Category: Arizona Travel (Page 2 of 8)

Tom’s Thumb Trail: One of the Best Hiking Trails in Scottsdale, AZ

From almost anywhere in west Phoenix/Scottsdale, there is a particular rock formation that you can see in the McDowell Mountains- Tom’s Thumb. And if you’ve seen it, you may have asked yourself, how can I get up there to visit? Well, the answer is simple! Just take on one of the most popular hiking trails in Scottsdale, the Tom’s Thumb Trail. While not long, this is a steep hike up into the mountains of the Sonoran Desert, so it’s no proverbial walk in the park. But the views from this trail are out of this world. And of course, Tom’s Thumb itself is an amazing formation that’s well worth the hard hike.

tom's thumb trail

(c) ABR 2019

I’ve been on this trail a few times over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed this trek and been challenged by it. I would only suggest this for intermediate hikers, rather than beginners. The path is steep, has a slippery substrate, and is an unforgiving climate. But give this guide a read to see if it might be for you. This is a very special trek, close to the city, and one of the most unique trails in the area.

What Makes Tom’s Thumb Trail Among the Best?

tom's thumb trail

(c) ABR 2021

There are two things that I absolutely adore about this particular route from among the hiking trails in Scottsdale. (1) Great views. (2) Seeing Tom’s Thumb up close.

The western side of the McDowell Mountains is kind of unique when it comes to the Sonoran Desert of Central Arizona. This is because it has a somewhat more… grassy characteristic to it. In fact, there are parts of the trail named after this arid “prairie.” Grasslands (not patches of grass) can encourage wildfires, which our native, Central Arizona plants are not adapted to. That being said, there are some native grasses, and areas of Arizona that are considered grasslands. So, I think you can safely enjoy this landscape.

Also, the Tom’s Thumb Trail will take you up to the towering rock that can be seen from the city. It is both fascinating and awe-inspiring to see this massive formation. And while the thumb is the most famous of the huge rocks up in this part of the McDowell Mountains, there are plenty of huge, mysterious stones to marvel at from the trail.

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Two Beautiful But Short Hikes In Phoenix, Arizona

Hiking is one of the mainstays of Arizona, and unlike rampant partying, it’s a part of our tourism product that I fully approve of. There is an endless plethora of trails throughout the state, and even after having lived here for more than 30 years, I’ve only scratched the surface. But perhaps, you are in town for a conference. Or visiting a friend in the city. And you don’t have the wiggle room to commit to a full day hike, but you still want to get out and take in the exotic, natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Or maybe you are just getting started hiking. Whatever, the case, if you are searching for some good, short hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the post for you.

short hikes in phoenix

LV Yates Trail (c) ABR 2021

Today, I present to you two hikes, appreciated by both myself and others in the hiking community here. The first is the LV Yates trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, which is a great escape in the city. And the second is Blue Point to the Ovens, which is located just outside of town in the Salt River section of the Tonto National Forest. Both are about 3-5 miles and relatively easy in terms of elevation gain. I hiked both recently thanks to the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge 2021 which is a three month hiking challenge based on stewardship of some of the Sonoran Insiders’ favorite trails.

If you have just a few hours to spend hiking, consider giving one of these short hikes in Phoenix a try.

LV Yates Trail (#8)

short hikes in phoenix

LV Yates (c) ABR 2021

 The LV Yates Trail (#8) stretches from a northern edge of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, south. It’s one of the perfect short hikes in Phoenix for exploring the Sonoran Desert characteristic of the Valley of the Sun. While this specific trail doesn’t cross all the way to the other side of the park, it does interlink with trails that do. So, this is a great area to visit if you’d like to tailor your trek a bit- you could make a lollipop, a loop, or a shuttled one-way hike. However, this guide is going to focus on the out-and-back route that includes the #8 trail only. If you’d like to see what other options there are, check out the City of Phoenix map for the park.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail

The McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail: An Intro to the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is pretty undervalued by lots of people, so when I have the opportunity to show someone around, I really think hard about where I want to take them. For guests who doesn’t have a whole lot of time and/or who aren’t comfortable with longer hikes, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail is my go-to. It’s a moderate 4 mile hike, that is just long enough to immerse someone in the desert, and introduce them to our iconic biodiversity (like the saguaro). And there isn’t a ton of elevation gain, but the trail does go to the top of a hill for sweeping views of the McDowell Mountains and the sky-scraping heights of Four Peaks. On top of all that, it’s close to Phoenix-metro area, so it’s not hard to get to!


(c) ABR 2020

TL:DR – If you don’t have a lot of time and/or the desire for a long hike, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Scenic Trail is the perfect introduction to wild Sonoran Desert.

Need to Know

Trail Length: 4.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 357 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle

Managed by: Maricopa County Parks and Recreation

Facilities? Yes, at the trailhead

Vehicle Access: Accessible with any vehicle

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pass mountain trail

Pass Mountain Trail: Circling the Usery Mountains

The Pass Mountain Trail is a great challenge for anyone looking for a longer day hike near Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. It’s a loop trail that’s about 7.5 miles from start to finish, and it has just enough elevation gain to get you sweating a little bit without killing you. The views from this trail also include some of the most spectacular vistas in the Phoenix-metro area, so it’s not to be missed if the length isn’t too much for you.


Need to Know

 Trail Length: 7 miles (although we clocked closer to 8 miles)

Elevation Gain: 950+ feet

Difficulty: Clockwise- Moderate; Counter clockwise- difficult

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Season: Fall, winter, and spring

Fee: $7.00 to enter the county park

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Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail: So Steep I Had to Take It Step By Step

When it comes to hiking in Phoenix there are a few different muscle-building trails in and around the metro area. Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are two of the most popular, but neither is going to kick your ass like the Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail. For that reason, I would only suggest this trail to hikers who have trained for it. You need physical and mental stamina something fierce to make it up and down this trail in one piece. It’s steep, it’s busy, and it can be dangerous. But for those who are up to the challenge, it is also a supremely beautiful climb up one of the most iconic mountains in Arizona, and there is nothing more satisfying than making a difficult push to the finish line on a very hard trail.

TL;DR The Flatiron via Siphon Draw trail is the perfect challenge for hikers who are comfortable with the likes of Camelback and Piestewa, and it will reward those who scale it’s heights with unbelievable views and a unique trail experience not found elsewhere. If you aren’t prepared, however, this is a trail better used as a training goal than a risk.


Need to Know Information

flatiron via siphon draw trail

(c) ABR 2019

Trail Difficulty: Extreme

Trail Length: 6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 2600+ feet

Fees: $10.00 per vehicle on holidays and the weekend (Fri-Sun), and $7.00 per vehicle on weekdays

Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Vehicular Access: Paved roads provide all access to this trailhead

Water Availability: None after the trailhead

Good for Dogs and Kids? No

Season: Late spring and early fall; avoid high temperatures and ice on the trail.

Fear of Heights Difficulty: High

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Soft Memories and Blurry Pictures from a Summer on Mt. Graham

In 2011 (a decade ago!!), after I graduated from my undergraduate program, I got to work as an assistant wildlife biologist in Southern Arizona on Mt. Graham. I wanted to go back, take a walk down memory lane, and share a little with everyone what life on the mountain was like via a photo essay.

The Everyday

Home sweet home (c) ABR 2011

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las cienegas

Section Hiking The Arizona Trail: Passage 07 Las Cienegas

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a big-time hiker and I am an Arizona local. So, it might come as some surprise, that I have never hiked a bit of the Arizona Trail (AZT) until this year! Due to my job, I will likely never be able to thru-hike the AZT, but I am determined to work on section hiking it. In fact, I’ve made it a travel goal of mine to complete the AZT via section hiking! This post represents my first step towards that goal, as Passage 07 Las Cienegas was the first section that I have been able to complete.

This part of the AZT is the perfect place to get started, for both intermediate and expert hikers. That’s because Las Cienegas is a fairly level hike, if long. And it’s length won’t require you to backpack as long as you can arrange for a shuttle and you start early enough. It is also a wonderful introduction to the shrublands of the Sonoran Desert, which need a lot more love than they get.

TL;DR If you want to start section hiking the AZT, consider Las Cienegas as a starting place.


Need to Know

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

Trail Length: 13 miles one way (we clocked 13.5 miles)

Difficulty: Moderate- 13 miles is a long distance, but this trail doesn’t have a lot of elevation change making it fairly flat.

Facilities: Yes at the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead, but not at the southern access point. No facilities along the trail.

Season: October-May 

On the Trail

Part One

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

We started to the south of the Las Cienegas Passage, and since the second part of our shuttle was my little car, we decided that the best thing to do would be to hike up the dirt road to the trailhead. This wasn’t a huge addition to our hike (about 0.6 miles), and it wasn’t difficult, so if you don’t have the kind of car that can manage the road, no worries.

las cienegas

(c) ABR 2020

Once we got started, the first part of Passage 07 curved its way through the hills. This was also where we got our glimpse of the pools of water for which this part of the AZT is named. After the major drought that we had this year, they were unsurprisingly low on water. But these are still essential oases for the plants and animals of the desert.

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Two Challenging Grand Canyon South Rim Day Hikes

I have been to the Grand Canyon many times, but besides a couple trips up/down Bright Angel, I really have not hiked there all that much. Since hiking is my favorite hobby, and the Grand Canyon is my favorite National Park in the US… this was kind of weird. This year I decided to fix this problem.  So, I spent some time doing a few South Rim day hikes. It was a great experience, but also a hard reminder of the fact that Canyon hiking is NO JOKE. If you are up for a challenge though (and you are prepared for safety reasons!), then these two hikes are for you.

TL;DR If you are prepared for some hard (and sometimes scary) hikes, South Rim day hikes are a must; these are mind-blowingly beautiful. Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs is more challenging in terms of getting there and has some dangerously narrow sections. Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa is just straight up 3,500 ft of elevation gain in <3 miles, so prepare to sweat. Of course, always remember to be safe and responsible on the trail!

Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa

I had no idea what I was getting into when I left for this South Rim day hike. This was because I didn’t pay enough attention to the elevation loss/gain on this relatively short trek. Grandview trail to Horseshoe Mesa is about 3 miles down to the mesa, and then 3 miles back up and about 2,500 ft (one of my guidebooks said 3,500 ft). Much of this elevation gain is towards the final fourth of the journey. That basically means that by the time you are at your most tired, you will be doing your hardest climb.

south rim day hikes

(c) ABR 2020

That caveat aside, this is a beautiful expedition (kind of goes without saying in the Canyon, but I will say it anyway). As long as you are prepared and don’t attempt this hike in the winter, I would suggest this challenge any day. That’s because this is a lesser visited trail. So, it gives you the space and time to really enjoy the sweeping views of the Grand Canyon. This is also a great tour of the beautiful layers of the Canyon, and will give you a feel for the ecosystem diversity as you move downwards.

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Romero Pools Trail: A Hiking Guide from an Arizona Local

Back when I was in undergrad, I thoroughly messed up, and didn’t enjoy the AMAZING hiking opportunities that abound in the Tucson area. But one of the trails that I did explore (and have since revisited) is Romero Pools Trail. This is a challenging day hiking up into the Catalina Mountains to a beautiful oasis. Every view is amazing on this trail, and for any hiker, local or visiting, this should be on your bucketlist. However, Romero Pools has recently been impacted by a massive wildfire that happened in 2020- so besides being an attraction for its beauty and work out status, this trail is also a showcase of what fire can and does do in Arizona. Everyone needs to be aware of this huge impact, how to help mitigation the impacts of these natural disasters, and what it means for us here on the West Coast.

Join me now for this guide of the Romero Pools Trail- if you are visiting Tucson post-2020, this is a must-add for any hiker’s bucketlist.

romero pools trail

Invasive fountain grass in the Catalinas (c) ABR 2019

General Information for the Romero Pools Trail

Trail Length: 5.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 1,300+ ft

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead

Entrance Fee: $7.00 per vehicle (4 people) via Catalina State Park

*Note: Always check for trail closures and weather information when planning your trip, beforehand or the day of.

On the Trail

The Foothills

romero pools trail

(c) ABR 2019

When you start out from the parking lot at the trailhead for the Romero Pools Trail, you will cross a creek bed and get a nice little warm up on your first hill. This part of the trail is not as steep as what you will need to tackle further on, and it also features two different ecosystems. First, as you traverse the hills on your way towards the mountains, you will notice some of the charismatic plants that everyone envisions of when they think about the Sonoran Desert- like the saguaro. Lively mesquites, and flourishing prickly pear will also be found in these lower sections of the trail, along with something a little different than the true desert- grasslands.

romero pools trail

(c) ABR 2019

The lower reaches of the Catalina Mountains, as well as many other places throughout Arizona, were once used as ranching land and during these times, people encouraged the growth of grasses. Some of these were native and others, like buffelgrass, were introduced from other parts of the world. In fact, at the time that buffelgrass was brought to Arizona in those days, it was considered a wonder plant. It was highly resilient and cattle seemed to prefer it as forage.

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Two Classic Short Hikes in Tucson, AZ: Tanque Verde and Tumamoc Hill

Tucson, in terms of size, is the little sister of Phoenix, however, it has a completely distinct character. Furthermore, Tucson has a deep and diverse history which really makes it a special place to visit and explore. So, if you are visiting Arizona, don’t miss it. Of course, it goes without saying that where-ever I visit must include some hikes and Tucson has no lack of them.

In particular, this guide is meant to showcase two of my most favorite short hikes in Tucson. These are great nature walks for when you are short on time, or if you are dragging along someone who isn’t super jazzed about hiking. Tanque Verde is the more technical of the two, and Tumamoc Hill is very family friendly. Both are absolutely beautiful and if you do them together you will see two very distinct sides of the Sonoran Desert.

TL;DR : If you are in Arizona, you must do at least one hike, possibly one of these short hikes in Tucson. Tanque Verde is a beautiful oasis in the desert, but requires some bouldering. Tumamoc Hill is the perfect microcosm of the Sonoran Desert and is both beginner and family friendly.

The Wild Beauty of Tanque Verde Falls Wins the Short Hikes in Tucson

short hikes in Tucson

(c) ABR 2019

Of all the of long and short hikes of Tucson, Tanque Verde Falls is one of my favorites. You will get some mind-boggling beauty out here, without the need for a long trek. There is a particular character in the Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson, especially in the foothills of the Sky Islands. These towering mountains reach so high into the sky that forests thrive on their crowns, despite the heat and drought of the lower elevations. In the foothills, where Tanque Verde can be found, the waters of the mountain storms flow down through the rocky foundations of the peaks. These conditions make for magical places, where water and desert meet to create splashes of greens and yellows not found elsewhere in among the stretches of creosote scrublands.

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