One Of Arizona's Best Hikes Is This Unique Trail That Ends At A Stunning Waterfall

Some of the best hikes in Arizona are in magical canyons along crystal-clear rushing creeks, which occasionally open up into incredible swimming holes that provide a welcome respite from the intense sun and heat. Some of these hikes also feature beautiful waterfalls — that's right, waterfalls, smack dab in the middle of the desert. As an Arizona native myself, one of my all-time favorite Arizona canyon/waterfall hikes is one that you may not have heard about. It's called Cibecue Falls, and it's located about 130 miles northeast of Phoenix in a rugged little canyon that's part of the White Mountain Apache tribal lands. 

You'll need to purchase permits for all people in your party (more on that later), and you'll have to put in a little work to get to the trailhead, as it's way out in the wilderness and away from any major cities. But my opinion (which is shared by others) is that the reward of doing this hike far exceeds the cost and effort. This is one you'll remember for a lifetime. I only did it once — a number of years ago — but the memories are as clear as if I did it yesterday, especially the moment when we first spotted the magnificent waterfall, near the end of our epic journey. 

Navigating through the canyon

The 3-mile round-trip hike begins in a wide section of the canyon, where you'll be alternating between hiking on sand through brushy foliage, boulder hopping, and wading in the water, the depth of which will vary depending on recent rainfall. This section is a blast, as the giant rocks create an obstacle-course effect. Scrambling over them or leaping from one to another will delight any kids that happen to be in your group and will be sure to bring out your own inner kiddo, too. But because the wet rocks can be very slippery, exercise caution and wear water shoes that provide decent support and traction. 

As you make your way up the canyon, it will get narrower and steeper, providing more shade and creating deeper wading pools. Close to the end, the canyon walls close in, creating what feels like a majestic, open-air cathedral with Cibecue Falls cascading down the back wall. Stay and marvel at this incredible sight for a while and then return the way you came. Please note that while wading is acceptable and often required to navigate the canyon, the White Mountain Apache Tribe forbids swimming in deep pools and especially near the falls. 

Helpful information about Cibecue Falls

The first thing to know about this adventure is that a permit is required for each person in your party (including kids), and a ranger will definitely check your permits at the trailhead. While you can order a permit online, it's a cumbersome and confusing process. The website isn't very intuitive, and you have to create a profile before you can buy a permit. Some links seem to be broken, as well. Instead, visit one of the venues/stores listed on the White Mountain Apache Tribe's website to get a permit in person (you can try your luck ordering online via this website, too).

The next thing you should know is that you can do this hike year-round. But the best months are April and May, when the weather is warm enough to appreciate wading in the cool water but before the summer monsoon season starts in June. You can do the hike during other months and even cautiously during the monsoon months, but please do not under any circumstances enter the canyon when heavy rains are imminent to avoid being swept away by a flash flood.

A final tip is that the 4-mile road that leads from the highway to the trailhead is rough, narrow, and steep, with one river crossing at the end. It may be possible to do the river crossing safely with a sedan if water levels are low enough, but you won't know until you get there. Play it safe and bring a high-clearance 4x4, if you have one handy.