5 - 6
FATMAP difficulty grade
Humphreys Peak is the highest point on a mountain called the San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona.
This ancient volcano makes the highpoint of the state, rising to 12,637 feet above sea level.
Known locally as “The Peaks,” the mountain has several lesser summits, but Humphreys is the only one with a trail reaching the top.
This trail is within a wilderness area of Coconino National Forest and begins at the Arizona Snowbowl ski area. Trailhead parking is available in one of the resort’s lower lots, and the trail heads off across a ski run to enter the trees on the other side.
It then remains in the shade for some time, among huge aspen trees plus mixed spruce and fir.
Broad switchbacks lead steadily upward, without much for views through the canopy.
Higher up the forest becomes all conifers, and bristlecone pines begin to appear.
These are the same hardy trees that grow in the Great Basin ranges and can live to thousands of years old. Eventually, the forest thins, and the trail crosses some mountainside meadows, where you can gaze over the ski resort and at nearby Agassiz Peak.
A final few tighter and steeper switchbacks lead to the saddle between Agassiz and Humphreys, where you’ll finally get a commanding view.
Standing there at the timberline, you can see over the mountain and into the Inner Basin, which is the blown-out crater of the volcano.
It’s ringed by jagged spires and steep slopes, filled in the bottom with meadows and aspen glades.
Out beyond the basin is the hazy horizon of the Painted Desert on the Navajo Nation. This saddle is a worthy place to relax and take it all in, but the hike is far from over.
The toughest mile remains––up the bouldery, windswept ridge of Humphreys to its summit.
This stretch may surprise you with its alpine character, despite its location in Arizona.
At this altitude, snow and ice can linger into the summer.
What’s more, this lone mountain makes an island of high elevation on a rather flat landscape, so it’s subject to high winds and extreme weather.
Don’t be shy about turning around if conditions turn bad, because there is no shelter anywhere near the summit. Those who push all the way along the ridgeline, over a few false summits, and finally to the top will be rewarded with the ultimate panorama of Northern Arizona.
In addition to the Inner Basin and the Painted Desert, you can see southward over the Verde Valley and mountains beyond.
Look to the north, and you can even see the Grand Canyon.
On a clear day, the cliffs of the North Rim make an obvious wall on the horizon, and you can just make out the shadow of the chasm that lies beneath. Even though summer is the most popular time to hike Humphreys Peak, it’s also Arizona’s monsoon season, when violent storms are common in the afternoon.
If you hike this trail any time July through mid-September, you should get a very early start and plan to be back below treeline before noon, unless the forecast is absolutely certain of favorable weather for the day. Fall is perhaps the better time to hike it, when the weather dries and calms.
This is when aspen leaves change color and light up the forest.
Trails of the Inner Basin flood with people during that time, but fewer hike the peak because of cold weather.
Just come prepared with extra layers, and you might find yourself on the roof of Arizona with no one else around. Source: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recreation/ohv/recarea/?recid=55108&actid=50