Arizona contains fifteen counties, each with a unique character all its own. From the alpine summit at Humphreys Peak to the craggy desert peaks in Yuma and La Paz counties, climbing each of Arizona's fifteen county highpoints offers an interesting and educational cross-section of what the Grand Canyon State has to offer!
I have a new book: The County Highpoints of Arizona, published July 2010. Please scroll to the end of this page for more information!
The list of peaks can be done throughout the year. In winter, the desert summits are usually very nice, with warm days and no snow. September and October are usually dry throughout the state, and the big northern peaks are very pleasurable at this time. None of the fifteen county highpoints is overly technical, but some are quite remote and need a good 4-wd vehicle to make it to the trailhead. Hiking even a small subset of these peaks will dispel any beliefs that Arizona is just one huge flat desert with no interesting relief other than the Grand Canyon. In fact, Arizona features parts of four major desert ecosystems (the Sonoran in most of the southwest section of the state, the Chihuahuan in the southeast, the Mohave along the Colorado River, and the Great Basin in the extreme northwest). The Sonoran Desert is one of the 'greenest' deserts in the world, with two distinct rainy seasons - and it is also one of the hottest, too. The rest of the state is high-elevation plateau and mountains, dominated by the vast Colorado Plateau. For numbers geeks, Arizona has over 190 distinct named mountain ranges within its borders (second only to Nevada in the USA), and it is the 4th or 5th highest state in mean elevation.
La Paz County
Santa Cruz County
The County Highpoints of Arizona, in decreasing elevation (but not necessarily decreasing order of challenge!). All but a handful have summitpost pages. An asterisk (*) represents a link to my personal page's trip report. Contributors to the Arizona County Highpoints pages include streeyyr, Steven Cross, charles97, Dennis Poulin, andanistaloco and myself.
|Highpoint Name||County||Interesting Fact|
|Humphreys Peak||Coconino||State HP, AZ Prom Peak (Rank: 2)|
|Baldy Peak||Apache||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 6)|
|Mount Graham||Graham||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 1)|
|Chiricahua Peak||Cochise||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 4)|
|Mount Wrightson||Santa Cruz||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 8)|
|"South KP Peak" *||Greenlee|
|Mount Lemmon||Pima||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 3)|
|Hualapai Peak||Mohave||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 9)|
|Mount Union||Yavapai||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 26)|
|Mogollon Rim *||Gila|
|Browns Peak||Maricopa||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 18)|
|Rice Peak North Slope||Pinal|
|Harquahala Mountain||La Paz||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 17)|
|Signal Peak||Yuma||AZ Prominence Peak (Rank: 16)|
The first known ascent of an entire state's set of county highpoints was completed by Bob Walko, who hiked, climbed and visited the 14 county highpoints (at the time) of Arizona, completing his task in 1977 (La Paz became a county in 1983).
The hobby of county highpointing became viable in the following years with the advent of the internet, the publication of "The County Highpoints of the United States" by Andy Martin, and the development of the county highpointers webpage at www.cohp.org by Adam Helman. As of early 2007, 37 people have succeeded in completing the full slate of counties, with most completions having come since 2000.
For a complete list of who has completed Arizona's 15 county highpoints, click Here.
Many Arizona hikers who aren't necessarily seeking the county highpoints will probably have a few done anyway since many of the highpoints are well-known mountains in their own right. Just a few are more 'sublime', as we shall say.
Here are some lists to peruse:
1. Greenlee County: An easy hike about 0.2 miles one way and about 80 feet of gain. Need a map, though.
2. Mount Lemmon, Pima County: A service road goes to an observatory complex, with options for hikes of varying lengths from all arouhnd the mountain. The high ground has been graded over the years; the natural high ground is a bit outside the complex to the north.
3. Mount Union, Yavapai County: A road leads to a lookout tower on the summit. Plenty of ghost towns in the region.
4. Mogollon Rim, Gila County: There are two points that need to be visited. With a good vehicle to manage the forest roads, your hiking totals will be about a mile total. A map is required.
1. Browns Peak, Maricopa County: Exposed and loose rock up the main chute to the summit. Not too bad overall, but can be intimidating.
2. Black Mesa, Navajo County: Long journey through forests and canyons. Lots of navigation skill needed.
3. Signal Peak, Yuma County: A brushy, steep and sometimes faint trail leads up to the top from the backside. Very remote, lots of cactus. Expect a full day.
Fortunately, most of Arizona's county highpoints are easily accessible. None lie on ranches or military lands where access could be very difficult. However, there are a handful with various forms of minor restrictions. Also, in recent years wildfires have struck many of the highpoints, thus altering the usual approaches and trails.
• Mount Graham (Graham County). The summit is part of a refugium, all lands above 9,800 feet being off-limits to visitors in order to help an endangered species of squirrel survive. The reality is more complex. The upper mountain is the site of a handful of observatories, and is also sacred to the San Carlos Apaches. You can be fined if caught, but it's not patrolled heavily. In the past, the few hikers that went up never caught any grief. The drawback is the actual summit is wooded and has no views. Were it not a range highpoint or the most prominent point in the state, it wouldn't draw any attention at all. In 2004, the whole upper mountain was ravaged by the Nuttall-Gibson Fire, so as of now, the access and conditions are in a state of flux. On the plus side, the high Pinaleno Mountains still offer miles of remote forests, campgrounds and other peaks to explore.
• Black Mesa (Navajo County). This is on Navajo Nation Land and requires a permit to hike and camp. These are easy to get - however, occasionally, the locals may not be happy to see you and ask you to leave. The Black Mesa Complex is actually traditional Hopi lands - there is friction between the two Nations regarding their boundaries (no one is happy) and differing views on access and photography. While most who venture that way experience no trouble, a few have been asked to leave. These stories are anecdotal.
• Mount Lemmon (Pima County). This peak also has an observatory, but often the gates are open and you might be able to walk around if you look like you are on official business. Technically, the true top is just outside the fencing to the north. The relief is very minimal; the top having been graded over the years.
• County Highpointers Website, hosted by Adam Helman and the archive of trip reports for virtually all U.S. counties.• County Highpoints of the United States, ordering information for Andy Martin's remarkable book of lists.• My Arizona Counties Page, a collection of my reports of the Arizona County highpoints (and other peaks).
• The Pinal County "Liner": The highpoint of Pinal County is not the summit of Rice Peak, but a point on its north slope where the Pinal/Pima County line crosses over. A jumble of rocks about 500 feet north also have a similar elevation. Most visitors hike to Rice Peak anyway, then descend down to seek out the various points. A large fire in 2004 has denuded a lot of the forest but it is growing back.
• I shoulda been a county highpoint! Mazatzal Peak was thought to be the Gila County highpoint - the summit straddles the Gila and Yavapai County line and comes in at 7,903 feet. However, with more detailed mapwork, two areas were disovered atop the Mogollon Rim that come in at 7,920 feet. The Gila county line runs right along the edge of these areas. In a way, these seem to mock the whole idea of county highpointing. The hikes to these areas on the Rim are nice, but nothing major (although views out from the Rim are often spectacular). For satisfaction purposes, many people also climb Mazatzal Peak just to ensure their claim to Gila County.
I created a page that lists the lowest elevations in each county. Not surprisingly all occur along rivers and at county boundaries.Here's the link: Arizona's County Lowpoints (www.surgent.net)This was done mainly for amusement and curiosity. However, looking over the list it seems that completing it would be a much more difficult task than the 15 county highpoints! Typically you would be knocking around a brush-choked river bottom with GPS to ensure your position on the county line. On the extreme, you would need to float many miles down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon to access the Coconino County lowpoint.