Hiking the Black Canyon City Trail with Kids

If you want an epic day experience for the family, you need to try hiking the Black Canyon City Trail with kids. It’s a moderate 5 mile round trip hike amid gorgeous desert scenery, that takes you to the Aqua Fria River. You can venture beyond, but this water oasis is a fun place to explore and create.

Note: the Aqua Fria River has various levels of depth, depending on the season. We hiked in early October 2018 and there had been some heavy rain a few days before. The water depth was no deeper than our knees. Please call the phone number listed at the end of this post to ask any questions regarding safety or weather conditions. Because of the remoteness and desert conditions, we do NOT recommend this hike in the summer.

We joined a group of friends for this hike, starting at the Black Canyon City Trailhead off of the I17. There are restrooms and water available at this decent sized dirt parking lot, as well as a couple trash cans. Bring PLENTY of water, good hiking shoes, snacks/lunch, and hats for this adventure!

The trail meanders along the hills, dipping on occasion, and making a few switchbacks. There are some fences to cross, but they are all accompanied with a bridge. The scenery is breath taking! You can catch a glimpse of the interstate once or twice, but nature is strong and you will get caught up in the raw beauty. The trail has some rocks so please watch your step.

You will be able to see the river before arriving, and once you start descending, the scenery changes from cactus to trees. You’re getting close! The path gets more rocky at this point, so go slow. The path opens up to a level sandy area and then the river is before you. Time to ditch the hiking shoes and explore!!

The kids LOVED exploring here. They built mud forts with their friends, hunted down toads, scaled the rocks, tried to catch fish, rested in the sand for lunch – then went back out to do it all over again!

From a mom perspective, the water was a perfect range of depth for swimmers and non swimmers, and you could see a wide range of area from the sandy beach. We didn’t venture much beyond the trail stop here, but it did continue over the river, and there is upstream and downstream to experience. There are some trees along the bank for those needed shade. We spent around 3 hours along the river, before packing up and hiking back to the car.

A few things to note if you’re considering this hike:

  • We hiked in early October, and while the morning weather was cloudy and perfect, the afternoon hike back become sunny and very warm. If we did this trail again, we would opt to hike November-March (or evening February, depending on the temps). Anything over 80 in full sun is not our cup of tea.
  • There is no address, but searching “Black Canyon City Trailhead” on Google Maps brings up the correct location.
  • The trail is marked well, but bring a copy of the trail (either printed or phone photo) to confirm the direction. There is no cell service!
  • This is not a hike for beginners. However, we’re not experts, and made the trek! (This mama may have also been 28 weeks pregnant.) Use discretion and plan according to your family’s abilities.
  • Please bring enough water for your party! Water shoes might be helpful when exploring the river as well. We also brought a towel and change of clothes, but ended up not using the latter.
  • Enroute home, make a stop at Rock Springs Cafe for a treat! Their pies are amazing. Better yet, use this stop as motivation for the hike! We did, and the pumpkin pie was tasty.
  • There’s also a little creek behind the café, perfect for little ones to explore.
  • More information about the trail, including a phone number, can be found here.

More great hike ideas for kids can be found here. See you on the trails!


  • Jana is a homeschooling mother of three children, and lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Chris. She enjoys traveling, reading and coffee. Follow @phoenixwithkids on Instagram for daily photos around Phoenix!

Jana is a homeschooling mother of three children, and lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Chris. She enjoys traveling, reading and coffee. Follow @phoenixwithkids on Instagram for daily photos around Phoenix!

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