Hiking is one of Arizona’s best outdoor activities, but since several months out of the year can be unbearably hot, it helps to have some water nearby or at the end of your trek. Whether it is a lovely stream, spring, lake, or waterfall, Arizona certainly delivers when it comes to water-based hikes.
You don’t have to wait until the summer months to enjoy these water hikes, as most of these hikes can also be done year-round (although it might be too cold for swimming!). For me, hiking is better when there’s a reward of some kind, and waterfalls or rivers always make a difficult hike worth it!
Read on to learn more about some of Arizona’s best water hikes and plan your next hiking adventure!
13 Best Hikes with Water in Arizona
This list features the best hikes in Arizona that offer water along the way. These trails are perfect for staying hydrated while enjoying the state’s stunning landscapes. From refreshing streams to scenic lakes, these hikes offer something for every level of hiker. Be sure to bring a water bottle and hit the trails!
1. Seven Falls, Tucson
By far one of the most popular hikes in the Tucson area, Seven Falls is a series of, you guessed it, seven waterfalls that cascade down into a large pool below.
The water may be low at certain times of the year to where the waterfalls aren’t much more than a trickle, but after monsoon season or a heavy rain/snow storm, Seven Falls is downright gorgeous and the pool below is very refreshing after the hike to get there.
The hike takes various amounts of time to the falls, depending on where you start: a $6 shuttle hourly shuttle runs from the Sabino Canyon visitors center that will cut out the first two miles, or you can hike the extra mileage directly from the visitors center. Either route will provide you with an excellent view of Sabino Canyon and some of the best desert landscapes that Arizona has to offer.
You’ll find yourself crossing the creek several times during the hike, but that makes it much more fun! Prepare ahead by bringing a good walking stick for balance and good sturdy shoes that can get wet without causing blisters.
Enjoy the picturesque Seven Falls when you get to your destination by having a peaceful picnic before you head back down the trail.
2. Water Wheel Falls, Payson
Another popular destination, especially for people from the Phoenix Valley, is Water Wheels Falls on Ellison Creek just outside Payson.
Nestled at the bottom of the mighty Mogollon Rim, this area of the Tonto National Forest is fondly known as “Rim Country”. It’s a common escape during the hot summer months, and a refreshing dip in Ellison Creek is a wonderful bonus.
Named for the water wheel that used to be on the creek to power a mill, Water Wheel Falls is beautiful and pleasant but can be dangerous during the monsoon season; flash floods can come crashing through the narrow canyon without warning.
If there are ever any storm clouds around you or upstream, it’s best to save your hike to Water Wheel Falls for another day!
➡ I wrote a complete guide about this trail with pictures, maps, and pro tips. Check it out here: Water Wheel Falls Guide.
3. Blue Wash Trailhead
Thank goodness there’s water and swimming available at the end of this trail because it’s a hot one!
There is little to no shade along the entire route, and on the way in it isn’t too much of a problem since you’re headed downhill. On the hike back out, be sure to have plenty of water on hand as it can get hot and difficult as you climb out of the wash.
The trail drops around 400 feet in elevation, and at the end, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous swimming pool with a small waterfall at one end.
The pool is deep enough to cliff jump in spots, just always do so carefully!
At only 2.8 miles round trip, this can be a family-friendly hike for those adventurous types and you can even bring your four-legged kids along; the dogs will love swimming in the creek as you’ll have to cross it several times!
4. Cibecue Falls
This picture-perfect waterfall stands at about 30 feet high, and after a strong rain turns a muddy but beautiful chocolate brown color.
Swimming is not allowed immediately below the falls, but you can take dips in Cibecue Creek on the way since you’ll be crossing through several times on your way to the falls.
Getting to the trailhead takes a little more of a road trip from Phoenix than other hikes, so plan for it to take a full day. You must also get a permit in advance, which you can conveniently buy online before you leave home. Visit the official website to pay fees and print out your permit.
Cibecue Falls is located in a deep alcove/slot canyon, making it impossible to continue past the falls. You should also check the weather beforehand, as a flash flood in that canyon could be dire! You can camp near the trailhead for free, just make sure you stay in designated camping areas.
5. Fossil Creek
This immensely popular water hike located between Camp Verde and Strawberry near the Mogollon Rim has a few options for shorter or longer hikes.
A permit system is in place to keep crowds down and keep the fragile wilderness area safe from off-roading, off-trail hiking, and camping in non-designated areas. Be sure to obtain a permit before you go!
This is a true wilderness area and has been protected as such. The creek is fed by natural springs gushing out of the ground, making the water deliciously cold and clear (although you should always filter before drinking for your safety). On a hot day, swimming below the 25-foot Fossil Creek Falls is one of the best summer activities.
The shortest trail option is from the Waterfall Trailhead and is only two miles round trip. For more of a hiking adventure, park in one of the farther parking lots and hike up to 6 miles alongside Fossil Creek.
The vegetation here is lush, the water is clear and cold, and the surrounding high desert landscape is wild and nearly untouched!
6. Tanque Verde Falls
If you’re looking for an adventurous hike that is best after heavy rain, look no further! Tanque Verde Falls is a few miles outside Tucson, and at its highest flow, the water tumbles over an incredible 70-foot cliff face and down into the pool below.
This pool is great for swimming on a hot day, making this hike a good monsoon season adventure.
I say adventure because the “trail” isn’t much of a trail at all; you follow the creek bed, which could be flowing with water, and you have to go up and over large boulders along the way.
This is less of a hike and more of a scramble over about a mile, but with a great reward at the end for all your hard work!
Towering saguaro cacti silently cheer you on as you make your way to Tanque Verde Falls- this area has some of the densest saguaro forests in Arizona.
7. Salome Creek (The Jug)
This is a true water hike since you’ll find yourself in the creek instead of next to it for the majority of the hike. The water can either be clear and flowing or muddy and stagnant, depending on the time of year.
Hiking The Jug also takes a little more planning, since you may need repelling equipment towards the end if the water is not deep enough to jump.
After you descend into the canyon from the parking lot, you’ll be in the water for the next mile or so. Depending on the water flow, you could potentially be swimming in some spots.
It’s helpful to wear sturdy water shoes, clothes that can get wet/dirty, and waterproof your backpack and gear in some way.
Towards the end of the canyon section, you can either jump from the 25-foot waterfall into the pool below or, the safer option, repel down the rock face next to the waterfall. There are sometimes ropes and hooks available, but always best to bring your own gear if possible.
After the waterfall section, you climb back out of the canyon via the trail and then continue back to the parking lot. This is such a fun, adventurous hike for those who are looking for something a little more challenging!
In recent years, since the advent of social media, traveling to Havasupai has become a popular bucket list item for many hikers. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the village of Supai is only accessible by foot, mule, or helicopter!
Hikers must obtain permits to enter the canyon and camp downstream near the waterfalls.
And what incredible waterfalls these are!
Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, Rock Falls, Navajo Falls (dried up in 2008), and Beaver Falls all cascade down into sparkling blue-green pools below. The water has this gorgeous hue from the minerals in the water, and in fact, the word “Havasupai” means “people of the blue-green waters”.
Campers stay in tents or hammocks, and some choose to hike from the campgrounds to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River, passing into Grand Canyon National Park along the way.
You must either carry your own gear on the 11-mile total hike from the parking lot at Hualapai Hilltop to the campgrounds or pay for a mule train to carry your gear.
It’s a whopping 16 miles round trip from the campgrounds to the Colorado River, so only attempt if you’re up for it!
9. Horton Creek
In the shadow of the Mogollon Rim lies one of my favorite ever hikes! Horton Creek is a continuously flowing, spring-fed creek in the Tonto National Forest, only a short 2-hour drive from my hometown in Mesa.
The hike is about 8 miles round trip and follows Horton Creek to Horton Springs where ice-cold water gushes from out of the ground under some boulders.
The trail is shaded for much of the hike (rare in Arizona!) and has a steady incline for most of the 4 miles up to the spring. The tall trees combined with the wildflowers in summer make for one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Arizona.
The trail is well-marked, and camping spots are scattered along the creek banks; many scouting groups and families choose to backpack overnight on this trail due to quick accessibility from the Phoenix Valley and generally easy hiking.
➡ I wrote a complete guide about this trail with pictures, maps, and pro tips. Check it out here: Horton Creek Trail: Complete Guide, Map, & Pro Tips.
10. Massacre Falls
Massacre Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows after heavy rain or snow, but it is one of the few waterfalls in the Superstition Mountains that is within easy hiking distance.
The hike itself takes you through some of the most beautiful lower desert landscapes, with cholla and saguaro cacti looming all around you.
The trail is a decent challenge, as it takes you uphill from the parking lot to the foothills of the Superstitions with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain overall.
Once you reach the waterfall, if the water is flowing well you’ll get to witness a narrow cascade of water pouring over a rock face in freefall for about 30-40 feet.
In this part of the desert, any water is a big deal! Especially something as magnificent as a waterfall.
11. Grand Canyon Hikes
The mighty Colorado River is responsible for creating the largest canyon in the world, carving through the red rock layers over the centuries. The Grand Canyon is a mile deep and ten miles across at its widest, but hiking to the Colorado River or some of the other water features in the Grand Canyon takes a few more miles on foot (or mule!).
Ribbon Falls is a spectacular waterfall about a mile off the North Kaibab trail, and is a popular side trip for hikers going from Rim to Rim (one side of the canyon to the other). The water flows out of a hole in the canyon wall and down to a huge cone-shaped travertine rock formation created by mineral deposits. The water in Ribbon Falls sparkles in the sunshine, and a dip in the creek below is the perfect place to cool off.
If you want to see the Colorado River in person, you have a few options. Hiking down from the South Rim by way of South Kaibab or Bright Angel trails will take you a few hours of weaving downward through side canyons and cliff sides, but then you are rewarded with a magnificent view of the muddy but vast river.
Walking across this expanse over one of the hanging bridges gets you right in the middle of the action while still keeping your feet dry. Go into the Colorado river from the banks with caution, as it’s a powerful and unpredictable stream!
Hiking in the Grand Canyon is a bucket list item for many people, and getting to experience the water that carved this wonder of the world is just an added bonus!
12. Wet Beaver Creek
Known as “The Crack” to locals, this swimming hole near Sedona, Arizona is one of the best-kept secrets in the state.
Getting here requires a bit more work, but once you get there you are rewarded with a refreshing dip in an ice-cold pool. Perfect for a summer adventure, given that the trail is pretty exposed and the trek can get very hot, but luckily you can cool off at the end!
You won’t be able to drink the water in the creek along the way (or at least it’s not recommended), so bring about a gallon of water per person for the 7-mile round trip.
Once at the pool, enjoy cliff jumping, swimming, and sunbathing, and you can even hang up your hammock on some of the large trees along the creek.
Wet Beaver Creek cuts through the famous red rock cliffs of Sedona and the surrounding landscape, and this affords scenic views around every corner that will take your breath away!
The trail starts flat and easy, then requires some wayfinding about 2.5 miles in as you follow the creek. Be prepared to cross the creek a couple of times! It just adds to the adventure of getting to “The Crack” to experience one of the best-hidden gems in the state.
13. Parson’s Spring
Up for an adventure? Parson’s Spring is the hike for you, with a lovely water hole at the end for your reward!
Getting to the trailhead requires a 4×4 vehicle or high clearance, and once you get to the trailhead it’s another 3+ mile hike through a canyon to get to the spring.
With this much work required, Parson’s Spring is one of the least visited (and so most quiet and calm!) swimming holes in the entire state.
The only hard part of the trail is the descent into the canyon, and after that, it is a fairly pleasant hike through a riparian area, full of lovely green trees, birds, and the gentle flow of Sycamore Creek.
Of course, you have to hike this same path on the way out, so prepare yourself mentally and physically for the climb back out of the canyon.
Once you reach Parson’s Spring, enjoy the cold, clear water that bubbles up directly from underground into the swimming hole. The quiet, serene atmosphere is the perfect place to spend an hour or two escaping from the crazy reality of life!
Before You Go
Arizonans love hiking, especially if there’s water involved! In our desert state, water is life-saving and can turn a hike from blah to spectacular! Most memorable hikes have some sort of reward at the end or along the way, and that’s definitely the case in all of the hikes on this list.
Remember to always check the weather to avoid flash floods, and bring your own water to drink (drinking from most streams isn’t recommended). And most of all, remember to have fun and enjoy some of the beautiful rivers, creeks, waterfalls, and swimming holes that Arizona has to offer.
If you search specifically for Waterfalls Hikes, then head over to my complete guide about the 16 Most Beautiful Waterfall Hikes in Arizona
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