A day hike to Humphreys Peak from the Arizona Snowbowl – stand on top of Arizona at 12,633 feet above sea level and retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Humphreys Peak Trail Guide
MAP: Flagstaff Trails
PERMITS: only required in winter
DESIGNATION: Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Coconino National Forest
BEST SEASONS: June, September, October
DISTANCE: 9.6 miles round trip
ELEVATION: trailhead 9,290 – summit 12,633 – (difference 3,343)
ACCESS: paved roads to the trailhead
DIRECTIONS: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north for 6.5 miles (180 begins in downtown from Route 66 as Humphreys Street – turn left on W Columbus Avenue from Humphreys Street to follow 180). Six or seven miles out of Flagstaff, near mile post 223, turn right on the signed N Snowbowl Road. Follow the paved Snowbowl Road steeply up the mountain for 6.5 miles where you will see the signed parking area on the left. Entering “Arizona Snowbowl” on your GPS will also get you there.
ROUTE: well maintained, popular trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: 50 Favorite Hikes
Here’s a map that shows the Humphreys Peak Trail #151, courtesy of the US Forest Service. This is only a general schematic, showing the locations of all the maintained trails in the San Francisco Peaks.
This Flagstaff Trails map is better for overall navigation.
Time and Difficulty
Most hikers will want about 5 or 6 hours to do this hike. Six hours allows for a reasonable 2mph pace, and an extra hour for breaks.
Climbing into such a high elevation should not be underestimated (see the Safety section below), but many hikers are unreasonably daunted by the notion of walking up Arizona’s highest peak.
The truth is that you’ll drive a majority of the way up the mountain, up to a height of over 9,000 feet. You’ll gain a little over 3,000 feet on foot, on a 10-mile round trip hike. Despite the thinner air up here, it’s easier than walking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back.
At this time permits are only required in the winter, but there is some talk about adding more regulations in the near future.
The term “winter,” in this case, seems to apply to the season of the Arizona Snowbowl’s operation. More about the winter mountaineering and camping permits can be found here.
Off-trail hiking is also prohibited above 11,400. The only exception is when there is significant snow.
The peaks represent the only alpine tundra in all of Arizona, home to a rare plant called the “San Francisco Peaks Groundsel” that only grows here. It’s extremely sensitive to your footsteps.
Dogs are allowed but should be on a leash.
Group size is limited to 12 or less.
No motorized vehicles, bicycles, etc. This is a wilderness area.
Backcountry camping for backpackers is allowed along the Humphreys Trail, but with the following restrictions:
- prohibited in the Inner Basin
- prohibited above 11,400 feet.
- prohibited on Arizona Snowbowl private property
Otherwise, you should be good to go with no permits required (Except in winter).
The San Francisco Peaks
Visible throughout most of northern Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks are the state’s only alpine mountains. The range is home to several lesser peaks, including:
- Agassiz – 12,356 feet
- Fremont – 11,969
- Aubineau – 11,838
- Rees – 11,474
- Doyle – 11,460
- Sugarloaf – 9,283
These mountains are immediately north of the city of Flagstaff and tend to see significant hiking traffic. This page describes the simplest and most popular way to the summit via the Humphreys Trail (#151). The trail connects with a larger network that includes the Weatherford Trail, Kachina Trail, and Inner Basin Trail.
Humphreys Peak is sacred to virtually all Native American tribes of northern Arizona, with varying cultural stories about the mountain. Protest continues regarding today’s high use, especially regarding artificial snow in the ski area.
The Hopi call the peaks Nuva’tuk-iya-ovi.
The Navajo call them Dook’o’ooslííd.
Our modern name, San Francisco Peaks, was dubbed around the year 1630 by Spanish friars in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Andrew Atkinson Humphreys was a General in the Civil War.
Geologists think that the entire range was once a single stratovolcano, sometimes called San Francisco Mountain. It could have been about 16,000 feet high and would have resembled Mount Rainier or Mount Saint Helens (Prior to its 1980 eruption). I think this can best be envisioned when viewing the peaks from the southwest.
They say that the mountain spawned from a series of eruptions, anywhere from 400,000 to 900,000 years ago. Then sometime more recently (92,000-400,000 years ago), the San Francisco Mountain collapsed and started to resemble the peaks we have today. You can geek out more on the geology here.
Monsoon thunderstorms are most active here in July and August. Storms are likely to show up with very little warning. Lightning poses a serious threat here above treeline.
The warm summer temperatures in July and August can be deceptively ideal for hiking, but don’t get caught in a storm! If you must hike at this time of year, start very early in the morning.
In July of 2016, a 17 year old was struck and killed! Countless others have had “near miss” experiences with lightning up here.
Know the symptoms of altitude sickness, especially if members of your party have never hiked at this elevation. The only cure for it is to turn around and go back down.
Stay hydrated. The air is especially dry here.
This is a serious mountain! The summit is always windy and cold, even in summer.
My Trip Notes and Photos
In May of 2008 I moved to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to live and work for the summer season. I had never been to Arizona and was eager to get out and hike as much as I could.
It was only a few weeks later on June 15th when I’d get away for my first non-Grand-Canyon Arizona hike, here to Humphreys Peak. The mountain was plainly visible from so many places and I couldn’t wait to get up it.
I’d made a friend whose name is also Jamie. She was new to Arizona too, and keen on getting out and exploring as much as possible, so we teamed up for the hike.
I was delighted to see aspen trees in Arizona.
This guy was running up the trail. We saw a handful of ultra-runners on this sunny Sunday (It was Father’s Day, in fact), and quite a few other hikers and their dogs.
The trail begins with a whole lot of switchbacks through the forest.
Just above treeline we came to a saddle with stunning views to the south. The saddle splits Humphreys and Mount Agassiz, second-highest peak in the range (And Arizona). This is roughly the halfway point on the hike – from here the trail generally follows the rocky ridgeline to the top.
Could this flower be the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel? Packera franciscana!
Jamie plays in the snow – we were so amazed to see snow in June! I’d bicycled over some high passes on my ride across America, but this was the first time I’d hiked a mountain above 7,000 feet.
Residents of Flagstaff love their hiking, and they love their dogs too!
There were so many false summits.
Snow melts in mysterious ways.
I was greeted on the summit by this lone hiker flying a kite.
Agassiz is the most prominent and stunning peak in the range.
This was the first, but certainly not the last time I’d climb Humphreys Peak.