The desert rat loves water but prefers to live, like his four-footed cousin the kangaroo rat, where water is rare as radium. The rarity makes it precious, therefore lovable. For this rat the finest of all music is the tinkle of seep water trickling into a tin cup, the periodic drip of unseen water drops falling in the shadows upon tympanic stone.”
Born and raised in Phoenix, I’ve grown a deep appreciation for the Sonoran Desert and its arid beauty.
But living among cactus and coyote also stirs an endless longing for water in the wild. There’s something about a trail meandering through a clear creek, or the way summer’s first monsoon thunderheads roll over the valley that’s scarce and restorative.
Fortunately, Arizona has more than 100,000 miles of river, creek, and stream. Many of those are seasonal and intermittent, and countless others have been permanently changed or lost by manmade diversions and dams. What remains offers plenty of watercourses to explore, and when we’re lucky, waterfalls.
Here’s a look at some of Arizona’s most popular falls accessible by hiking and backpacking. It’s not an exhaustive list, and we’ve purposely excluded the falls in Havasupai to focus on the Copper State’s lesser-known gems.
Hikes to each location vary from short strolls (Apache Falls) to those deep in the Grand Canyon (Ribbon Falls) requiring multi-day backpacking trips and months of advance planning. If for some reason you choose to stick to the lakes and the rivers that you’re used to, don’t say we didn’t try. Happy exploring.
1. Cibecue Falls
Cibecue Falls is located about 2.5 hours east of Phoenix, on White Mountain Apache tribal lands. The hike is a relatively easy out-and-back trek up Cibecue Creek with little shade along the way. When the water’s clear, the falls resemble a smaller version of something out of Havasupai, though the creek and falls can get murky after rain.
A permit’s required to visit the falls, and primitive campgrounds are also available in the general area. Its location and picturesque backdrop make Cibecue Falls an ideal daytrip or over-nighter when the weather’s good and skies are clear.