.

Are there restrooms at the trailhead?

Yes.

Is this hike dog friendly?

Yes, but all dogs are required to be on a leash.

Is this hike kid-friendly?

As one of the hardest hikes in the state of Arizona, it is recommended to leave the kiddos at home for this one.

Are permits required to hike Mt. Humphreys?

No permits required June-October. A backcountry permit is needed in the winter season.

Can you camp on the Humphrey Trail?

You may camp below the tree line. Be sure to maintain a reasonable distance from the trail.

Are horses allowed on the trail?

No horses allowed on this hike.

Can you bike the trail?

No biking on the trail.

ADD IT TO THE BUCKET LIST

If you are looking to touch the highest peak in the state of Arizona, then add Humphreys Trail to your bucket list. It’s a toughie, but with some training, the right gear, and enough food and water on the trip you can accomplish the journey. And trust me, the magnificent panorama views are worth every step!

Happy hiking! For more information, you can call the Flagstaff Ranger District – 928-526-0866.

Cheers friends, 🥂

-Court

©2020 by Courtney Schrauben

All Rights Reserved

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