Today we’re talking all about summer hiking with kids in northern Arizona (it’s not as far of a dive as you may think!). Keep reading for six family-friendly hikes in Payson, Flagstaff Pine and Strawberry, Arizona!
East Valley Moms
Christopher Creek is great for day trips as it is only about an hour and a half drive depending on where you are located.
See Canyon Trail is rated as difficult. However, if you are only going a couple miles (like us, with toddlers who can’t go very far) the first couple miles are pretty easy. Or, do the See Springs Trail that starts at the same trailhead but it only two miles!
We turned around when it started to get too difficult. It is absolutely beautiful hiking along a river. It was a great place to picnic and hike. Almost the whole trail is completely shaded making it an even greater escape from the heat.
There is another trail in Christopher Creek (The Christopher Creek trail, which is rated as easy and kid friendly- although we’ve never been personally).
Momhack: There aren’t any bathrooms here!
2023 note: with all the rains this winter, the creek is really full, making it a little bit tricker with kids this season.
2. Tonto Natural Bridge, Payson
Another great one for a day trip as it is even closer than Christopher Creek. Tonto Natural Bridge is a state park so you will need to check hours of operation, which change depending on seasons.
We love this destination so much we have a full day trip guide here.
Tonto Natural Bridge is GORGEOUS. There are 3 different hiking trails located on site. The main trail, Tonto Natural Bridge Trail is rated as difficult, however with the right shoes and hand-holding across a few slippery rocks- I think it doable for a family who has been hiking before.
You just can’t beat the views, or the cool breeze from the waterfall in the hot months.
The park does have an entrance fee, but there are clean bathrooms and great picnic spots there as well.
2023 update: the rains have closed several of these trails, too. The overlooks are still open, as well as the waterfall trail and one other; we were there most recently in May 2023 and there were still closures. If there’s a specific trail you’re eyeing, call ahead.
3. Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
I’ll post about this “park” until I’m blue in the face because I’m a huge fan. It is absolutely beautiful and has a variety of trails perfect for hiking or even off-road strollers. Some of the trails are flat but unpaved (Nate Avery trail is all flat with only one dip).
It is surrounded by gorgeous mountains (some snow-covered if you go early or late in the year).
We’ve been in the middle of summer, when it was about 80 degrees and still wonderful and we’ve also been in December when there is some snow to play with. Year-round this park is just super fun for the family.
No entrance fee, and clean bathrooms onsite!
4. Sawmill Nature County Park, Flagstaff
This park has a playground and is home to several nature trails. While it isn’t quite “hiking” it’s a great place as an introduction to hiking.
With a playground, in case your kids want to bail, and flat unpaved trails. It’s perfect as a place to start with coffee (and of course, water) in hand.
5. Monument Peak, Payson
This one is part of the Payson Trail System that has made hiking throughout town so much more accessible. Technically a multis pathway (so you may see horses or moutain bikers) it’s relatively flat which is great for kids. The pathway system doesn’t require a truck/four-wheel vehicle, so if you’re driving in your minivan or sedan, this is a great option for your vehicle.
We clocked the loop at just one mile, a nice amount of time with toddlers in tow.
There aren’t any bathrooms here, but there isn’t any parking fee, either! The drive to get to the trailhead is also a beautiful, scenic route and shows a side of Payson we hadn’t seen before.
6. Pine Loop Trail, Pine, AZ
Easily accessible (it’s literally right off the highway and a mile from Old Country Inn Pizza), it’s an almost three mile, flat hike with incredible views (and full cell service the entire time).
I’ve done this hike so many times I’ve lost count–it’s that great for kids! It’s a loop trail with clear signage to help keep everyone on track.
No fee (and no bathrooms), but if you go towards the end of the day you may see elk at the bottom of the trailhead.
A few tips for hiking with kids
- Research the trail before you head out so you know what to expect. As I have mentioned above, I like alltrails.com.
- Bring plenty of water! Amazon has some options for kid-sized Camelbak style hydration packs. If your kid is old enough to wear a backpack and hike, this takes a load off you.
- Snacks. Snacks. Snacks…they can carry their own in their fancy new hydration pack! Make sure to keep track of the wrappers so you don’t litter!
- Hold hands if the trails seem rough and keep them within an arms reach on steeper trails.
- Take lots of breaks. They’re kids and this is a new skill for them. The first couple times be prepared to turn back before the end of the trail and don’t take it too seriously if you do. It’s supposed to be fun and will get easier the more you go!
- Check the weather. Especially when you are venturing out to new locations or areas you haven’t been before.