Climate & Weather

Climate & Weather

The weather in Arizona's high country can change drastically within a half-hour drive, and be unpredictable during stormy seasons. 

Here's tips and tricks from the locals for surviving northern Arizona's weather comfortably.

It gets chilly in the mountains

Elevations across the Forest range from 2,600' to 12,633'. While the temperature may be comfortable at 7,000' in Flagstaff, it may be quite cold at higher elevations, particularly on the San Francisco Peaks. The top of the Peaks may be 30°F to 40°F cooler than Flagstaff.

  • Check the weather forecast for the elevation you'll be visiting.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Dress in layers. 
  • Be prepared: Carry a jacket, hat, gloves, and a survival blanket in your pack when adventuring into the mountains.

It's a desert

Even in the high country, Arizona is a desert. Our arid climate can dry you out quickly, even in cooler weather.

  • Carry plenty of water: Two liters for a half-day outing. A gallon or more in hot weather.
  • Drink frequently. 
  • Do not wait until you're thirsty: Thirst is a sign you're already becoming dehydrated.
  • Water sets the schedule: When your water is half gone, it's time to turn around and head back to base.

It's sunny... really, really sunny

Clear skies, dry air, and the high elevations all work to make the sun intense, even on cool days. 
  • Sunscreen: Don't forget the back of your neck and exposed areas of scalp (along the part line of your hair).
  • Brimmed hat: Shade your eyes and protect your head.
  • Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from sun strain and UV damage.
  • Light, loose clothing on hot days: Long pants and shirt sleeves will keep the sun off your skin and help you stay cool.

Moonsoon storms are killers

During monsoon season, flash floods and lightning strikes pose serious and immediate dangers.

  • Check the weather forecast frequently.
  • Expect the unexpected. Monsoon storms are predictably unpredictable.
  • Never, ever drive across a flooding wash or roadway.
  • Avoid trails with creek crossings where you could be stranded by rising waters.
  • Avoid narrow canyons where escaping a flash flood may be difficult or impossible.
  • If you hear thunder, you are at risk of being struck by lightning. Get below the tree line, off high points, and into a group of trees.
Here's our favorite resources for watching the local weather:

Wintertime is avalanche time

The high elevations of the San Francisco Peaks are avalanche country. There is no avalanche mitigation or ski patrol in the backcountry beyond the Arizona Snowbowl ski area. 

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Read the latest snowpack report. Know what the current risks are on the mountain and how to avoid them.
  • Get avalanche training. Know how to rescue yourself.
  • Gear up. In addition to the ten essentials, you'll need a shovel, flags, probes, and other gear critical for exploring avalanche country.
Our favorite resources for the winter backcountry: