3 Gorgeous Northern Arizona Water Hikes with Canyons, Creeks, and Lakes

The diversity in Arizona's landscape is stunning to say the least, and for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, it makes for a playground to be explored. Whether you're planning a day trip, a camping trip, or simply an afternoon jaunt, here are three hikes in Northern Arizona to try.

West Fork Oak Creek Canyon Trail #108
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Beginner
Average Time: 2-3 hours

Eleven miles north of Sedona is where you’ll find West Fork Oak Creek Canyon, and the views you’ll get from this hike are hard to beat. The trail itself goes for three miles on which you can experience lush green, the sounds of flowing water, and jutting canyon walls. Be prepared to get wet, as you will be crossing the creek a number of times. Some of the crossings include just a bit of rock hopping, while other parts will require getting your feet wet. After three miles, the trail ends and it's a matter of following the creek from there on. As you continue through the canyon, you'll see rock walls in orange-y reds and greens, with darkening and fading browns and blacks throughout. The canyon will open up and tighten as you move along, with sections of tall grass and bright yellow sunflowers towering above your head. It is one of several picturesque hikes in Northern Arizona — and one we feel is a must-see.

 This is a popular hiking spot and can get very busy on weekends. We suggest going during the week, if possible. If you do go on the weekend, go early to beat the crowds.

West Clear Creek's Point Trail
Distance: 7 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Average time: 4-6 hours

Looking for an oasis? This hike fits the bill. Settled on the Mogollon Rim and east of Camp Verde, this wilderness area is nothing less than magnificent. With soaring canyon walls lined with dense pines and waterfalls flowing, it allows for swimming, fishing, camping and/or just a day of hiking around.

Starting at the Point Trail, there is a steep descent into the canyon, but it is only about a half a mile. From there, the hike requires some scrambling and rock hopping — and you’ll definitely be in the water. We recommend wearing hiking sandals or waterproof hiking shoes. There are sections where the water can get up to chest high, so if you’re planning on eating lunch or stopping for a snack, a dry bag is also recommended.

Once down in the canyon, enjoy the cooler temperatures, diverse vegetation, and teal blue waters. Take time to explore, and don’t be afraid to get wet. Chances are, you will find it hard to believe that you are still in Arizona.

Babe Haught Trail No. 143 to Knoll Lake
Distance: 11 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Average Time: 8-9 hours

This trail begins at the Tonto Fish Hatchery. A strenuous 2.3-mile hike up the Mogollon Rim features remarkable views that make the tough jaunt more than worth it. The trail consists of a series of switchbacks with beautiful outlooks all along as you gain in elevation by more than 1,300 feet. Once at the top of the rim, the trail opens up onto a beautifully inviting meadow. Take the trail to a service road. Once you cross it, you will find yourself in a forest of Ponderosa pines, following a stream that will lead you down to Knoll Lake. You will cross the stream a couple of times, but depending on water levels, these are easy crossings requiring just a little rock hopping. Once at the lake, you will find several campsites and more terrain for hiking. If serenity is what you’re looking for, we suggest avoiding weekends and holidays.

Tip: Upon crossing the service road, much of the trail is marked by Cairns. Be on the lookout for those and be careful not to get off trail.
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Sara Palmer is a local improviser, writer, teacher, and storyteller. You can commonly find her exploring the surrounding wilderness areas of Phoenix.
Contact: Sara Palmer