Hiking safety during the warmest, stormiest summer months in Arizona

Jul 4, 2022, 7:15 AM
(Photo by Wild Horizons/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Wild Horizons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wild Horizons/Getty Images)

PHOENIX  — It’s the time of the year when a day will seldom have a high temperature under triple digits, but it does not mean Phoenicians cannot venture onto the trails that are so populated through most of the year.

But, during the summer, hiking requires more planning and attention to detail, especially as the monsoon season pushes on.

“We definitely encourage people to go north in the state just to avoid some of the hottest weather,” Michelle Thompson, Arizona State Parks and Trails chief public information officer, said. “We have parks in the Sonoran desert that just get to some of those extreme temperatures. They’re also more prone to the monsoon storms that come in later in the afternoon and can bring dust storms or rain with short notice.”

Lin Chao is the president of the Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, a group that organizes hikes and related activities.

The club is still planning and going on hikes.

A key to continuing the activity is starting early, not only because the temperature is the coolest first thing in the morning.

Thunderstorms and rainfall are most common early in the afternoon over mountain terrain and later in the afternoon and evening over lower deserts, according to the National Weather Service. Chao said she likes to be done with hikes before 3 p.m.

Arid environments found in the state have little capacity to absorb rainfall, resulting in runoff moving through the narrow canyons and steep terrain.

Crossing washes or streams after a flash flood warning isn’t advised.

Chao is alert of another post-storm occurrence — humidity. The more it rains, the more humid the air will be. This is a departure from the dry nature of the Sonoran, which could catch hikers off-guard.

“We went to Mount Lemmon I think two years ago,” she explained. “It was summer, a cooler temperature. But before we arrived at Mount Lemmon in Tucson, we had a big storm. So it was very, very humid. And actually two people got sick, one was me. I was so dizzy, I had to throw up. Another gentleman, he had a pacemaker, same thing.”

With humidity brings more sweat which requires more replenishment, and sometimes, from Chao’s experience, more water does not prevent certain ailments. She said electrolytes are needed, via a tablet, other supplements or beverages with more sodium.

She has seen plenty of cramps in humid temperatures, a lesson to check the conditions even in spots flooding is not a concern.

Arizona saw more rainfall than normal last summer, and 2022 is expected to bring a similar look in south and central Arizona, according to NWS.

When it comes to planning for hikes, Thompson recommends bringing twice as much water as one thinks is needed. The general rule of thumb is to turn around when the water bottle is halfway empty.

Chao recommends a light rain jacket and cooling towels that hikers can freeze overnight before the hike and use when the heat turns up and dunk into a creek on certain hikes.


Thompson gave a couple of trail recommendations that have cooler temperatures than some of the Valley’s popular destinations.

One is Tonto Natural Bridge in Payson, a hike that travels down to Pine Creek.

“There’s some water down there, it’s a spectacular view and it’s something that you may not expect from the ground level of the park,” Thompson said. “It’s just a really stunning formation there.”

It’s a 1.4-mile loop trail which displays the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, according to AllTrails.

Red Rock State Park was another one of Thompson’s recommendations. The park in Sedona has a 5-mile trail network consisting of interconnecting loops.

you still get those stunning views, you get the red rock formations in the background, and it’s a little bit less crowded than some of the other locations in that area.

Mount Lemmon is another picturesque location where the peak is 20 degrees cooler than the base.

Arizona State Parks and Trails sees a decline in park visitation over the summer until crowds return in September and October.

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Hiking safety during the warmest, stormiest summer months in Arizona