Growing up, my dad taught us a love of the outdoors and I’m excited to pass that on to our boys. We love the cool temperatures, amazing views and fun critters we find on trails in Northern Arizona. It’s hard to narrow the list down, but here are a few of our favorites hike less than three hours from Mesa, Arizona.

  1. West Fork, Sedona
west fork trail

A Bridge at West Fork

Distance: 7 miles round trip,
Difficulty: Easy

My husband and I loved Oak Creek as students at Northern Arizona University and our boys are equally enamored with the beautiful creek and red rock canyon walls. It’s an easy hike for kids, shaded by trees, and you get to cross the creek multiple times by stepping on stones. Be cautious of the slippery rocks and wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. We saw a deer in the distance during one of our hikes here. Beautiful in all seasons, with fall colors in autumn and lush greens and flowers in spring and summer.

Directions: From the Sedona area, take HWY 89A towards Flagstaff and up the Oak Creek Canyon. 10 miles from Sedona is the entrance to the signed West Fork Trailhead parking area (near milepost 384), $10 to park. In the summer, parking lot opens at 8 a.m., in the winter at 9 a.m. and fills up quickly.

  1. Lava River Cave, Flagstaff

Distance: 1.4 miles to end of cave and back
Difficultly: Moderate

This is a great hike for anyone who loves exploring caves. It’s a mile-long lava tube that was formed roughly 700,000 years ago by molten rock that erupted from a volcanic vent. You’ll be amazed at the stone icicles hanging from the ceiling where a final blast of volcanic heat caused the rock to partially re-liquefy and drip. Bring a flashlight and a jacket, the cave is cold all year round (it’s described as a natural ice box). The entrance is steep, so wear sturdy shoes. A tough hike with toddlers or babies in a hiking backpack, I recommend taking children 5 and up.

Directions: From the Flagstaff area, take HWY 180 towards the south rim of the Grand Canyon. About 15 miles from Flagstaff (Mile marker 230) is a dirt road to your left (FR 245). After going three miles on this road, turn left again on FR171. After one mile on this road, take another left onto FR171B. The trailhead to the lava river cave is a half mile down this road.

  1. Walnut Canyon Rim Trail, Flagstaff

Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy

The opportunity to observe Native American ruins is one of the highlights of this Rim Trail. As you walk along the trail, imagine what it was like to be an ancient inhabitant of the canyon. The trail is well-marked and paved. The ruins are scattered among the cliffs of the canyon, so bring binoculars. It’s a national park, so you’re likely to experience a crowd during peak times. The Island Trail is a bit longer and more strenuous, but you’ll see 25 cliff dwelling rooms along the path.

Directions: From the Flagstaff area, take I-40 east for a few miles. Follow the signs to the Walnut Canyon National Park.

  1. Sycamore Rim Loop, Williams
sycamore rim

Water hiking at Sycamore Rim

Distance: 11 miles
Difficulty: Moderate-hard because of length

The Sycamore Rim Loop Trail is an 11-mile forested loop near a dramatic canyon that offers a variety of scenery. The Sycamore Canyon is the second largest canyon in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon. You’ll see natural pools of water, meadows, a waterfall (sometimes dry), interesting rock formations and an old sawmill. My favorite – Impressive views of the majestic canyon, plus the San Francisco Peaks to the east and Bill Williams Mountain to the west. It’s long, but worth it, or you can choose to hike only a segment of it.

Directions: From the Flagstaff area, take I-40 West towards Williams. Just before reaching the exits for the town of Williams, take the Garland Prairie Road (exit 167) and head south (left). This trail soon turns to a well graded dirt road. Follow this road (also signed as FR141) for 9 miles until you reach the signed junction of FR56. Make a right onto FR56 and drive another 1.9 miles to the well signed trailhead on your left.

  1. Kendrick Park Watchable Wildlife Trail, Flagstaff

Distance: 1/4 mile short loop or longer 1 hour loop
Difficulty: Easy

You’ll find a wide variety of bird, insect and animal wildlife on this trail, including porcupine, pronghorn antelope, elk, badger and coyote. The park recommends wearing natural colors, unscented lotions and walking softly to encourage animal sightings. The trail also offers tremendous views of the San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick Mountain, and Kendrick Park.

Location: Adjacent to Highway 180, approximately 20 miles north of Flagstaff on the southern end of Kendrick Park. It is on the west side of Hwy 180 at mile-marker 235.5 and at an elevation of 7,900 feet.

More information on these hikes and others is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/ and http://arizonahiking.org/

Photos courtesy of Chandler photographer Megan Miks http://www.meganmiksphotography.com/ and Mesa photographer Sally Mesarosh.