Tempe Hiking Trails: Hayden Butte Preserve, Evelyn Hallman Park and Tempe Papago Park

If I’m being frank, Tempe, AZ isn’t known for its hiking options and for good reason. There really aren’t a lot of options in this Phoenix suburb for outdoor adventurers, and nothing supremely challenging. That being said, Tempe hiking trails do offer some good opportunities for exercise and exploring the Sonoran Desert. Furthermore, because these trails are not particularly challenging, they are accessible to more people at different levels of experience and physical needs. (I also know from experience the Tempe parks and rec department is full of amazing people looking to protect the habitats that their desert parks include). Although there are no sweeping peaks in Tempe, there are sacred lands with evidence of long-standing indigenous use. So, let’s explore what hiking you can do in Tempe, Arizona.

Hayden Butte Preserve

tempe hiking trails

ABR (c) 2019

If you are looking for a mountain from among Tempe hiking trails, Hayden Butte Preserve is for you. Also known as A Mountain, this butte is easily identifiable from the south side of the mountain by its large, cement ‘A.’ This may be painted different colors throughout the year depending on University of Arizona/ASU competition and pranks.

It’s about a 0.7 mile RT hike from the base of this little mountain to the top. But it is pretty steep, so Hayden Butte is a popular spot for exercisers. If you are working up to big mountains, and starting from little hiking experience or you are rebuilding strength, this is a great option. The trail is mostly paved and pretty wide. Towards the top, there are stairs that need to be navigated, however. And there are sections of dirt trail as well.

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Mt. Humphreys Trail: A Guide to the Arizona Highpoint

Arizona doesn’t have the spectacular 14,000 ft mountains of Colorado or the pacific states, but the state is home to the sacred San Francisco Peaks. These rise out of the crags of the Sonoran Desert to the south and the drier plains of the north, and tower over everything else in Arizona. You can see them from miles away in every direction, and when you are exploring the likes of Flagstaff, you can see evidence of the powerful volcanic activity that formed this place eons ago. Unsurprisingly, the San Francisco Peaks are home to Arizona’s highpoint, which can be reached via the Mt. Humphreys Trail. For those travelers who are willing to respect the mountain, its people, and their own safety, trying for the summit of Mt. Humphreys is one of the most beautiful adventures in Arizona. This 10 mile hike is a challenging day excursion, which is well worth the physical struggle for the spiritual experience, the beautiful views, and chance to visit the crown of Arizona.

For those interested in trying their hand at this trail, this guide will give you insight into the specifics of the Mt. Humphreys Trail, what it’s like to climb it, and how to stay safe and respectful on the mountain.

Is the Mt. Humphreys Trail For You?

This guide is not a promise of safety nor a guarantee that you can do this climb. It is your responsibility to decide if this is a challenge for you, and you are responsible for your own safety while exploring.

There is no doubt that the Mt. Humphreys Trail is not for everyone – at least not if you plan on trying for the summit. In order to do this trail safely, you need to be in good shape, have some trail experience, and be willing to change your plans for inclement weather. That all being said, this trek is relatively well-marked for most of its length, and with patience and an early start, I think it is a positive challenge. Even if you can’t make it to the top, the forest is breathtaking in the lower stretches of the trail. It’s one of the most vibrant places in Arizona. And if you make it to the saddle, you will be rewarded with expansive views of Flagstaff. From there, you can experience life above the treeline even without making it past the false summit to the peak itself.

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Three Great Places for Popsicles in Phoenix, Arizona

Everyone knows that it is HOT in Phoenix, Arizona in the summer. Hot and dry- perfect weather for enjoying a nice, cold popsicle. Store bought brands might jump right to the top of your mind, when I bring up popsicles, but Phoenix actually has some really amazing places for fresh, beautiful, frozen treats. Let me share three of my favorites, ranked. ALL of them are amazing.

Pop N’ Tea

Pop N’ Tea makes both popsicles and teas, but even as a tea-lover, I still think that the popsicles steal the show in this shop. Referred to as diamond bars, the popsicles of Pop N’ Tea have a unique appearance that makes them aesthetic and appealing. But unlike some Insta-worthy foods, these popsicles are out of this world. Made of gelato and sorbet, these are the softest popsicles- the perfect texture. The texture is only outmatched by the rich flavors and the pleasant appeal of the extra crunch that you can get by adding chocolate and/or toppings to your popsicle. The mix of flavor options and some ability to create your own mix of flavors with the popsicle base and toppings makes this an extra fun place for a light, cold dessert.

Learn more at the Pop N’ Tea website.

550 W MCDOWELL RD.

PHOENIX, AZ 85003

602-253-6310

POPNTEABAR@GMAIL.COM

Pop Stand in Rise Hotel

Pop Stand doubles as the check in for Rise Hotel, and it is proud enough of its treats to serve them to all guests checking in. Luckily, you don’t need to be a guest to get your hands on these tasty and creative popsicles. Pop Stand has a ton of different flavors, with the most eye-catching popsicles being the triple flavored treats that you can get. Each one has stripes of color representing the combinations of flavors. There are also a few alchoholic options, along with both dairy and fruit-only options. All are delicious and refreshing. In terms of texture, these are harder popsicles, and you won’t be able to get customizations. However, there are enough flavors that this shouldn’t be an issue. When we visited, I was so enchanted by the atmosphere of the hotel, that I hope I can hold a staycation here sometime in the future.

Check out Pop Stand’s website for their current flavors.

400 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013

popstand@riseuptownhotel.com

480.536.8990

AZ Pops

In my opinion, AZ Pops is the best option for health-conscious dessert eaters and/or people with dietary restrictions. The staff were very knowledgeable about the contents of the popsicles here, and most options were fresh and vegan. (Although they do have some dairy options). They also have options that don’t have added sugar and get most of their sweetness from the fruits used to make the popsicles. They also have many many different flavors, and you can customize your order by dipping into a coconut-based chocolate. These popsicles were also quite hard like Pop Stand, so if you have sensitive teeth, be sure to take your time eating them. This won’t be too problematic, as this will give you more time to enjoy their fresh flavors.

Learn more about their flavors and commitment to healthy and fresh ingredients at the AZ Pops website.

5050 N 7th St. Phoenix, Arizona 85014

602-279-0026

Learn more about the joys of exploring Arizona.

What to Do In Litchfield Park, AZ for a Weekend

If you’ve never heard of Litchfield Park, Arizona, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s a small town nestled within the sprawling city of Phoenix-metro. With only a population a little over 6,000 people and claiming only 3 square miles, wondering what to do in Litchfield Park might seem a bit strange. But I think this little town is a great getaway within Phoenix; the perfect place to spend a relaxed weekend. You can get a small-town experience without leaving the city, and you can even escape back to a former era of development and design in Phoenix. This guide will tell you my honest thoughts on where to stay, what to eat, and what to expect to do while you are visiting.

what to do in litchfield park

History of Litchfield Park

what to do in litchfield park

(c) ABR 2021

The history of human habitation in the area of Phoenix is very ancient. Native American peoples were living and thriving in the Valley of the Sun for thousands of years. But colonial American claims to the land that the town now sits on were submitted in 1910.  Initially, it was thought that the area would be a great place to grow citrus, but due to the demands of WWI, the area was bought up by Paul Litchfield for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1916 as space to grow cotton. A company town was eventually built, and was given the name Litchfield Park in 1926. The town wasn’t officially incorporated as a city until 1987.

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What to Do in Amarillo, Texas for a Weekend

I feel like I start almost every blog in the same way. But I guess I am a “explore the less road less travelled” blogger these days. So… while most people would not think of Amarillo, Texas as a destination, there is actually a lot to do there. In particular, I think nature and history-lovers would enjoy visiting this town over a weekend. There is a theme park as well, so it could be a food family destination as well. Whether you are passing through town on a business trip, a cross-country roadtrip, or planning out a little weekend adventure, here is my list of what to do in Amarillo, TX.

 

Botanical Gardens and Museums

what to do in amarillo

Amarillo Botanical Garden (c) ABR 2021

As little as I know about plants, and as much as my house plants struggle to stay alive, I love botanical gardens. For someone searching for peaceful place to enjoy nature in an urban setting, botanical gardens are perfect. In my case, as a shy person, I find these to be one of the best places to enjoy your own company without feeling too awkward for being solo. I know that not everyone deals with that particular challenge while traveling alone, but I definitely do, even though I travel solo every year.

I feel similarly about museums and I especially love historic, place-based museums. Amarillo, Texas has both a lovely botanical garden and a great historic museum. Both of which should be included on any list of what to do in Amarillo.

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best trails in big bend

Five of the Best Trails in Big Bend, Texas

Before I started planning my West Texas roadtrip, I really didn’t know much about Big Bend National Park. But even the tiniest bit of research immediately made it clear that this was a park deserving of two or more days of exploration. There are so many trails to explore here. The ecosystems are varied and beautiful. And Big Bend is home to its namesake, the big bend of the Rio Grande. One of the life-blood rivers of the American Southwest. In short, this national park should be on every nature-lover’s bucketlist, and in particular, I would suggest checking out some of the best trails in Big Bend. Whether you want to take photos from the car, go on a family walk, or challenge yourself, there are options here for everyone.

How I Picked My List of Best Trails in Big Bend 

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Generally speaking, I’m the kind of person who can enjoy just about any kind of trail. I love short jaunts out into nature. And I also enjoy the challenge of long, strenuous treks into the wilderness. And I know people who like only one or the other, or trails somewhere in between. Due to that, I think it bares some explanation as to how I came up with the following list of the best trails in Big Bend.

That all being said, NONE of these trails are the most strenuous trails in the park. These aren’t wild trails with rare views and long treks to see them. Rather, I’ve selected this short list for the following reasons:

(1) Accessibility

Many of these trails, but not all, are short and relatively flat. Thus, they can be walked by hikers of almost all skill levels. And while they are not accessible or even rated for accessibility, all of them have amazing views which can be enjoyed from the trailheads. And all trailheads are accessible by regular vehicles.

(2) Variety

Every single one of these trails will give you a different taste of the wide range of ecosystems and landscapes in Big Bend National Park. While there are three different canyon trails, every one is highly unique. One trail explores the desert on the way to a desert oasis, and one reaches the heights of the sky island of the Chisos Mountains. If you are an avid hiker, it would not be hard to get all of this variety in two days visiting the park. (Check out our itinerary for suggestions on how to do this.)

Boquillas Canyon Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Boquillas Canyon Trail is a very short 1.5 mile round trip walk from the trailhead to the interior of the canyon. I was particularly smitten with this route because of the spectacular colors that the Rio Grande takes on in this side of the park. These were the most vibrant of blues and greens. I only wish that I were a skilled enough photographer to have captured the majesty of the river here properly. The canyon itself is also lovely. The walls here are a warm, sandy color, and when contrasted with the water, it is a really breathtaking place. Thus, it’s placement on my Best Trails in Big Bend (non-exhaustive) list.

While the trail is short, there is a little bit of elevation gain. Not much, but if you aren’t feeling a walk up rocky steps due to the heat, physical limitations, or anything else, you can get some nice pictures from the river overlook up the road from the trailhead. There is also a tiny bit of trail finding that you will need to do on this little walk because it isn’t all that clear once you get down to the sandy beach area. Just continue walking up river. Turn around when you reach the wide beach. You should not need to wade in the water or push through plants.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

DO NOT SWIM in the water. Rivers are notoriously dangerous. They may look calm and inviting, but they are extremely powerful. Please also mind your children closely.

Also, please note that if there are people selling things along the trail, it is technically illegal to purchase them. If the little river border crossing is open, you might consider purchasing the art and keep-sakes legally and support the village on the Mexican side. You can inquire with the rangers about this at the visitor centers.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

The big sister to Boquillas Canyon is Santa Elena.

I was impressed by this canyon from the car, miles away. You really won’t believe how otherworldly this place is until you see it. Even now, just remembering the feeling of approaching this place leaves me awestruck. The sheer, impressive nature of this place made me slap this trail onto my Best Trails in Big Bend list. Particularly if you visit during the Golden Hour… even without hiking the trail, this place will really take your breath away.

From the road and the trailhead, Santa Elena Canyon looks like a deep, straight cut through a massive ridge of gray stone. And when I say massive I mean… mountain sized ridge.

If you aren’t planning on doing the trail (or even if you are) you might consider stopping (SAFELY) to take pictures on your way in. This will be especially effective if you have a nice zoom on your camera.

The trailhead for the Santa Elena Canyon Trail is fairly well developed, with a toilet onhand. Parking spots, if I recall correctly, are in the sand, however, and this particular area is popular. Once you snag a spot, you will follow the trailhead map out across a sand bridge towards the river. This is a great access point to the pebbly beach. So, if you are looking for a nice spot to enjoy the Rio Grande, this is a great option.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Do remember, however, that is not safe to swim in the river. No matter what you see other people doing.

In order to continue along the 1.5 mile round trip trail, you will cross a small tributary on your way to the pretty obvious canyon. And then you will find yourself climbing a fairly steep cliff with switchbacks and stairs. Although steep, this part of the trail is well developed, so if you have stamina, it should be doable, although challenging.

Once you have it to the top of the rise, you will follow a more wild trail along the cliffside above the river. Along the trail, you will see some beautiful but pokey plant-life. And then, you will head back down towards the water on a less developed incline. This will involve stepping down well-worn rocks. So, take your time if you aren’t used to hiking.

Then, much like the Boquillas Canyon Trail, you will have to do a bit of navigating. The bank of the river is a bit more lush, so there are think plants growing all over and the trail splits in some places. However, just continue walking down river until the trail ends were the water meets the stone walls of the canyon. At that point, there is no where to go but back the way you came.

Chisos Basin Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

There are many trails in the Chisos Mountains, which range from relatively easy to long backpacking treks. The Chisos Basin Trail, unlike the other trails on this best trails in Big Bend list, is long and difficult. However, it offers an amazing on-trail experience and beautiful views of the valley. On this trail, you will hike up from the visitor center, across a wide, forested shelf nested between the sharp stone peaks of the mountains, and then up into the reaches of the Sky Island.

While difficult, most people can do parts of this trail. E.g. just take a stroll through the forest for 0.5 miles and then turn around. I went about 2.5 miles in and then came back, because I was a bit too exhausted from my trip to keep going.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

For skilled hikers wanting a more challenging day trip, Emory Peak is a great option. And of course, this is the place to be if you want to backpack in Big Bend. Of course, you will need to reference the National Park materials to plan out a trip like that.

And if you can’t or don’t want to hike, the drive up to the visitor center in the Chisos Mountains is spectacular. And there are some great look outs from the parking lot. It’s the perfect place for photography, contemplation, and just generally enjoying nature.

Ward Spring Trail

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

This 2.8 mile, out and back hike was my time to revel in the desert that is particular to Big Bend and West Texas. In some ways, it felt very much like my home in Arizona, but in other ways, completely unfamiliar. I think the key to really enjoying this trail is stopping to admire the little plants tucked here and there, surviving in the roughest conditions. For my list of the best trails in Big Bend, this is the only one that crosses the desert. And as it’s name would suggest, it does take you to a small, wild spring at the base of the mountains.

This trail is not accessible for all, and due to its length and ruggedness in parts, it isn’t for the novice either. That being said, for anyone who hikes regularly, it is an easy trail. The path leads from the road, through the desert up a gentle slop towards the Chisos. As you get closer, you will begin traversing the sides of rocky hills and dipping down into washes.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

The end of the trail is a wild patch of trees crowding around a small puddle of water in the desert. It won’t be the most spectacular thing you see… unless you appreciate how special and precious water is in desert landscapes. For me, all springs are sacred places. So, I think Ward Spring is well worth the detour from grander trails.

Closed Canyon Trail in Big Bend State Park

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Although not in the National Park, Closed Canyon Trail still makes my best trails in Big Bend bucketlist because it is in the Big Bend State Park.

This short, relatively flat slot canyon trail is located along the 170, and has a nice parking lot at the trailhead. However, there are no restrooms available there.

From the parking lot, you will take a few switchbacks down into a shallow wash and then follow the streambed towards the slot in the stony wall of mountains to your left.

best trails in big bend

(c) ABR 2021

Once you pass through the opening of the canyon, you will walk along the stone and sandy bottom. Take your time and marvel at the twists and turns in the stone. Check out the plants surviving in these harsh desert conditions. And take tons of photographs.

This trail isn’t long, so you can really take your time enjoying it. You will turn around when you see a steep drop off and a sign informing you that the trail has ended. Turn right on back around and take it all in from the other direction on your way out.

Please note that slot canyons are dangerous in rainy or wet conditions. Do not attempt this trail when there is running water or storms at the trail or nearby.

 Safety on the Trail

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Summiting Guadalupe Peak, The Texas Highpoint

One of the things that I love to do while traveling is check out the highpoints. Sometimes they are a challenge (or impossible for me) to summit, and other times they might be a cute hill in an out-of-the-way spot. In the case of the Texas highpoint, Guadalupe Peak is an attainable, but strenuous trek. For prepared hikers, this summit is well worth the upward hike. Trekkers will climb up from the desert landscape, into the forests of the higher elevations. And finally up to the top of Texas, where exceptional views await. Learn more about this hike here, along with need-to-know information about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

guadalupe peak

On the Guadalupe Peak Trail

Desert Climb

The first section of the trail up towards the Texas highpoint takes you up from the desert. This part of the trail, unsurprisingly, is thus characterized by the open spaces and hardy bushes of the Chihuahuan desert. It’s a bit of a steep climb here, but there are some nice switch backs to help mitigate the upwards trek.

guadalupe peak

(c) ABR 2021

You will notice that there are two routes here. One is for horses, and the other is for hikers. Definitely stick to the one for whatever kind of adventuring you are doing. This will make you more safe and give much-needed space to other recreationists.

guadalupe peak

(c) ABR 2021

As I climbed upwards, I really enjoyed the stony cliffs and passages that popped up here and there on the trail. I found these little places to be challenging, beautiful, and a great break from the dusty character of the trail. That being said, you will want to be careful in some of these spots, particularly if you are riding a horse. Follow all signage and keep your eyes open for warnings.

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A West Texas Itinerary for Hikers and Adventurers

Texas is not known by many to be an ideal roadtrip destination, due to its vastness and the flat natural of its large, central plains. However, West Texas will surprise anyone with that stereotype about the state. Here there are rolling hills, vast mountains, glittering rivers, and one of the world’s most biodiverse deserts. There are plenty of things to do in West Texas, but we’ve tailored this West Texas itinerary for hikers and nature lovers in particular… with a dash of history and culture on the side as well.

 

Day 0: Travel to El Paso, TX

Since El Paso, TX is the big city of West Texas and a unique destination in its own right, I would suggest planning your West Texas itinerary from here unless you are driving in from some other area of Texas and would like to jump onto the loop from your hometown. El Paso has its own international airport, the El Paso International Airport (ELP), so you may consider flying into there. For me, coming from Phoenix, I opted to drive over, which is about a 6 hour drive.

Day 1: Hiking in Guadalupe Mountain National Park

west texas itinerary

(c) ABR 2021

If you want to attempt the summit of Guadalupe Peak (8750 ft), I would suggest being flexible with Day 1 and Day 2. This will allow you to see which day will have better weather for your summit attempt. Even for a smaller summit like this one, you should always avoid bad weather days for safety’s sake.

It’s about a two-hour drive from El Paso, TX to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So, take the morning to rest a bit before setting off your West Texas itinerary. Make your first stop the visitor center, where you can learn more about the park, chat with the rangers, and get the low down on any safety concerns that you need to keep in mind.

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Your Guide to Phoenix Tiki Bars

Until recently, I wasn’t aware of Phoenix tiki bars. But they not only exist, they are super fun, really delicious, and even a little bit historic. Whether you are a local exploring your own backyard or are visiting Arizona, give these special bars a gander! They are all a little different and can cater to all different kinds of travelers.

(Special thank you to Amanda for some additional information that I’ve added and corrected throughout this post; although now I have to obsess about getting a tiki mug from Undertow. :P)

Bikini Lounge

phoenix tiki bars

(c) ABR 2021

The Bikini Lounge is a very special place, and you might not know by looking at it. Having been opened in the late 1940s, this little bar is said to be the oldest continuously operating bar in Phoenix. Although it wasn’t always a tiki bar in the sense that it didn’t used to sell the tropical drinks that tiki bars are known for, I think this venerable bar is a piece of tiki and Arizona bar history. If you are in town and you are looking to experience some Arizona tiki bars, you must visit the Bikini Lounge.

The Bikini Lounge is a self-described “dive bar” and I do think that that is fitting, although it is very comfortable and welcoming. There are no windows in the bar, but the décor uses traditional tiki motifs and lots of black-light paints. As much of a shy bar-goer as I am, I was a little worried by the dive bar descriptor, but I was really delighted by the dark and cool interior of Bikini Lounge. Also, the bartender that we met while there was unassuming, but she made a mean drink and she was friendly and kind. Taken together, I think this humble tiki bar has won a special place in my heart.

phoenix tiki bars

(c) ABR 2021

In terms of the drinks at this bar, you can get all the classic tiki drinks. They are fairly simple, and I don’t think that I noticed a signature cocktail, but they were all very very tasty. Furthermore, I think the Bikini Lounge is the most affordable option of the bars that we visited while doing “research” for this post. You can also get beer here, and snacky snacks, but no meals.

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Elephant Mountain Loop Trail: Escape the City at Spur Cross Ranch

Elephant Mountain Loop trail is another trail that made the 2021 #ILoveArizonaHikingChallenge and it has been one of my favorite day treks in the Phoenix-metro area for years. While the official maps say that this hike is 6.5 miles in length, I usually clock in at about 7 miles by the time I finish. Along the way, you will get to see Cave Creek (the actual creek), the majestic Elephant Mountain, and some of the most vibrant and biodiverse Sonoran Desert landscapes in the area. 7 miles is quite a challenge for anyone who doesn’t regularly do longer hikes, however, and the lack of shade will also add to the challenge of this trail. That being said, if you are ready for a long loop and the weather is good, this near-city trail is not to be missed.

You Will Love the Elephant Mountain Loop Trail if You Are Looking for a…

bear mountain loop trail

(1) Beautiful and Challenging Trail

Due to its length, the need to navigate across several trails, and the elevation gain, the Elephant Mountain Loop Trail is a challenge. Further, this trail is very exposed, making it dangerous in the summer months. That being said, if you are physically fit, have the right gear, and the weather is good (not too hot and not too cold/rainy), this is a beautiful trek.

Your reward for all of your hard hiking will be amazing views of Spur Cross and Elephant Mountain. You will also see Cave Creek, and the Tonto National Forest beyond.

(2) Biodiversity

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

You will see some of the most amazing Sonoran Desert biodiversity on this trail. In the spring, in particular, you will get to marvel at the flowers of many different species of plants, including cacti and annuals. Among the plants, many different kinds of birds will play. Reptiles scitter underfoot. And once in a while, you will also catch a glimpse of a mammal here or there.

One way or another, keep your eyes peeled while hiking and consider taking notes on the plants and animals that you see along the way.

On the Trail 

elephant mountain loop trail

Cave Creek (c) ABR 2020

I always take this loop in a counterclockwise direction, so that’s how I will describe the trek.

When you get started on the Elephant Mountain loop trail, you will be on the Spur Cross trail, leaving from the main Spur Cross Ranch parking lot. (Please do not try to sneak into the park. I’ve seen people on AllTrails talking about that, and it’s not cool. Maricopa County Parks and Rec gets most of its funding for maintaining trails and keeping people safe from entrance fees. Do your part and pay to enter. It’s affordable, just bring some cash and small bills.)

The Spur Cross section will take you down towards the creek, and allow you to cross. My favorite time to visit is when there is a little bit of water flowing. This is also a really great place to enjoy the biodiversity of this area, as you will get to enjoy the habitat of the dry desert and the wet riparian area of the creak. As I always say, there is nothing more beautiful than water in the desert. After you cross, you will be hiking up into the foothills. Be prepared for some very open, arid lands at this point. Again, don’t do this trail in the heat, and DO wear sunscreen! And practice safety near the water for yourself and any kids in your party.

Sonoran Hills

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

About 0.4 miles after you cross Cave creek, you will follow signage onto the Tortuga trail, which will continue to take you through the foothills.

Now, the transition from the Tortuga trail to the Elephant Mountain trail is a little confusing. So, be sure to keep your eyes peeled. (I’d also suggest bringing along some downloaded maps to track your progress). 0.7 miles from the Spur Cross junction, you will take the right-hand trail (heading north), and then there will be a small trail on the left hand about 0.2 miles further down. Most of the trails thus far have been wide, but Elephant Mountain is not maintained quite like Spur Cross or Tortuga. So, don’t expect the trail to be that wide. There is signage, however, so don’t be confused by spider trails.

Elephant Mountain

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

Once you get onto the Elephant Mountain trail, the scenery will change a little bit as the soil becomes a little bit of a darker red, and you head down into a dry wash. This is a very interesting part of the trek, and really beautiful, if stark.

After you pass the junction with TR 252, you will start hiking upwards towards the pass in the mountain- between the head and body of the elephant. This is the most elevation gain at any one point on the trail. So, if you get winded, this will be the hardest part of the hike. (Although there are plenty of uphill climbs scattered throughout.)

When you reach the pass, stop to take pictures. This is the highest part of the trail; enjoy it. The views here are beautiful. This is also a great spot to stop for a snack and a bit of a rest.

Hiking Home

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

From the pass, you will start hiking downwards onto a part of the trail that is surrounded by chollas and saguaros. As far as the saguaro go, they are massive and beautiful! If you are not used to cholla, however, exercise some extra caution. The pods from these cacti are covered in long and very sharp spines. If they stick you, you will need to use a stick (or bring a comb) to remove the pod. Once the pod is out, you can pull out the individual spines. These little pods lay around on the ground under the plants but you can also brush them off the plant if you run into them. So, just watch out for these guys. Don’t step on the pods or run into them! It’s easier than you might think.

Eventually, you will run back into the Spur Cross Trail, and you will take the trail to the left (heading east). This is a pretty long stretch through the desert. You will follow the hills, walk up and down them, and following the contours of the land. You will know when you are getting close to the trailhead when you see the creek again. (Before that, you will see both junctions with Tortuga). Once you cross the stream, you will head back up one final hill, pass the entry booth, and be back at the parking lot.

Pat yourself on the back and consider a rehydrating treat.

Need to Know Information

(c) Maricopa County Parks and Rec

Trail difficulty: Difficult

Trail length: 7 miles

Elevation gain: 1,335 ft

Entrance fee: $3.00 per person

Toilets at the trailhead: Yes, porta-potties

 How to Get There

Spur Cross Ranch, where the Elephant Mountain Loop trail is located, is in northern Phoenix-metro. You will need to get to Cave Creek Road, and then take Spur Cross road north. Spur Cross Road will end at the parking lot for Spur Cross Ranch. The final stretch of the road is a well-maintained dirt road that you can easily navigate with a car. I am unaware of public transportation that will get you all the way to the park.

Staying Safe

Remember, when you are on the trail, you are responsible for your own safety. This guide is not a guarantee of your safety; you must determine what you are physically prepared to do, insure the weather is safe, and bring needed supplies.

Chillin’ with Cholla

For the Elephant Mountain Loop trail, one particular safety issue that you might not be super familiar with if you aren’t from Arizona is safety around chollas! Chollas are very common on sections of this trail, so if you’ve never dealt with these plants before, give this a read.

Chollas are a kind of cactus that can be found throughout Central Arizona, and among locals, they are known for their painful, sharp, and very “sticky” pods of spines. These pods can grow into their own cactus plant, and sometimes get nutrients for themselves by killing small mammals that get stuck with a pod. If that’s not enough to tell you to be wary of these plants… I don’t know what will.

Cholla Safety
elephant mountain loop trail

Teddy bear cholla (c) Wikimedia Commons

For the rest of us, the best thing that you can do is WATCH WHERE YOU STEP. Chollas drop their pods all over and these can roll down hill and gather along and in the trail. Also, keep a respectable distance from the cholla plants themselves. Attached pieces of the cacti can come off if you rub up against them on accident.

If you do get a pod stuck in your clothes, shoes, or skin, don’t panic and DON’T grab them with your fingers. I always bring a comb on the trail with me as a tool to remove pods, but if you don’t have one handy, you can use a rock or stick to pull off the pod. Then you can pull out the spines individually.

That all being said, chollas spines have a painful chemical on them and tiny backwards facing spines that make them hard to remove from your skin. If you have a really bad run in with a cholla, you may consider checking in with your doctor or going to urgent care.

Please, the best thing to do is avoid getting these in your skin!

Help Prevent Wildfires

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

Wildfires are becoming more and more common in the arid desert that makes Elephant Mountain loop trail so spectacular. And while you might think fires are common in the desert, this isn’t the case for the Sonoran Desert. In fact, our plants (like the charismatic saguaro) aren’t adapted to fire. When they burn, they die, and their seedlings don’t resprout easy afterwards especially not when boxed out from exotic grasses. We lose saguaros, agaves, cacti, and more to fire. When the Sonoran Desert burns, it turns into grasslands. We lose our beautiful desert.

Many wildfires are started by people, and that means that we can play a role in preventing them and protecting the desert and its communities.

Tips for Doing Your Part

elephant mountain loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

Camping and shooting in Spur Cross Ranch are not allowed, so I am not going to cover those here, but in terms of what you might do here- here are some things you might not be aware of.

For instance, parking your vehicle over or near dried grasses can start a fire. Any small spark can lite grasses and then those fires can rapidly grow. Only park in designated, graveled areas. Spur Cross has plenty of space and if it is full, check out some other areas. Cave Creek has a ton to offer!

If you are towing, please also check your chains. Dragging chains spark off of the ground and cause fires. In one case, a guy driving down one of our highways with a dragging chain caused 30 fires! Either make sure the chain is too short to drag and/or you can purchase a cover to prevent sparks.

Learn More About Phoenix-metro and Arizona

If you are looking for other hiking options in the Phoenix-metro area, check out our post on short by beautiful hikes in near Phoenix. Or for an alternative, challenging trail, give Bear Mountain near Sedona a look.

For information on other attractions, food, and events in the Phoenix-metro area, give our Guide to Phoenix a look. And for more information on our home state, see our Guide to Arizona.

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