During the summer months, any place is better than Phoenix, Arizona. So to escape the heat, I packed up my Gregory backpack and headed to eastern Arizona to backpack the Mount Baldy Loop.
The Mount Baldy, Arizona, trailhead, located about 40 minutes outside Pinetop and near the Sunrise Ski Resort, is a perfect intro-to-backpacking experience. The starting elevation, over 9,000 feet, may surprise those who don’t think Arizona has many high-elevation spots. However, thanks to the elevation disparity from Phoenix, it keeps the temperatures cool and gives you a fantastic place to enjoy the outdoors.
I should note early on that there is an Mt. Baldy in California that is very popular. This is not that hike.
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Hiking the Mount Baldy, Arizona Backpacking Loop
Planning your Mount Baldy Backpacking Adventure
Where is Mount Baldy in Arizona?
Mount Baldy is in Northern Arizona and partly on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It’s about a five-hour drive from Phoenix, with the nearest town being Greer and then Showlow-Pinetop. It’s a perfect summer destination to beat the heat, as the elevation is around 8,500 feet.
Can you hike and summit Mt. Baldy?
You can most definitely hike Mt. Baldy, but you cannot technically summit it. The summit is on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, and you need authorization to be on their land. However, you can get close, and most people call the trail’s high point, at 11,180 feet, the top.
Do you need a permit to backpack Mt. Baldy?
No, you can backpack without a permit here, which is so nice. I went in 2020, so it’s likely grown in popularity since. But in saying that, it is still not a wildly popular trip for backpacking. We saw some people camping only a couple of miles in. After passing them, we never saw a soul for the rest of the trip.
Is Mount Baldy an easy hike?
It’s not an easy hike but a moderate one. If you go to the top and back in a single day, you’re looking at about 14 miles and 2,100 feet of elevation gain. However, it’s a mile ascent, and there are plenty of places to break in the shade.
Mount Baldy Loop Backpacking Trip Details
- Length: 17 miles
- Route: Counter Clockwise
- Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
- Highest Point: 11,200
- Best places to sleep: 6.5-mile mark (good water source) and around 12.5-miles (but no water)
- Water accessibility: Some on the eastern trail, a lot more on the western, small stream by the plane crash near the top
The backpacking gear we brought for two nights & three days
- Light backpacking tent
- 15-30 degree sleeping bag
- Light, yet comfy sleeping pad
- 55L-65L backpacking bag
- Jet Boil Stove
- Water filter
- Hiking Poles
- Backpacking Chair
- Wide-Brimmed Hat
- Backpacking Meals
- 1x Hiking Pants, 1x Sunshirt, 1x Down Jacket, 1x Rain Jacket, 1x sleeping shirt, 1x leggings, 1x beanie and hat
- Backpacking Boots
Hitting the trails on the Mount Baldy Loop
Starting the hike
We started at the eastern trailhead and took the cross-over trail, about 3.5 miles long, towards the western trailhead. This had some ups and downs but wasn’t too challenging. After a quick break by the stream, we headed another three miles into the forest and found a great place to set up camp – right by a creek. The campsite was beyond perfect and allowed us privacy, easy water access, and flat ground.
The next morning, we lounged and didn’t leave camp until the afternoon. We also packed more water than usual as we didn’t know if we’d find water near our second night’s camp spot (we didn’t).
The three-plus miles up weren’t bad but quite slow-going as countless downed trees were blocking the trail. This required climbing over, going around, or under massive trunks. As the air thinned, it was as much a nuisance as exhausting.
At the top of the Mount Baldy Loop
Once a the top (where the two trails merge), we took a break to relax. There wasn’t any view, but sitting amongst the pines was quite nice. I should note that the literal summit of Mount Baldy is on the Apache Reservation and requires a special permit to access.
Coming down on the eastern trail was much nicer and had fewer downed trees. About a mile from the top, we found a small stream perfect for filling up your water. (We dropped the ball here.) We pitched camp at about the 12-and-a-half-mile mark of the loop and enjoyed a lovely sunset on a rocky overlook. Be warned; the wind howled all night, making it restless and eery.
The final day of our Mt. Baldy Loop backpacking adventure
We took our time making food on the final morning and finally packed up a little before 11 am. We had around 4 miles to the trailhead to complete the Mount Baldy Loop and briskly walked down the mountain, returning in 90 minutes. The two of us stopped to filter some water before hitting the trailhead, as we had been conserving our limited amount from the night before.
The fresh air that morning was phenomenal, and finally having some water made a huge difference.
Mount Baldy, Arizona Overall Thoughts
- Backpacking Mount Baldy Loop is a perfect beginner trip. The trail, outside of the downed trees, is easy and maintained. It’s also a gradual incline which makes it pleasant on the legs.
- I would definitely go counter-clockwise if you are doing two nights on the mountain. However, if you are only going to do one night, plan to sleep at the top, and you can be assured there is a small stream near the top; the eastern trail would be my pick.
- Be prepared for the wind. Additionally, the top is around 11,200 feet. Most estimates say every 1,000 feet is 3.5 degrees cooler. So I’d take the Greer temperature (8,300 feet) and then do the math.
- This is a very pretty area but isn’t exactly photogenic – it makes sense, I promise.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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