Category: Arizona Travel (Page 1 of 6)

Two Great Hotels in Scottsdale AZ: Bespoke Inn and Valley Ho

Why Hotels in Scottsdale AZ

Scottsdale AZ is one of the most popular destinations in Arizona, with people coming to visit even in the hottest part of our extremely hot summer. There are amazing museums, great food, endless hiking, and unique places to stay. If you are thinking of visiting, but don’t know where to stay- I got you. Here are two of my favorite Scottsdale hotels that you should check out whether you are looking for a local staycation or you’re planning a vacay!

Bespoke Inn: A Beautiful Boutique

Story of Bespoke Inn

Bespoke Inn is a passion project that began construction in 2012. In my opinion, it is one of the best hotels in Scottsdale AZ. The dream was to create a boutique hotel with personal touches found nowhere else in the city. After years of planning, and a year of construction, that dream came true in 2013 when the Inn opened its door for the first time. Now you can explore the many loving touches in this beautiful city oasis for yourself.

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Immersive Art Experiences in Phoenix, AZ: A Wonderful (and Strange) World

Despite being an artist, I am not fond of art museums. This can be frustrating for my poor husband when we travel together. Typically, he can get away with dragging me to one or two museums per trip (sometimes more depending on the location). But there’s one kind of art museum that I can’t get enough of- Immersive Art Experiences.

What is an Immersive Art Experience?

immersive art experiences

Candytopia (c) ABR 2019

I consider Immersive Art Experiences to be those in which you are surrounded by the artistic work. The best versions of immersive art might involve entire rooms where you can see, hear, and feel the piece. In the modern age, VR might be incorporated as well, transporting you to another world. And when it’s not possible to do either, I count some kinds of interactive art to be immersive as well, partially because this form of art engages with multiple senses.

 

#1 Wonderspaces

immersive art experiences

(c) ABR 2019

Wonderspaces can be found in three US cities, Philadelphia, Austin, and my very own Scottsdale. It’s at the top of my list, because basically every element of Wonderspaces’ display is immersive. And each piece accomplishes this in different ways. Before COVID-19, this included some very cool VR experiences. My favorite was a journey on the river between the living world and the next. While my husband was more drawn to a more scary alien abduction VR experience. The rest of their space is primarily devoted to room-sized experiences.

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horseshoe lake az

Horseshoe Lake AZ: Your Guide to Exploring a Remote Phoenix Lake

Of the lakes surrounding Phoenix, Horseshoe is the hardest to get to and probably the least known. That all makes this little corner of the Tonto National Park a nice place to escape the crowds, and enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, this is definitely a day trip that I would suggest as some unique hiking in the Tonto National Forest. Horseshoe Lake AZ has beautiful mountain vistas, a dam with mossy waterfalls cascading down to the river, and an adventurous approach that makes for the perfect day trip from the city.

The Distant Lake of Phoenix

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake AZ is a man-made lake that serves as one of several reservoirs for the Phoenix metro-area. It feeds off of the Verde River and is maintained by its namesake dam. If you are choosing among the seven lakes in the Phoenix area, this one might be of extra interest to you if you enjoy a bit of tame 4-wheel driving. It’s also great if you are looking for some peace and quiet.

Need to Know Information

horseshoe lake az

(c) ABR 2020

Horseshoe Lake is located within Tonto National Forest, and as such, you need a Tonto pass or should bring your Annual America the Beautiful pass. The Tonto day pass is $8 and can be purchased online. The America the Beautiful Pass is likewise available online for $80; it covers National Parks and National Forests. If you are planning on boating or camping, please access the Tonto National Forest website to identify the permit that you need. In 2020, since so many visitor centers are closed due to COVID-19, you may need to buy online. If this is the case, make sure to give yourself enough lead time in case you need anything mailed.

The only facilities at Horseshoe Lake AZ are a few outhouses at the end of the dirt road. There is also a small, concrete boat ramp in this area.

The lake is drained fairly often due to water demand. Furthermore, it is drained annually to support native birds that nest in the area, and reduce the population of invasive fish. When drained, do not approach the dam or collect any dead fish that might be scattered along the water’s edge.

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Why You Need to Visit Tonto Natural Bridge

Why Tonto Natural Bridge Is Worth Your Time

tonto natural bridge

Looking down at the bridge (c) ABR 2019

One of my earliest memories of Tonto Natural Bridge is getting there, and then immediately having to turn around and go home, because there actually wasn’t room for any more cars in the park. And the line was far too long to wait in.

Luckily, these days the tourism eye has turned elsewhere in the state, but you might gather from this past fame that this place is very very special. And you’d be right.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is essentially a massive stone bridge that crosses over Pine Creek and connects either side of the steep walls of Pine Canyon. If you aren’t able to hike, you can enjoy amazing views of the canyon and the bridge from several viewpoints along the parking lots. Hikers can explore underneath the bridge and marvel at the travertine formations that line either side. This limestone creates formations that almost look like stone waterfalls in their own right.

tonto natural bridge

Travertine formations (c) ABR 2019

Due to the relatively high elevation of the area (compared to Phoenix), this part of the state is far more lush than the desert lowlands. The snow and snow melt together feed Pine Creek, along with several springs in the area. Several of these you will be able to see from the parking lot and as you hike around. The most important of these (in my humble opinion) is the little spring that runs out onto the bridge. It is a very small little flow, but it pours over the edge of bridge, creating a beautiful and delicate waterfall that you can enjoy above and below.

In short, whether you just want to stop by to take some exceptional pictures, or stretch your legs on the trail, there is plenty of beauty to be enjoyed at this state park. The historic lodge will also give you a special glimpse into Arizona’s past, which is perfect for architectural and history fans alike.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking: Why I Both Love and Hate This Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking- Is It Good?

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

No… in my opinion, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is not good.

That being said, before I dive into the reasons why I don’t like this park, and I will briefly describe why you might actually enjoy hiking here.

Why You Might Like McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(1) There aren’t a ton of desert parks across the region that allows you to enjoy the natural beauty of the valley floor. Most have mountains, and mountains can have very different plant and animal communities.

(2) McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is perfect for beginners. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain in the park, so it’s a great place to build strength and trail experience.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

(3) There are AMAZING views from the park! Even hiking through a wash, you can see some of the most iconic mountains in Maricopa county. This includes Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks.

(4) There is plenty of very nice birding that you can do from Stoneman’s Wash, which isn’t a prohibitively long hike from the Pemberton trailhead.

(5) When the season is right, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking can provide a reprieve from the foot-traffic crowds. For instance, if I try to go to Dreamy Draw at 11am on a Sat in winter, I will struggle to find parking. The trails are absolutely full of people. In McDowell, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot and you can have some true solitude.

What’s So Bad About McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking?

Ok, so if there are all those reasons that someone might really enjoy hiking in this particular park, why do I dislike it? Let me give you some of my thoughts.

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Hiking the Hassayampa River Preserve: Walking Along the Upside Down River

The Emerald of Central Arizona

hassayampa river preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Central Arizona is a dry place. Stay here long enough and you will start to see water as the precious resource that it is. Due to this, green places are very special. The Hassayampa River Preserve is one of these green gems, and its right in Phoenix’s backyard. Furthermore, thanks to the hard work of the Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, a stretch of the habitat offered by this unique river is protected for all to enjoy.

What is the Hassayampa

The Hassayampa River was given its name due the unique way in which it tends to flow underground along most of its length. While the river bed is apparent in the desert, it often appears to be dry. This is because the water is below the surface until there is sufficient rain and runoff. In the Hassayampa River Preserve, the river surfaces due to changes in the depth of the stone layers that the water flows over. This makes the area of the preserve into an oasis in the desert, which has drawn people and wildlife for hundreds of years.

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Things to Do in Phoenix in the Summer: 12-Hour Travel Challenge

About the 12-Hour Travel Challenge

The goal of the 12-Hour Challenge is to explore new places throughout the Phoenix-Metro area. Specifically, our first challenge forced us to discover new things to do in Phoenix in the Summer. For each one, we define a distinct area within which we have to limit our explorations, based on the different boundaries between cities. We also avoid hiking during the challenge, in Phoenix at least, because we are working on in-depth guides to the trails in the area.

For our debut challenge, we limited ourselves to activities in Central Phoenix. Mapped below with the help of Google.

things to do in phoenix in the summer

The Search for Breakfast

The day began with a search for some of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. We planned to have our morning start with a hearty breakfast at the Original Breakfast House, but unfortunately, our 9 a.m. start time ruled that option out. Despite its unassuming location, the OBH is VERY popular in the area, and waiting visitors were filling the patio by the time we arrived. With no time to spare, we decided to try an alternative option. (Tip: If you do visit OBH, they are a cash-only establishment.)

Oink Cafe

4326 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Oink Cafe is one of R. and my favorite places to get breakfast in Central Phoenix. This little place is located in a strip mall next to a Target and REI. They specialize in bacon (surprise, surprise), and giving one of their bacon flights a try is real fun. The flavors aren’t crazy, just really savory and delicious. Any of them are available for pairing with a regular breakfast meal as well, and you can even enjoy a bacon donut from the bar. I usually enjoy one of their waffles.

With its slight cinnamon/vanilla flavor, these sweet breakfast treats are some of the best in the city. This time, however, I opted for the Oink French Toast, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected.

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Wasson Peak Trail: Explore the Sonoran Desert

wasson peak trail

Trail Summary

The Wasson Peak trail is a great option for hikers in the Tucson area looking for a trail with some fair length (around 8 miles). There is just a bit of elevation gain, and some beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert. It is moderate to difficult due to its length and the climb to the summit of the mountain peak. If you are prepared, however, the climb offers some amazing vantage points on the city. You can also see the sky islands that surround it, making Wasson Peak the perfect place for photographers.

This is a great hike for challenging yourself without tackling the massive slopes of the Catalinas or the Rincon mountains. It is also a wonderful place to explore and enjoy the Sonoran Desert. There is a huge array of desert plants that you can enjoy on this trail, as well as the artifacts of Arizona’s extractive, mining industry. There is also a beautiful picnic area towards the beginning of the trail for people looking for a more relaxing day with the family. In short, the Wasson Peak Trail is a moderately difficult track that can cater to a wide variety of (prepared) travelers. It is also near some great attractions that you can check out for a full day of exploration.

wasson peak trail

If you’d like to learn more about some hiking options in the area, check out our Guide to Arizona.

Length: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1863 ft

Difficulty Level: Moderate to difficult

Cost: Free

Bathrooms: None

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Seven Springs Trails: The 4 and 246 Loop

The Perfect Seven Springs Day Hike 

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

The Seven Springs trails are a great place to spend the day, or a weekend for both Phoenix locals and visitors to Arizona. It’s slightly cooler than the city due to its higher elevation (and distance from the city “heat island effect”). And there are some beautiful oases among the mountains where the spring runs.

For locals, Seven Springs is relatively close; from central Phoenix, it’s about an 1 to 1.5 hours away. However, its proximity to the city doesn’t mean that it isn’t a refreshing break from the urban landscape. As you follow the dirt road back into the Cave Creek mountains, you will find yourself heading deeper and deeper into a more grassy and green dryland than can be found anywhere else in the Phoenix-area. When you are close to the spring, you will also be delighted by the splash of green trees that have grown up surrounding the water source. While it isn’t a particularly cool place in the summer, during the spring and fall it is a great escape from the heat for hikers, campers, and picnickers alike.

For travelers visiting Arizona, the Seven Springs trails represent some very unique vistas and great hiking experiences. Whether you are just visiting Phoenix for a few days, or exploring Arizona more thoroughly, this area will give you the chance to see the impact of water on the desert, shaping the mountains and growing vibrant, green forests so striking you won’t believe your eyes.

Why You Might Love It Here

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

  1. Short drive from the city for a beautiful escape; you won’t even remember that Phoenix is right around the corner!
  2. Views of a unique desert landscape that lives between the drier Valley of the Sun and the higher forests and scrublands of northern AZ.
  3. A peaceful place to picnic and explore a spring in the desert.
  4. Plenty of trail options for people wanting to hike short and long, and all kinds of different vistas along the way.
  5. Camp grounds on-hand and nearby to lots of good restaurants in the Cave Creek area so you can make a day of it.

The 4 (Cave Creek Trail) and 246 (Skunk Creek Trail) Loop

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

While there are many options among the Seven Springs trails, my favorite loop is a mix of Trail 4 and Trail 246. This loop feels very long, so it isn’t necessarily an easy hike. But it does bring together many of the best views of the area, and lets you both explore the spring and head up into the grassy hills and mountains. It’s also fairly easy to navigate (but for a few parts which I will explain below). If you are looking for a day hike, this is definitely a great option, and if you’d like a shorter hike, I would suggest starting on Trail 4 and just turning around when you start to get tired.

Trail Stats

Seven Springs trails

Length: ~10 miles; our GPS’ could not agree on the exact length but it felt like 11-12 miles.

Difficulty: Difficult. This loop is long and has sections with considerable elevation gain. Walking short sections of Trail 4 would be relatively easy, however, for anyone looking for an alternative option.

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,722 ft

Cost: Free (as long as you park at the Cave Creek trailhead parking area); elsewhere you will need a Tonto Pass, which is $8 and can be purchased in town (see locations to buy these here). For camping it will be $75 dollars, and you will need to either call 1-877-444-6777 or go to recreation.gov to get a permit. See more information here.

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes; check Forest Service website for information on the bathroom’s status. 

What to Bring

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

You will need to develop your packing list based on what you plan to do while you are on the Seven Spring Trails. But here is my list of essentials.

(1) Safety gear and first aid kit appropriate for the amount of time you will spend in the wild and the number of people in your group.

(2) Food and water. Even though it is slightly cooler up here, you will still want to keep hydrated. This is an essential safety and hiking equipment for hiking in the desert (or anywhere). You’ll also want to bring plenty of snacks! If camping, plan your meals.

(3) Good, broken-in hiking boots, and if you plan on walking through the spring, hiking sandals.

(4) Maps of the area (you can find a basic one from Hike Arizona, here.

(5) Clothing layers for a cool morning and hotter afternoons.

Getting There and Where to Park

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

In order to get to the Seven Springs Recreation Area, you will need to drive to north Phoenix, and up through or past Carefree. There are several roads that will take you up in the right direction, depending on where you are coming from. Most likely, you will need to take the 101 north and then get off on Pima, Scottsdale, or Cave Creek. Then you will head north until you hit Cave Creek Road or until Cave Creek turns east.

Then you will just keep following Cave Creek as it winds back north, past the road leading to Lake Bartlett. Cave Creek Road will eventually turn into Seven Springs Rd, and the pavement will run out. The following dirt road feels fairly long for people driving cars, but it is do-able. I have driven that road with my little cars over the past decade pretty regularly. Just take your time and you will be fine. If you are in a vehicle with higher clearance, this will be no problem. That being said, there is flooding sometimes on the road, and the creek passes directly over it at a few points. So, no matter what you are driving, obey signs warning of dangerous conditions, and avoid crossing the water if it is too high.

Trail Experience

While there are plenty of options among the Seven Springs trails, I will be covering the 4/426 Skunk and Cave Creek loop here. Being as it is a loop, you can take it clockwise or counterclockwise. Either is fine, but I personally like the counterclockwise direction the most. This allows you to amble along the stream and really enjoy this part of the trail before hiking up into the mountains. However, you will need to be well aware of your hiking ability on this route, as it might be easy to feel like you can keep going while the trail is relatively flat and then get tired on the second half. If you go clockwise, you will do the hard part first, but when you get back to the stream, you will be pretty tired and you really won’t appreciate the slight uphill climb back to your car.

Up From the Parking Lot

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

There’s a bit of a trek from the parking lot to the rest of the trail system in the area, but it quite a lovely stretch. Before you leave, make sure to snap a picture of the map at the trailhead for further reference. Then you will walk up a steep stretch of the trail where you will catch some great views of campground and forest. While short, this part of the journey gives you a little taste of the alpine, with some evergreen trees and higher elevation scrub trees. Luckily, particularly for your way back, it’s pretty flat for here as well but for the initial elevation gain and the walk back down to the road at the end.

Walking Along the Creek

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

Once you hike down from the higher parts of the trail, you will cross the road and then follow Trail 4 as it follows the creek. As you get to the bottom of the hill, follow the trail as it turned to the right, and cross over the cattle fence into the forest. You will then keep to the right and follow the trail through the forest of riparian trees that grow along the watered soils of the creek. This is a beautiful place to stop for a picnic. Shady places with flowing water are rare in central Arizona, and its always worth enjoying them when you have the opportunity to see one.

As the trail continues on, the relatively flat bottom of the stream bed will narrow, and you will find yourself following the track along rocky cliff sides overlooking the creek. The forest will fall behind you and you will find yourself heading back down into the Sonoran Desert landscape. Saguaros are perched on the trailside, and while the water maintains a vibrant plant array, the trees will become more scarce.

Eventually, the trail will take you right down to the stream, where you will have to cross over the water to continue on. While less shaded than the forest, this is another good place to stop for a snack and rest before continuing on through the desert.

Up, Up, Up and Into the Mountains

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

Just when you are wondering just how far it must be to the junction for 426, you will find a wooden sign pointing you up into the grass-covered mountains to your left. From here, you will follow the trail as it climbs its up and up… and up. While this is the most strenuous section of the trail, you will be afforded with exceptional views of the surrounding landscape, and if you look carefully into the stoney nooks to your right, you might catch water a glimpse of water flowing down the mountain side. These are places that remain dry for much of the year, but when there is snow melt or rain, they offer a special glimpse at the rate beauty of desert waterfalls.

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

When you reach a saddle in the rolling mountains, you will pass the little grassy area that gives this section of the trail it’s name. Skunk Tank. Here, the stones of the mountain catch water and provide the plants and animals with water in an otherwise dry section of the mountains.

From there, you will continue upwards for a time, crossing back into the land of puffy, short trees. The trail will widen at this stage, turning into something of a narrow dirt road, and this will take you back down towards the creek. The trail does get a little lost and hard to navigate once you need to cross the creek bed, so keep your eyes peeled for cairns and the familiar sights of Trail 4. Eventually, you should get back to the road, which you will cross again and then hit the first section of the trail back towards your car.

Safety Tips

Seven Springs trails

(c) ABR 2018

(1) Always remember that your safety on the trail is your responsibility. Be prepared and be cautious. Bring food, water, sturdy shoes, and first aid equipment.

(2) Always let someone know where you will be hiking and when you expect to get back.

(3) Exercise caution as crossing the stream bed, the round rocks, particularly in the water, can be unstable and hard to walk across.

(4) There are some large carnivores that live in this area, so be aware. You may wish to carry bear spray if you are worried, but also researching what to do if you run into any large predators can also be helpful. The odds are slim that you will see them, but it’s something to be aware of.

Seven Springs trails

Seven Springs trails

An Arizonan’s Guide to the Pinnacle Peak Hike

Why Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

The Pinnacle Peak hike is an insular island of mountain goodness tucked away on the northern edge of Scottsdale. The star of this hiking show is Pinnacle Peak itself, which will immediately dominate your view when you pull up and park. It isn’t particularly tall, comparatively, but this little peak is characterized by some really neat boulders and the rocky spire itself is definitely picture-worthy. Pinnacle Peak Park is a great place to take the family for a short trek to see the peak and some wonderful views of the McDowell Mountains. For regular hikers, it is also a good exercise trail and you will immediately see that it has more of a work out culture than a hiking one.

You can also go rock climbing at Pinnacle Peak, but I have never been, so I would suggest checking out the park website for more info.

Trail Statistics

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Length: 3.5 miles round trip (1.75 in one direction)

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult due to the incline, particularly in the final section of the trail

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft

Cost: Free

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes

 How to Get There

pinnacle peak hike

Almost no matter where you are coming from in the Phoenix-area, you will need to head north to reach Pinnacle Peak Park. You can take the 101 to either the Pima or Scottsdale exit. Then follow either of those roads north. You will then take Happy Valley Rd to the east until you hit Alma School Rd which you will take north. Finally, follow signs to the parking area.

Infrastructure at Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak hike calls Scottsdale, one of the richest parts of the city, home, and it shows. The trailhead has a very nice building where you can go to the bathroom and get information about the trail. There are maps available and staff/volunteers to talk to. Along the trail you will also note that there is very good signage for different landmarks. This is really nice for the photographers among us. There are also emergency markers along the trail. And there are volunteers that hike it every so often to keep an eye on things.

Rules for the Trail

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Pinnacle Peak Park has some special rules that you will need to know before you head over there. In addition to the average rules and manners to keep in mind, they have some restrictions on hiking times and photography.

This park has strict hours and you will not be allowed to hike when the park is closed. The hours change with the season, so reference the following link to see when the park will be open on your hiking dates.

Commercial activities are not allowed in the park, and that includes photography that will be directly used for commercial purposes. As I mentioned previously, volunteers do monitor the trail, so if you are planning on setting up an Instagram shoot, make sure that you are allowed at the information station. If not, you will likely get caught.

Trail Culture

The Pinnacle Peak hike has a trail culture that is becoming more and more common in Phoenix. Specifically, it is dominated by people who are either visitors or people working out. For old-school hikers, this means that you shouldn’t expect to see Leave No Trace or hiking etiquette. There also tends to be a lot of people on the trail and most won’t greet you like in less exercised-focused trails.

Journey Across Pinnacle Peak Park

Inwards and Upwards
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak Trail starts at a beautiful trailhead with all the amenities, bathrooms, maps, helpful volunteers, and water fountains. From there, you will pass through the metal gate that is closed off-hours, and begin winding your way up towards the peak itself. After making you huff a bit, the trail will give you a bit of a break as it takes you around the mountain. The path will turn away from the trailhead and climb up to the rock spire for which the park is named. It then snakes out across the boulder-covered mountain to the west.

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

A bit more elevation gain and you will be up high enough to get some great pictures of the spire. There will also be views of Scottsdale and Phoenix stretching off in all directions. For some, this will be the place to turn around. But if you want to complete the trail, you will keep walking as the path dips down into the saddle between the spire and the rest of the mountains in Pinnacle Peak Park.

You will then climb upwards again, before running into some signs that warn you about the difficulty of the rest of the trail. From here, should you decide to continue on, you will follow a steep decent back into the neighborhood. The hard part is that this trail is not a loop, so everything you just went down, you will need to get back up.

Inwards and Upwards… Again
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Make your way back up the steep section of the trail. You will get a bit of a rest as you trek across the flatter parts of the path that come directly after. But your trek home won’t finish climbing uphill until you pass the spire again. Overall, all the elevation gain and loss makes this an impactful workout for its relatively short length. And the spire, Pinnacle Peak, makes it a unique place for visitors.

Need More Arizona Inspiration?

For more information and inspiration on all things Arizona, be sure to check out our guide to our home state. I guarantee there will be places on there that you hadn’t thought about before.

pinnacle peak hike

pinnacle peak hike

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