Despite being a large city, Phoenix is surrounded by beautiful mountains and is a day hikers paradise. We spent about four months in this area and wanted to share the spots that you don’t want to miss out on in during your time in the desert!
The Superstitions are a mountain range about 50 minutes east of Phoenix. The area is filled with hiking trails, recreation areas, and BLM land for camping.
- Boulder Canyon Trail: This trail is absolutely stunning, especially in the spring when the cacti are starting to bloom. The entire trail is 8.7 miles with 1817 ft elevation gain but there are also several viewpoints around mile 3 and mile 5 if you want a shorter hike or scenic picnic spot. Parking for the trailhead is at the Canyon Lake Marina so you can expect beautiful views of the lake as you begin your climb.
- Peralta Trail: This hike is located in Gold Canyon and is 5.8 miles and 1568 ft elevation gain. The trail leads you to views of the iconic Weavers Needle. The hike to the top is rocky with occasional creek crossings and offers views throughout the entire trail. This area is fairly popular so we would suggest getting an early start to beat the crowds and the heat.
- Hieroglyphic Trail: This trail features a waterfall and hieroglyphics carved into the rocks. It is also a shorter, less strenuous hike at 2.8 miles and 567 ft elevation gain. To get the most out of this trail we recommend going in the winter or early spring after a good rain to be able to experience the waterfall.
- Hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park: Lost Dutchman hosts several trails, with one of the most popular being Flat Iron. Flat Iron via Siphon Draw Trail is 5.5 miles out and back and has an elevation gain of 2641 ft. Flat Iron is not a trail for the weak of heart but the sights from the top make it all worth it. Another trail we recommend at Lost Dutchman is the Treasure Loop trail. This trail is very mild (2.4 miles and only 535 ft elevation gain) but packs in views of the Superstitions and plenty of cacti. There is a seven dollar fee to get into the park on the weekdays and a ten dollar fee on the weekend. The Lost Dutchman also has campsites if you prefer to wake up and get an early start on the trails!
Adventures in the Superstitions:
- Horseback riding at Saguaro Lake Ranch Stables: This was one of our most memorable experiences while in Phoenix. The stables are located along the Salt River and near Saguaro Lake. The staff there was extremely helpful, as we are not experienced at horseback riding, and they offer several different options for rides on their website. We would highly recommend doing a sunset ride. It was unbelievably scenic as we went across the Salt River on the horses. These stables are also very reasonably priced compared to others.
- Drive the Apache Trail: The Apache trail is a gorgeous drive that runs from the Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake. While driving on this road you will see massive canyons, beautiful lakes, and all sorts of unique cacti. There are several recreation areas along the lakes where you can rent boats or kayaks or have a nice picnic. Tortilla Flat, an old western town, is also along the drive. While the little community is touristy, it is still interesting to see and grab a bite at the saloon or explore the mercantile.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park:
Lake Pleasant is only about a 40 minute drive from Phoenix and is a great place for camping, boating, and hiking. It is also very likely that you will run into wild burros here. It was crazy driving down the road at night and seeing a burro staring at you as you are passing by.
- Camping: There are campsites in the park, including an area where you can dry camp right by the lake. We camped there one night and waking up to the light hitting the lake at sunrise was beautiful. There is also BLM land surrounding the park so if you want to camp or boondock without paying the campsite fee there is plenty of land in this area to do so.
- Hiking: If you only do one hike at Lake Pleasant we recommend the Yavapai Point trail. At the top of the trail you have 360 degree views of the lake and surrounding areas. The trail itself is very mild and only 3 miles with 449 ft elevation gain.
Desert Hiking Essentials:
Hiking in the desert can be an amazing experience but it can also be very dangerous if you aren’t prepared. We’ve put together a list of essentials to keep you safe so that you can enjoy your time in the desert.
- Water: The most important item on your list. Whether you are hiking or camping you need to pack ample amounts of water. It is so easy to become dehydrated in this type of environment so pack yourself at least a couple of gallons per day. CamelBak offers a great way to store water in your backpack while still being accessible.
- Layers: One crazy thing about the desert is that it can be extremely hot during the day then drop by twenty degrees at night. If you will be camping or hanging around the area when the sun goes down we would suggest packing a pair of pants and a jacket. You won’t regret it.
- Solid hiking boots: If you are planning to do any hiking you will need a good pair of boots. Desert terrain can be rocky and slippery so shoes can make a difference on your experience.
- Sunscreen: At any time of the year the desert offers very little shade. It’s important to protect your skin while you are outside. We recommend using sunscreen when you’re out during the day on your face, body and lips. Sun Bum offers some of our favorite products for sun protection.
- Pliers: At some point, even the most cautious hiker gets a cholla cactus stuck in their boot or leg if they aren’t so lucky. Having a pair of pliers in your backpack will make life easier if this unfortunate event does occur.
- Awareness: One of the most crucial things you can bring into the desert is awareness. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and poisonous reptiles live and can be found in this type of terrain. It is important that you know what to look out for and how to protect yourself if you encounter any of these creatures.
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