Category: Arizona Travel (Page 2 of 9)

Cave Creek Regional Park: Fire and Wild Places

Anyone living in Phoenix-metro area who loves hiking is really lucky, because there is a desert park for every week of the year in the city. One of my favorites in Cave Creek Regional Park, which is part of Maricopa County’s park network. There are loop trails for every hiking ability, as well as stellar views of the mountains north of the city. The park is also home to some very unique landmarks, like the Michelin Man, a quartz ridge, and historic mines. To top it all off, the county has put amenities here for everyone, from the nature center to a playground, and miles and miles of trails.

It’s a wonderful place to explore the Sonoran Desert for visitors, and a must-hike for local trail-lovers. This guide will walk you through why you might consider visiting, need to know information, and explore some of the best trails in the parks.


Top Reasons to Consider Visiting Cave Creek Regional Park

cave creek regional park

(1) Get a healthy dose of the Sonoran Desert.

If you are from out of town and are in the northern part of Phoenix, Cave Creek Regional Park has everything you will need. They’ve got saguaros, beautiful views, mining history, unique rock formations, and a nature center.

(2) See a new part of the many desert preserves in the Phoenix-metro area.

If you are from Phoenix, Cave Creek Regional Park is a really high-quality preserve that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you like hiking, mountain biking, horse-back riding, camping, or just picnicking with friends and family, there is something for everyone here.

(3) Support Maricopa County Regional Parks with your fees.

Maricopa County does a lot to increase access to nature for the county with a huge network of parks. They work with national and state agencies to protect land and connect people to it. They also have staff members working exclusively on conservation efforts. So, your fees make a huge difference when you visit their parks and enjoy the beautiful desert.

(4) Bring your family to a park with something for everyone.

Horses, playgrounds, desert tortoises and more – oh my! This regional park has a little something for a whole family so it is a great get-away for everyone. On a cooler day in the winter, you might consider staying for the day to hike, picnic, horseback ride and relaxation. Not every desert park has quite so many amenities for all tastes.

(5) Learn more about the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

A great place to start is in the nature center, but the trails have much to teach as well. As I explore below, Cave Creek Regional Park had a wildfire burn across some of its most iconic trails in 2020. Now, you can observe the damage that these fires do the plants that aren’t adapted for those kinds of natural disasters. You can also see the healing of the desert as well.

Need to Know Information

cave creek regional park

Official Website

Address: 37019 N. Lava Lane, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Contact: (602) 506-2930 ext 8

Entry Fees: $7.00 per vehicle

*Reminder: This is a Maricopa County park, so national and state annual passes are not valid here. If you live in  Maricopa and your hike a lot, you might consider purchasing the Maricopa annual pass which is $88.

Nature Center

The Nature Center at Cave Creek Regional Park is a really neat little stop, especially if you have kids. My favorite thing is that they have built a little pond area with all kinds of plants and itty-bitty wildlife, and they have a desert tortoise.

Besides that, the Nature Center is where you go to chat with the park staff, plan out your trip, and learn more about the ecosystem here.

There are also a variety of planned events that leave from the Nature Center – so be sure to check out their website. These include educational events and volunteer gatherings that give back to the park.

The Go John Trail 

(c) ABR 2021

The Go John Trail is the main hiking attraction of Cave Creek Regional Park. I had a friend-of-a-friend say this was the most beautiful trail she’s ever done (debatable) and this trail shows up in several guide books. So, while I wouldn’t agree that it’s one of the most beautiful trails in Arizona (we’ve got way too many), it’s definitely exceptional. And I have an entire guide devoted to it.

If you are really interested in doing this trail, I would definitely suggest that you read through my more comprehensive guide. I wouldn’t say that this is a difficult trail, but it is on the longer side. And people have died trying to hike it in the summer.

It’s a nearly 6 mile loop with 1,260 feet elevation gain.

The Overton Trail

cave creek regional park

The Overton Trail is a great loop option for a variety of hikers. If you are interested in Go John, but it seems little too long for you, Overton is a great alternative. If you want to see more of Cave Creek Regional Park, and you’ve already done Go John, this trail is a very nice experience to round out your exploration of the park. And if you are a go-getter, and you are looking for something longer than Go John, you can link the two trails for a mega-loop.

If you are interested in seeing the recovering burn area for yourself, Overton will also take you through a small section of it, up in the mountain pass. This is also the loop that is closest to the off-shoot trail that features the historic mine.

Needless to say, this is a must-see trail for the park.

On the Trail

cave creek regional park

It is a 3.5 mile loop with only about 524 ft elevation gain.

You can start the hike from the nature center or the Go John Trailhead. From the nature center, going clockwise, you will have a more gradual climb, although the elevation gain is near the beginning. If you’d like more of a warm-up, consider parking at the nature center and then going counter-clockwise, as this will have you walking on relatively flat ground for a while, before you make the steeper climb to the mountain pass. The opposite is true if you park at Go John.

While on this trail, you will round the smaller of the two mountains in the heart of the park. You also maintain a higher elevation for longer than the Go John trail, so the views of the surrounding desert are impressive for much of the trek.

The Quartz Trail

cave creek regional park

The Quartz trail is the easier of the three listed here. It is relatively flat, and not quite as long as Overton or Go John. However, it does offer lots of route options as it is connected to several other trails. Furthermore, it offers some really unique attractions from among the Cave Creek Regional Trails and Phoenix Trails in general.

First, this loop works well if you want to visit the “Michelin Man.” This is a saguaro that has taken on a very rare appearance. It has become big and puffy, making it look like its namesake. It’s a bit of a strange thing to see, but since you will get to acquaint yourself with regular saguaros while visiting (if you aren’t already). It’s cool to see something so unique.

Second, as its name suggestions, Quartz trail abuts a ridge of massive quartz boulders. There are a couple other places to see this in the city, but it really isn’t all that common. I can also say that no matter how many times I see these giant, white formations, I never get bored of them. There is just something magical about giant quartz rocks (not giant crystals, sorry).

If you want to do this whole loop, it is about 3.5 miles.

Other Interesting Tidbits

The burn scar (c) ABR 2021

If you don’t feel like hiking, and/or you really love horseback riding, there are horseback riding tours provided in this park!

Cave Creek Regional Park is also home to several mines. One is featured on a trail, so you can take a peek. Be aware that the mine is barred off for safety. So, you will literally be taking a peek, not going in. Mines are a part of Phoenix’s history, from actual miners to people looking to bring investors to the area pre-A/C. But they are dangerous. Look but don’t touch, my friends.

Besides its historic significance, this county park is also the site of an extensive wildfire that happened in 2020. If you are interested in seeing what the desert looks like as it recovers from fires that it isn’t adapted for, hike Go John clockwise to see the landscape just over the mountain pass. There is also science being carried out on this park on the impact of fires on saguaros.

Did you know that saguaros (the iconic cactus that you see in cartoon form everywhere) are highly threatened by fire? They aren’t adapted for it and will die if they are burnt by only 30%. But it can take years for them to die, so many people don’t realize the harm the fire does to these sacred plants.

Safety First!

In speaking to the rangers at this park, I have learned that yes, sadly, people have died hiking here at Cave Creek Regional Park. They were unprepared for the heat and the rugged terrain. What is so tragic, besides that this was preventable, is that they were within eyesight of the parking lot when one of them passed.

So, please, do not underestimate the Sonoran Desert – even in the winter. People joke that it is a dry heat, but friends, this heat kills many people every year. The ground can get up to 150 degrees F.

What can you do to safely visit? First, DO NOT hike in the middle of the day on days when it will be more than 95 degrees. Second, bring more than the amount of water that you think you will need. 1 liter per hour is the common suggestion; so those little 8 oz. water bottles won’t cut it. It is also good to bring a salty snack for electrolytes and something sugary for energy.

See the above graphic for some more tips. But remember that your safety is always your responsibility on the trail. Protect yourself and do not hike if there is anything making it dangerous for you.

More About Phoenix-Metro

what to do in litchfield park

(c) ABR 2021

Whether you are visiting Phoenix-metro or live in-town, there is probably tons more to explore. I know, I’ve lived here my whole life (30+ years) and I am still discovering more and more in the city.

So, after you visit Cave Creek Regional Park, consider what your next adventure in Phoenix is going to be. I have a whole guide on the city and I am adding more information regularly.

And if you are just looking for more hikes after some of these, consider Pinnacle Peak.

Want to save this guide for later? Consider pinning!

What to Do In Payson, Arizona

Payson, Arizona may not be at the top of everyone’s list for visiting this particular part of the United States. However, it is a hub for travel north in the summer, and there is a lot that this little town has to offer to the respectful and mindful traveler. When considering what to do in Payson, and whether or not you’d like to visit, if you are a hiker or history-lover, there is something for you here. This guide will walk you through a few of my favorite things to do in and around town, and discuss what the key to being a polite visitor is while here.

What to Do In Payson: In Town

Most people just pass through Payson on their way up north in the summer. (And the traffic in town can become very stressful due to this.) However, it is well worth stopping in to learn more about the history of the area and support local businesses.

Rim County Museum

what to do in payson

The Rim County Museum is a small, locally run institution that has two sections. The first is the museum itself, and the other is the historic house of famous Western author, Zane Grey. When considering what to do in Payson, I’d suggest giving this place a stop regardless of whether you are a history buff or not. They have done a very nice job with the museum, it’s located in a beautiful park, and the story of this little town is unique.

They are only open Fridays and Saturdays, however, with limited hours. So, check the website for hours and tours.

The cost to enter is $5 for either the museum or house tour or $10 for both, and you can find the museum at: 700 S Green Valley Parkway, Payson AZ

Museum Sections

The main museum has artifacts and stories from Payson’s past and the many people who have called it home. In 2020-2021, they did somewhat of a renovation and remodel. So, this little place is well cared for and features some new exhibits if you had visited previously.

If you want to visit Zane Grey’s house, you will be required to take a tour. While not all of us enjoy taking tours, this is a good thing in regards to this little home. There is really only one room, and I quite think that it wouldn’t be interesting to those of us unfamiliar with the works and life of Zane Grey without someone to teach us more about him. On the tour you will get to sit down in the house and listen to stories from the author’s life and how he fell in love with the Payson of yester-year. It certainly was another time, and I think taking the time to learn more about this historic building is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of Payson.

Park Lake

what to do in payson

Just outside the museum, there is a beautiful town park, Green Valley Park. While I wouldn’t normally list a park on one of these guides, this little spot is really picturesque and it is very lively on weekends. If you want to take an easy stroll or enjoy people watching, this is the perfect little spot.

Furthermore, people come to fish, exercise and more. In the summer in particular, it is a beautiful, green place to relax and unwind.

Tasty Treats

Good food is always a must no matter where you go, and Payson is no exception. While some of my favorite restaurants have come and gone, there are a couple places I would still suggest you stop by for a taste of something good.


what to do in payson

Common Grounds – This little coffee shop is nestled next to a church and serves up very good coffee, tea, and pastries. They even do some inspired holiday-themed drinks. If you have some time, consider skipping Starbucks for this little spot. 219 S Colcord Rd, Payson, Az, 85541.


Sweet Country Charm Fudge and Gifts – A staple of the drive north in Payson, the Sweet Country Charm is part of a vibrant shopping center. They’ve got a huge assortment of candies and goodies, along with their fudge. If you have a sweet tooth, this is a great spot to indulge at, and you can pick up some treats to go if you are just passing through town. Find them at: 618 N Beeline Hwy, Payson, AZ 85541.

Danzeisen Creamery – This is a newer spot in town, but its home to one of Arizona’s homegrown dairy companies. You can get some very very good milkshakes at this spot; they’ve got fancy ones and more straight forward flavors. If you want to stop by – 500 S. Beeline Hwy., Payson, AZ 85541 Suite B


what to do in payson

When it comes to dinner food, my favorite places have either closed in the past couple years or undergone some changes of the chefs, but if you are looking for higher end food, you might consider Duza’s Kitchen. And there is also fairly good BBQ to be had at Rim Country BBQ.

Are any of your favorites missing from this list? Let me know! We’d love to try some new spots and add to our list of what to do in Payson. We also love to spread the news about other great small businesses.

What to Do Around Payson

When it comes to planning a getaway to Payson, some kind of outdoor adventure is almost always in the cards. There are some great options right in town, as well as some really cool spots not all that far away.

Loads of Hiking

In Town
boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

I have several posts on in-town hiking, because I think the town’s trails are super high quality and should be included on any “what to do in Payson list.”

The Boulders Loop Trail – is one of my absolute favorites. If one does the entire lollipop, it’s about 5 miles. But it is very easy to just take a stroll through the woods in this area. There are beautiful stone formations, giant boulders, and often flowing water.

Monument Peak Loop – This trail is down a dirt road, so it offers a little bit of solitude. It will take you around the very small Monument Peak.

Peach Orchard – Best served on a quiet weekday (if you are on foot), the Peach Orchard loop takes advantage of OHV roads through the open countryside. There are beautiful views of the rolling hills from here.

Just Out of Town 

hiking trails in payson

Waterwheel Falls – You can either take a rugged trail to the falls, or walk along a forest road, but either way, Waterwheel Falls is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in Payson. It can get busy, but the flowing creek alone is well worth seeing. This is a fee area for the Tonto National Forest- but there are kiosks at the trailhead where you can pay.

Fossil Springs – This is a pretty popular hike, that I have an entire guide on. It’s about 8 miles RT, so definitely no joke (and not a trail to wear flip flops for). But it follows an old dirt road down into a beautiful canyon with running water and verdant riparian areas. You do need to snag a permit to go, so check out the guide for more information.

Barnhardt Trail – This is the longest trail on this list, but it is a short 20-30 min out of town, and it is spectacular. The trail will take you up into the Mazatzal mountains, where you can see beautiful rock formations in a rainbow of colors. When the season is right, there are also waterfalls to be seen at the top. That all being said, this hike ranges from 6-12 miles depending on how far up you hike, it is entirely uphill on the way out, and a dirt road is the only access to the trailhead.

Mogollon Rim

what to do in payson

The Mogollon Rim can be seen from just about anywhere around Payson. At a first glance, it looks like a massive cliff that splits the lowlands from Arizona from the higher, colder forests. In fact, if you are coming from Payson and travelling up, you will notice that the temperature is much cooler on the top and the forest is more robust.

Needless to say, this beautiful and unique geological feature is popular place to visit. There is a 50+ mile trail that follows its length, perfect for backpackers. There is also a dirt road that can be driven along its upper edge. I’ve made a day out of driving this in the past, and many people car camp off this road as well. And there is also a large lake at the eastern end of the rim where people recreate in all kinds of ways from boating to fishing to hiking.

Whether you just want to stop for some pictures, or spend days in this area, the Mogollon Rim is one of the most unique stops on this “what to do in Payson” list.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

I have an entire post on Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, so you can imagine that I enjoy this place. There are some very cool trails here, if not particularly long, and the formation for which the park is named is outstandingly beautiful. If you are not comfortable with hiking steep and sometimes slippery-wet trails, there are plenty of places on the rim to look down on the bridge.

But if you are comfortable hiking (and it is very steep and wild) you can walk under the bridge. There is a little waterfall and some very cool formations here, so it’s definitely worth the experience if you can safely handle the conditions (and the park has the trail open).

Please note that this is another fee area, and the trails may be closed when unsafe. Do not disregard rangers and signage when trails are closed.

Respectful and Sustainable Travel

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

While the United States has become a cultural staple in movies and pop culture globally, it is important to remember that the people of the United States have varied cultures and need the same peace in their homes as anyone else. So, whether you are a domestic traveler or visiting from out of the country, please practice culturally respectful travel practices. (Which can honestly be applied just about anywhere).

Avoid renting full-sized short-term rentals (Airbnb/VRBO/etc). These take up precious living space in both small towns and cities, and undermine local communities by replacing neighbors with investors and rotations of strangers. If you do rent a home, do not hold parties there.

While driving and being out and about in the town, please be extra polite. Many people have the perception that they can do whatever they want while on vacation, but culturally respectful travel principles would tell us that the opposite is true. You are a guest is someone else’s home. Take care of that place and the people who live there.

Remember, without thriving local communities, tourism can’t exist.

It is also important to practice Leave No Trace on the trails, and please do not park blocking roads, drive-ways, or in no-parking zones. If a location is full when you arrive, try visiting later in the day, or visit an alternative spot.

Learn More About Arizona 

tonto natural bridge

The waterfall from the top (c) ABR 2019

If you are interested in exploring more of Arizona, we have a load of posts on hiking across the state as well as discussions of Arizona’s coolest destinations in our Guide to Arizona.

If you love the idea of Payson, but will be limited to the Phoenix metro-area, there are some great places to check out. For a small town feel within the city, Litchfield Park is a unique place that harkens back to the 50-60s. There are also loads of hiking in Phoenix – Butcher Jones is a short trail just outside of Fountain Hills (on the way to Payson) that has beautiful views of the Saguaro Lake.

Want to save this guide for later?

Consider pinning it!

Hiking Trails In Payson, Arizona, USA

Sometimes, when I am staying somewhere, whether I am a regular visitor or just have one opportunity to pass through, I want to know about hiking opportunities right in town. I look for these kinds of trails when I have limited time, or I just lack the ability to drive more than 30 min out of town. These trails are often lesser known, and it can be hard to find good information on online. So, I wanted to provide you with a list of five hiking trails in Payson that I have enjoyed.

My goal is to give you a sense for which trail will be right for your needs, but these will not be comprehensive guides to each one. Expect this post to equip you with some great ideas for where to hike in Payson, Arizona, and point you in the direction of more information (should more be needed). I’ve also organized these so that my favorites come first.

hiking trails in payson

Five Amazing Hiking Trails in Payson, AZ

#1 Water Wheel Falls 

hiking trails in payson

The Water Wheel Falls trail is my favorite of the hiking trails in Payson, Az, because it leads to a beautiful waterfall. This is a popular spot, however, so if you want to enjoy any solitude, come early. People love swimming in the creek that comes down from the waterfall. The falls themselves are a popular Instagram photo spot due to the log ladder at the bottom. This is also a short trail, being about 1.6 miles out and back. And it is beautiful from start to finish.

However, there are some things to consider when deciding whether or not you want to visit this spot. First, about half way down the trail, you will need to cross the creek to the right, and this is not easy. I have done a lot of creek crossings in my life, but here I have been (1) flat out stopped from crossing when the water is too high, and (2) hurt myself trying to cross when the water wasn’t too high. There are huge, slippery boulders that you kind of have to shimmy between, and scale. It can definitely be dangerous. If that sounds like a little too much for you, or if you get there and have doubts, you can easily enjoy the exceptional beauty of the lower creek area on the trail. There are waterfalls in both directions even without getting to the end. (There is also a forest road that you can take that avoid the creek crossing).

On the Trail

hiking trails in payson

This is where you have to cross… so yeah, sometimes that is just a hard – no.

If you do cross, you will roughly follow the creek. The trail after this point is vastly different than the well-defined, sandy path of the first half of the trek. Now you will be navigating along spider trails, through the riparian plant life of the area. Enjoy the beautiful oasis as you go. You will know the waterfall when you find it. It is the most sheer of the falls you have seen thus far and has the ladder log.

There is not really much point to climbing up above the falls- there is private land not far from the top. So, please respect the signage.

hiking trails in payson

Crossing when the water is lower and more cross-able.

If you need to take the alternate route, which is safer but not as pretty and misses most of the creek, park in one of the paid lots (and pay the fee). Then follow the highway (VERY CAREFULLY!) to a spot on the east side of the road where a small dirt road connects with the tarmac. The road will take you up and over a hill, and then you will need to keep your eyes open for a right-hand branch that leads from the dirt road towards the creek. There is often a little ad hoc sign here, but it isn’t always noticeable. Just note that the turn off is a pretty established path at the bottom of the hill. Make it out to the creek and then head left towards the waterfall.

If you are wondering about the water wheel itself… well, it isn’t at the waterfall. The water wheel is actually towards the beginning of the trail. It is tucked away in the foliage on the left-hand side of the trail.

Safety and Fees

hiking trails in payson

The trail is on US Forest Service land within the Tonto National Forest, so please pay the fee to park. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, bring that along; it works for US National Forest fee areas (unless otherwise specified).

ALSO, PRACTICE SUPREME WATER SAFETY HERE! I got hurt on this trail trying to cross, and people have died in flash floods here. Seriously, do not take the water for granted. It is fun, but can kill people. So, stay safe and make sure that your kids and animals are safe too.

#2 Boulders Loop Trail

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

After the Water Wheel Falls trail, the Boulders Loop Trail is one of my top favorite hiking trails in Payson, AZ. So much so, that I have an entire post about this trail. Check out my Guide to the Boulders Loop Trail for all the details.

Basically, this is a great trail if you are looking for a relatively level trek that is family friendly, and has some really variable landscapes. It’s also long enough for a challenging training hike if you time how long it takes to do the full 5+ mile loop.

This trail is on US Forest Service land, but it is also managed as part of the Payson Area Trail System, so it is free.

#3 Monument Peak

hiking trails in payson

The Monument Peak loop is a 3.5 mile loop that is also part of the Payson Area Trail System. In terms of this list of hiking trails in Payson, it is the hardest to get to if you have a tiny car. The trailhead is down a dirt road, which is normally navigable with a car, but it might make some nervous. However, when thinking about where to hike in Payson, this trail always comes to my mind because of the convenient length of the trail, and its relatively less crowded nature.

The trail itself circles Monument Peak, which isn’t quite as impressive as its name might suggest. But I enjoyed the verdant forest that the trail weaves its way through, and if you come when snowmelt is starting to melt into the spring and summer, you will find some very beautiful flows on the trail.

On The Trail

hiking trails in payson

When I visited, I found this to be a very peaceful place. There were other people parked at the trailhead, but I didn’t run into anyone on the trail. If you are looking for a trail that’s close by, but feels more removed, this is good one.

My only suggestion in regards to safety is that many parts of the trail double as OHV trails. So, as I always say when it comes to multi-use trails, watch out for other users, and make sure to walk towards the outside of the trail. This will allow people to pass safely.

In order to get to the trailhead, follow Granite Dells east until the road turns from blacktop to dirt. Down the dirt road, on the left-hand side of the track, you will find the trailhead, with a small US Forest Service sign.

#4 Peach Orchard Trail Loop

The Peach Orchard Loop Trail is another one of the PATS hiking trails in Payson, however, it isn’t on their official list of trails. So, I’m including this here because I had an enjoyable experience on the track, but it isn’t the easiest hiking trail to navigate. I think this trail is best for those who have explored other spots in their quest to uncover where to hike in Payson.

The trailhead is right across from the Payson Golf Course, and starts behind a gate that connects to a small, residential cul de sac. I found it pretty confusing when I was trying to park. But the intention seems to be that you open the gate for yourself and then park on the other side, so you are off the road and not bothering any of the neighbors.

On the Trail

The trail that leads off from there is more like a small, OHV road than anything. And it definitely is used by OHVers. I went on a weekday, so there wasn’t much traffic. Although, even then, I did see people on the road. So, I think for the best experience, it’s nice to go when there might be less people driving the road.

That, and I would also suggest referring to AllTrails or a similar map while hiking here. There are a lot of branching trails and it can be hard to follow the loop. There isn’t much signage to speak of. That, and there is a steep part of the trail that a lot of hikers have noted. I didn’t find it too hard, but I think it’s best to go up the steep part, so hiking the loop clockwise is ideal.

With all of that out of the way, there were some really special moments that I had on this trail. It wasn’t as forested as the other options on this list, so it was a view into a different side of Payson’s landscape. I loved the open spaces. I loved the evidence of ranching on the land – cows off in the distance. Moments of dramatic trees. It’s a beautiful place and I felt so removed from the city, even close by.

#5 Shoefly Ruins

hiking trails in payson

Unless you are an archeologist, I don’t think you could make a day out of Shoefly, and it is too short of a trail for a workout at only 0.25 miles. That being said, I think this is a good place to stop by, especially if you visit the Water Wheel Falls trail. Shoefly is on the way in to the waterfall trailhead out of Payson.

These ruins are evidence of the indigenous communities that have thrived on these lands for hundreds and thousands of years, and I always think it is good to visit and contemplate. What’s left might not feel spectacular, but the fact that this place has survived everything it has speaks to the ingenuity of its creators. Celebrating indigenous culture is a must, and this is one easily accessible site to do that.

Safety on the Trail

Safety while hiking should always be your number one concern, and then after that, caring for the environment and the community that you are visiting.

Along with the pointers above, for visitors, please remember that Payson is a small community that has been impacted heavily by tourism in recent years. For some people, this is great and supports their livelihood, and for others it can be stressful. Traffic can be bad, stores and restaurants crowded, and sometimes tourist behavior hurts local people. So, please, remember to be a polite guest. Drive carefully and kindly, and rather than throwing inhibitions to the wind while traveling, be extra considerate when visiting.

More on Payson and Travel in Arizona

If you are interested in learning a little bit more about visiting Payson, and want to know more about the hiking trails in Payson, AZ, I have guides to each for you.

(1) Boulders Loop Trail

Want to come back to this later? Consider pinning!

Boulders Loop Trail in Payson, Arizona

When considering where to hike in Payson, Arizona, there is no lack of amazing options. One of my favorites, however, is a family-friendly lollipop route from Cypress Trail to the Boulders Loop Trail. This is a great place to explore the forest, and enjoy some seasonal creeks. It’s also perfect for wildflowers when the weather is right, and the boulders are an all-year attraction. No matter your hiking abilities, this is a great place to give a try, you might just take a shorter out-and-back route depending on your stamina and gear.

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2019

Is Boulders Loop Trail Right for You?


I’ve done this trail so many times, and it is beautiful whether you finish the whole thing or not. You can experience all the seasons in this area, including winter in Arizona. It’s very nice as a stroll, and you can turn around at any point. I’ve also done this as a trail to train for harder hikes, by seeing how quickly I can finish the 5+ miles. Besides my solo hikes, I also see families and dogs on this trail almost every time I go out. So, I think it is safe to say that when considering where to hike in Payson, the Boulders Loop Trail is a great stop for most people.

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

That all being said, there are a few things to consider. First, there is often a little bit of water on the trail. That means anyone with kids should keep an extra eye on their little ones. This trail is also in the National Forest, so while it feels like a neighborhood walk, it is fairly wild. Don’t let it fool you into not going prepared. Better safe than sorry.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.





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


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


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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

If you enjoyed the post, consider pinning it for later!


Page 2 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén