Geography of Apache County, Arizona

Geography of Apache County, Arizona

Apache County, located in the northeastern part of the state of Arizona, is a region of diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and stunning natural beauty. Encompassing an area of approximately 11,218 square miles, Apache County is the sixth-largest county in Arizona by land area. Its geography includes rugged mountains, expansive deserts, winding rivers, and pristine lakes, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

Location and Borders

According to Howsmb, Apache County is situated in the northeastern corner of Arizona, bordered by several other counties and the states of New Mexico and Utah. To the north, Apache County is bordered by the state of Utah, while to the east lies the state of New Mexico. To the south, the county is bordered by Greenlee County and Graham County, while to the west lies Navajo County.

The county seat of Apache County is St. Johns, while other significant communities include Window Rock, Chinle, and Eagar. Apache County is part of the Navajo Nation Reservation and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, which are home to several Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi peoples.

Topography and Terrain

The topography of Apache County is diverse, ranging from rugged mountain ranges to vast deserts and plateaus. The county lies within the Colorado Plateau region, a vast uplifted plateau characterized by its distinctive geology and scenic beauty.

The eastern part of Apache County is dominated by the Chuska Mountains and the Defiance Plateau, which rise sharply from the surrounding desert landscape. These mountains are home to several scenic vistas, hiking trails, and archaeological sites, including Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

To the west, Apache County is bordered by the White Mountains and the Mogollon Rim, which form the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. These mountains are covered in pine forests and are popular destinations for camping, hiking, and fishing.


Apache County experiences a semi-arid climate, with hot summers, mild winters, and relatively low precipitation throughout the year. The region’s climate is influenced by its high elevation, mountainous terrain, and proximity to the desert southwest.

Summer temperatures in Apache County can be hot, with average highs in the 80s to 90s Fahrenheit (around 27-37°C) and occasional periods of triple-digit heat. Thunderstorms are common during the summer months, bringing heavy rainfall and occasional flash flooding to the region.

Winter temperatures are milder, with average highs in the 40s to 50s Fahrenheit (around 4-15°C) and lows in the 20s to 30s Fahrenheit (around -6 to 4°C). Snowfall is common in the higher elevations, particularly in the mountainous areas, where several feet of snow can accumulate each winter.

Rivers and Waterways

Apache County is traversed by several rivers and waterways, which play a vital role in shaping the region’s landscape and providing habitat for wildlife. The most significant river in the county is the Little Colorado River, which flows from its headwaters in the White Mountains through the Painted Desert and into the Colorado River.

Other notable rivers in Apache County include the Black River, the San Francisco River, and the Chinle Wash. These rivers and their tributaries provide opportunities for fishing, kayaking, rafting, and other water-based activities.

Lakes and Reservoirs

While Apache County does not have any large natural lakes, the region is home to several reservoirs and man-made lakes that provide water for recreation, irrigation, and wildlife habitat. Notable lakes and reservoirs in the county include Lyman Lake, Rainbow Lake, and Nelson Reservoir.

Lyman Lake, located near the town of St. Johns, is the largest lake in Apache County and offers opportunities for fishing, boating, camping, and picnicking. Rainbow Lake and Nelson Reservoir are also popular destinations for outdoor recreation, with amenities such as boat ramps, fishing piers, and campgrounds.

Parks and Recreation Areas

Apache County is home to several parks, wilderness areas, and recreational areas that showcase the region’s natural beauty and provide opportunities for outdoor adventure. Notable parks in the county include Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is one of the most iconic landmarks in Apache County, featuring spectacular sandstone cliffs, ancient ruins, and scenic overlooks. Visitors to the monument can explore the canyon rim by car or take guided tours into the canyon floor to view ancient petroglyphs and archaeological sites.

Petrified Forest National Park, located in the southern part of the county, is home to one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world. The park also features colorful badlands, ancient petroglyphs, and historic structures, offering opportunities for hiking, photography, and nature appreciation.

Economy and Industry

The economy of Apache County is primarily based on agriculture, tourism, and natural resource extraction. The region is known for its cattle ranching, sheep grazing, and timber harvesting, which provide employment opportunities for residents and contribute to the local economy.

In addition to agriculture, tourism is an important part of the economy in Apache County, with visitors drawn to the region’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Ecotourism, adventure travel, and cultural tourism are all popular activities, with opportunities for guided tours, horseback riding, and cultural experiences.


Apache County, Arizona, is a region of breathtaking natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural heritage. From its rugged mountains and winding rivers to its vast deserts and ancient ruins, the county offers something for everyone to explore and enjoy.

Whether hiking in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, fishing in Lyman Lake, or exploring the petrified forests of Petrified Forest National Park, visitors to Apache County are sure to be captivated by its charm and hospitality. With its unique geography, vibrant culture, and abundant natural resources, Apache County is a hidden gem of the American Southwest, inviting travelers to discover its wonders and create lasting memories.