If you were to look at a map that shows the snow zones in Arizona you would see that yes, Arizona does indeed have snow zones.
And, after years of less than stellar snowfall, the Grand Canyon State had a decent winter this past
season, allowing snowmobilers to enjoy the snow a little closer to home rather
than having to drive long distances to enjoy their favorite sport.
You can leave the “Yea, but it’s a dry heat,” jokes to those
who prefer the sunny climes of the state’s lower valleys. Winter enthusiasts in
to the high country where not only does it snow, but it can snow a bunch. Having
a hard time believing that as images of palm trees, cactus and endless sun
dominate your mind? Then check out the attached chart for the two snowfall
categories under “Guide.” Is 243 inches enough for you?
had been suffering through a dry spell during the winter months, that is, until
last year when decent enough amounts fell to allow for snowmobiling. There’s
some irony in, that, actually, as Arizona,
normally associated with hot and dry, had a decent winter and much of the rest
of the West was suffering from low snowfall.
If you absolutely must head to Arizona for its famed sun, then, do it in
the winter and then you can ride a sled in the morning in the mountains and
then golf in the valley in the afternoon. Or the next day. You can do both all
within about three hours of each other. Not many places can make that claim.
There is a dedicated band of snowmobilers in the Grand Canyon State, who enjoy sledding on thousands
of acres of national forest land that cover the state’s mountainous regions.
The average snowfall each winter in most areas of Arizona where you can
snowmobile is about 100 inches. Of course, snowfall depends on the elevation. For
example, Pinetop-Lakeside, one of Arizona’s famous mountain retreats sits at
6,800 feet and gets about 46 inches of snow a winter. Head a bit east and south
to Hawley Lake (elevation 8,200 feet) and the
snowfall more than triples to 168 inches a winter. Southeast a little more and
you find Baldy Peak (11,590 feet) and the snowfall is
more than 225 inches a year.
The snow falls on mountains that dissect Arizona from northwest to southeast.
snowmobile season isn’t as long as in other western locales but when the snow
does fall you can head to the high country and find lots of untracked snow.
There are no groomed trails in the state but there are
plenty of old logging roads and forest service roads that crisscross the band
of mountains that help form the Mogollon Rim and points northwest. This swath
of mountains is about 250 miles or so from one end to the other.
In the northern part of the state, not far from the
Arizona/Utah border, is Jacob
Lake, which is also near
the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Riding here
is in the Kaibab National Forest with elevations around
8,000 feet. Getting to Jacob
Lake is somewhat of a
chore in the winter and that isolation means there aren’t many folks to have to
share the snow with. There is some good snowmobile information for the Jacob Lake
area on www.jacoblake.com.
Not quite as far north in Arizona
where there is snowmobiling nearby. Two spots of note, both of which are in the
Forest, are the Kendrick
Snowmobile Trail system and Mormon
Lake. The Kendrick trails
are north and a bit west of Flagstaff
off Highway 180 and offer about 54 miles of designated snowmobile routes leading
away from three parking areas. The riding elevation is 7,500-8,000 feet and
sledders get to pass between the 500,000-3 million year old volcanoes of Kendrick
Peak (10,418 feet) and
the San Francisco Peaks. There are several
loop trails in the system and a trail map can be found on the Coconino National Forest’s
South and a little east of Flagstaff is the Mormon Lake
area, a popular snowmobiling spot in Arizona.
Here you’ll find the Mormon Lake/Pinewood Snowmobile Trail system, which also
has about 54 miles of designated snowmobile trails. This trail system goes
among rolling hills and runs near Mormon
Lake. One of the big
mountain features in this area is Mormon
Mountain, an 8,456-foot
peak to the west of Mormon
Lake. There are
snowmobiles for rent at the Mormon Lake Lodge.
About halfway between Flagstaff
and Phoenix is
Payson, which offers access to the 1.8-million acre Coconino National Forest
from the south. The Mogollon Rim, 60 miles south of Flagstaff and north of the town of Payson, also offers
plenty of snow and off-trail riding. Most of the trails here are unplowed
forest service roads.
Next along this northwest to southeast projectary in Arizona’s mountain
region is the White Mountains, located in the
east-central part of the state. Forest service
and logging roads—more than 300 miles of them—are the paths used by sledders who
want to play in some of the state’s tallest mountains.
Some of the popular sledding areas here include Hannigan
Meadows, near Alpine in eastern Arizona,
and near Big Lake, southwest of Springerville. North
of Alpine is Williams Valley Winter Recreation Area, which offers some
sledding. Snowmobilers can also take advantage of the Sunrise Park Ski Area to Big Lake
route, which follows along State Route 273 (not plowed in the winter). This
route skirts the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and offers a spectacular view
of 11,590-foot Baldy
Just for kicks, if you want to say you snowmobiled in one of
the most southern places in the United States (about the same latitude as
Dallas-Fort Worth, Jackson, MS and Savannah, GA) that gets regular and decent
snowfall, head to the Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National
Forest, which is located just north of Tucson. There’s a ski resort (Ski Valley)
there but also unplowed roads where you can unload and ride above 8,000 feet. Contact
(520) 749-8700 for more information.
In addition to the phone numbers listed below, Arizona’s national forest offices are another good source
of information for sledding the Grand Canyon
Arizona Office of Tourism www.arizonaguide.com
Road Conditions 888-411-ROAD
Groomed Trails None
Highest Point Humphrey Peak (12,633 ft)
Coldest Recorded Temperature Hawley Lake minus-40 degrees F
Full-Service Town Jacob
Nearest Airport Page
Lake Inn 928-643-7232
Full-Service Town Flagstaff
Flagstaff (30 miles)
Information Flagstaff Convention and
Visitors Bureau 800-842-7293
Full-Service Town Payson
Nearest Airport Phoenix (88 miles)
Country Regional Chamber of Commerce 800-672-9766
Snowfall 100 plus
Show Low, Pine Top, Alpine
Nearest Airport Show
Low Chamber of Commerce 888-SHOWLOW; Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce