Widely considered one of the gems of the Southwest, the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area is only seen each day by a maximum of fifty visitors. Entrance is by permit only, there are no trails, and campgrounds are primitive at best. But this is, after all, a wilderness even though it is less than 70 miles from Tucson.
Aravaipa is nearly 20,000 acres of the richest riparian habitat in the state, capped off like a layer cake with desert flora and fauna. Another 7,000 adjacent acres is protected by the Nature Conservancy. Elevations range from 6150 feet on Table Mountain to 2800 feet on the canyon floor.
Within its 1,000 foot walls, the eleven mile canyon follows Aravaipa Creek, which is the heart of both the wilderness and the Nature Conservancy preserve. The canyon is so narrow in spots that hikers have no choice but to wade the creek, which runs all year long.
The creek, which is shaded by large cottonwoods, is a tributary of the San Pedro River and shelters the best remaining group of desert fish in Arizona, including seven native species. Two are federally listed as threatened.
Nine side canyons with names like Hell Hole, Booger and Hells Half Acre lead up to the rim, which is covered with chaparral. The side canyons each have their own personality, and are also very important to hikers. Once inside the wilderness boundary, there are no signs. So the best way to keep track of your progress is to use the side canyons to map your location.
There are no facilities within the wilderness, including restrooms, picnic tables or grills. Primitive toilets are located at each trailhead parking lot. At the east end, the gravel road crosses Aravaipa Creek several times before reaching BLM Wilderness Area parking. High-clearance vehicles are recommended.
The canyon can be hiked in a day, but most people stay for at least one of the two nights permitted.