Category: Arizona Travel (Page 2 of 10)

Phoenix-Metro Restaurant Short Reviews: Vol. 1

The Phoenix-metro area is a treasure trove of food nowadays. There is something for everyone, whether you are a picky or adventurous eater. In this first volume of short reviews for Phoenix-metro’s restaurants, I highlight some places with amazing atmospheres, fresh desserts, and culinary delights from across the world. If you have to prioritize, here are my top three, and otherwise, check out the full reviews below.

My Top Picks

#1: Wren and Wolf

This upscale eatery has an amazing atmosphere that completely entranced me. I had a full meal here with cocktails, entree, and dessert. I loved everything that I got. This is the perfect place to go for a unique date or celebratory dinner.

phoenix restaurants

#2: Sweet Republic

Sweet Republic is a long-time favorite of mine. They have amazing, fresh ice creams and a variety of ways to enjoy their main attraction including fresh marshmallows, shakes, and light waffle cones. If you are looking for a cool escape in the summer, this is where it is at.

#3: Otro Café

There is a lot of amazing Mexican food in Arizona. I have so many favorite places and haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what is out there. But Otro Café is one of my favorites. They have their own style to some extent, but everything here is high quality and so delicious. Whether you are looking for brunch or lunch/dinner, they have amazing offerings in what I would consider to be an Arizona-style of Mexican cuisine.

Big Earl’s Greasy Eats

phoenix restaurants

Big Earl’s Greasy Eats is located in the northern Phoenix town of Cave Creek, and it is near a ton of amazing hiking. So, I find that this is a great spot for tasty, post-hiking meals of tasty burgers and other American foods. If you are going to go all out when you visit, pick one of their special burgers or fries, and get a shake to go with it. Big Earl’s is one of my favorite burger places in town, because they are in an exceptional location and their food doesn’t disappoint.

phoenix restaurants

In terms of atmosphere, this little counter service spot is quintessential Americana. They have repurposed an old gas station to serve their needs and kept all the elements of the station that make this spot a fun place to gather and enjoy. Most of the seating is outside, so I would suggest trying to enjoy this spot in the cooler times of the year, or for their breakfast selections.

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What Is There to Do In Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona?

There are several national park units in Arizona. And I bet you can name at least one… *cough* the Grand Canyon *cough.* And there are also a variety of Native American sites in Arizona that are both famous and quite popular with visitors and locals alike. Montezuma’s Castle comes right to my mind, when I think about this. Less people have heard of one of my favorite Arizona national park units – Walnut Canyon National Monument. This smaller, less crowded park has exceptional natural surroundings, is home to a fascinating and ingenious ruins of an ancient indigenous culture, and it is readily accessible from Flagstaff. So, what is there to do in Walnut Canyon? Come with us to find out!

What Is There To Do in Walnut Canyon National Monument? 

what is there to do in walnut canyon

Walnut Canyon (c) ABR 2019

There is something for both my history and nature lovers in Walnut Canyon (perfect).

For my history buffs, the National Monument has a beautiful museum where you can learn about the ancient, indigenous peoples that created the buildings that we now get to explore in the park. Even for those of you that aren’t traveling for the history, don’t miss the museum. The installations will add a lot of context to what you will see on the trail. Linked with the information in the visitor center, the primary trail takes visitors up and close to the ruins of the park. There you will find even more information about the people that integrated their lives with this exceptional place. There are many steps leading down to the trail, however, so the trail may not be accessible to all.

For the hikers and nature lovers out there, there are a variety of trails for anyone wondering what is there to do in Walnut Canyon. The must-do trail is the main path that leads out from the visitor center, to the ruins. But if those trails are too crowded for your taste (or closed) when you arrive, there are also rim trails with beautiful views. The natural canyon is very unique in its form. The grey stone that make up its ways is striated and dappled in twisting patterns that look like overlapping waves. All of this is crowned by the evergreen trees of the higher elevation plateau. Hiking Walnut Canyon is a great activity for anyone looking to explore the whole breadth of the park.

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What You Need to Know If You Want to Hike Camelback Mountain in Arizona

There are two mountains in Phoenix, Arizona, USA that everyone seems to want to hike – Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. Thing is, both of these mountains are very challenging. They are dangerous in the summer. And they have a variety of lesser known trails to serve those who might not be ready for the steep inclines. My guide today is for folks who want to hike Camelback Mountain, which I consider to be the more dangerous of the two mountains. Since there are SO MANY posts encouraging you to do this hike, this guide is going to focus on safety and some considerations which may make you look for other options.

Let’s talk about: (1) Who will most enjoy hiking this iconic Phoenix mountain. (2) How to stay safe on the trail. (3) Explore the trail options, (4) and explore the special place that this beautiful peak has in all the hearts of Phoenix-natives.

When Should You Hike Camelback Mountain

hike camelback mountain

Stairs up Echo Canyon (c) ABR 2020.

When it comes to the Phoenix skyline, Camelback is about as iconic as they come. I’d argue even moreso than Piestewa. That is because the mountain has a unique shape that is created by a red sandstone bluff in the shape of a camel’s head. And to the immediate east of this bluff is a Sonoran peak that completes the illusion with the rise of the camel’s back. Besides its shape, Camelback has a unique red hue to it, and it is home to the native plant assemblage that makes Arizona like nowhere else in the world – saguaros, creosote, ocotillo, and more.

It is, inarguably, a charismatic mountain that calls to many.

But to hike Camelback Mountain can be dangerous. As popular as it is, this is NOT a hike that I would suggest for everyone. And frankly, it isn’t a hike you should feel utterly disappointed about not doing if you are visiting and you decide it isn’t a good fit for you. There are SO many amazing hikes in the Phoenix area. (Here are some guides with suggestions- (1) Pinnacle Peak Park and (2) Estrella Mountain Regional Park. But if you really want to see the mountain, you can also safely do so by checking out one of the shorter trails that explore the rocky head of the camel. See the section below on Bobby’s Rock!

Choosing the Right Time

hike camelback mountain

View from Camelback Mountain (c) ABR 2020

No matter your hiking skill, safety on Camelback Mountain is all about your timing. First, for anyone not familiar with Arizona heat – it kills on this mountain and elsewhere every year. It is not a joke. Please stay safe and respect it.

First, BRING and DRINK water on the trail!

I would not suggest hiking Camelback in the summer. Late fall, early spring, and the winter are all ideal times. Check the weather though! I would suggest avoiding any time where the temperature is above 90 degrees. For some, I would suggest even cooler temps. I personally avoid hiking trails like these when it is over 85 degrees because I don’t find it comfortable.

If you must visit in the summer and you must do this mountain, only attempt the summit in the earliest of early mornings. Start at 4:30a or 5a and bring a flashlight.

You should also avoid Camelback during inclement weather. A light rain will make it slippery and dangerous, and AZ storms can quickly turn into a lightning storms. Furthermore, hiking on wet trails can erode them, which damages the environment and can cause boulders to come loose over time.

Gauging Your Skillset

hike camelback mountain

Boulders on Echo Canyon Trail (c) ABR 2020

Besides the potentially dangerous ambient conditions, anyone thinking to hike Camelback Mountain should be aware that the trail itself can be injurious. In particular, Echo Canyon Trail is very difficult terrain. There is one section of the trail where you will be using a pipe handrail to climb up a rounded cliff. After that, you will be weaving your way up and around boulders as you continue to climb up. Cholla trail had to be closed for in-depth repair due to someone getting seriously injured by a boulder falling on them.

Doing this trail safely requires both stamina and skill. You should know that you can safely boulder and have enough confidence with heights to remain steady on your feet while climbing. Sometimes, you might not know that this trail is too hard for you, until you try it. The best thing you can do, if you give Echo Canyon or Cholla Trail a try and you find yourself feeling exhausted, or lightheaded is to rest and then turn around.

Safety on Camelback Mountain

As with any hike, staying safe and healthy should be your number one priority. And you must remember, your safety is your responsibility and yours alone. This guide is NOT guaranteeing your safety on the trail or anywhere in nature.

So, with all that said, what can you do to make sure you hike Camelback Mountain in the most enjoyable and safe way possible? First, consider…


hike camelback mountain

(c) ABR 2020

I mentioned it above, but I will say it again, always plan your hike in Phoenix around the heat. Along with your overall health and the weather, this is one of the most important elements of safety on Camelback Mountain. Signage at the trail will tell you not to hike when it is over 100 degrees F, but I start to feel sick and dehydrated at 90+ degrees F. Pick the cooler seasons, and if it is a hotter day, go in the morning.

Also, BRING and DRINK water!!!

For reference, the City of Phoenix’s “Take a Hike, Do It Right” launched after several heat related deaths:

In 2021, a woman visiting from Boston was led up the mountain by a local man without water and in the heat of a summer day, and she unfortunately lost her life due to this:

Please, let your memories here be fond and hike Camelback Mountain safely.

Fall Injuries

hike camelback mountain

What goes up must come down (c) ABR 2020

Another danger on the mountain is related to the boulders. You will want to make sure that you have good, grippy hiking shoes for the trails. You will be climbing up and around boulders for much of Echo Canyon and parts of Cholla as well. Falling from one of these can result in serious injury. Good shoes, a careful pace, and listening to your body can all help you stay safe.

The boulders themselves can also be dangerous. Cholla Trail had to be closed for major repairs when a visitor got trapped beneath a boulder after simply moving out of the way for other hikers:

Short Trail Guides

Now that you’ve considered all the potential dangers of the trail, I will say, I think to hike Camelback Mountain is a worthy goal for visitors and locals alike. (Although it is far from my favorite hike in Phoenix-metro). And for the most part, people do stay safe on the trail. Thousands of people hike it annually. With the above in mind and a commitment to yourself, consider your options on the mountain and pick the one that might be best for you.

Echo Canyon Trail

Echo Canyon Trail, if you want to summit Camelback, is my suggestion if you are driving yourself and not taking a taxi/Uber. Primarily, this is because there is a nice parking lot here and bathrooms as well. That being said, the Echo Canyon Trail is very challenging.

This trail is 2.5 miles out and back and includes 1,420 feet of elevation gain.

Upwards Climb
hike camelback mountain

View of the first increase in steepness on Echo Canyon (c) ABR 2020

From the trailhead, you will take a fairly average, desert trail up past the head of the camel. You will follow a few switchbacks through creosote-ladened Sonoran Desert, and then follow the trail around a bend that is sandwiched between a fence and the stone of the mountain.

Once you come around the bend, you will see the first of the challenges on Echo Canyon Trail – the stone cliff with its poles and divets. Here, navigating among people moving up faster than you and people climbing down, you will slowly scale the rounded, stone cliff. Don’t mistakenly think that this is the hardest trail section that you will face.

After the stony climb, you will follow the trail over the rough shoulder of the mountain and then down into a large chute lined from top to bottom by boulders. Now, you will climb up and up and up through the boulders. There is almost no regular trail in this section, but you will be hemmed in on either side by rock walls, so the odds of getting lost if you are paying attention to the signs and crowds isn’t too high.

Finally, you will come up to a false summit, and follow the trail up to the left in a final push to the top. You will have finished when you reach the metal pole at the top, and join the celebrant folks on the crown of the mountain.

Climbing Down
hike camelback mountain

The Summit (c) ABR 2020

The way down is the way that you came. To hike Camelback Mountain is as challenging down as it is up, though. You will need to carefully navigate all those boulders and the crowds with gravity pulling you downwards. Take your time and be polite to other hikers, whether they need to pass you or you are passing them.

Cholla Trail (Closed for Repair)

Remember when I said that a man got stuck beneath a boulder while hiking this trail? Well, that resulted in Cholla Trail being closed for repairs as it needed to be improved for safety reasons.

Now, the opening has been delayed due to wealthy people in the area not liking the public accessing the trail near their homes. (Public land is not public land if regular people can’t readily and easily access it).

Alternative Trail – Bobby’s Rock

hike camelback mountain

View of Bobby’s Rock Trail (c) ABR 2020

You don’t need to do Echo Canyon or Cholla in order to hike Camelback Mountain. If you really want to experience this famous area, but you think that the trail itself is too difficult, there is a lovely, short trail called Bobby’s Rock. This is accessible from the Echo Canyon Trailhead and is a 0.18 mile loop. The trail is a bit rough, but it offers some really up-close-and-personal views of the stone camel’s head. You can see swifts and other birds nesting on and hunting along the stone cliffs. You can get some great views of Paradise Valley from here as well. And you can even people watch from the picnic benches along the way.

I personally love coming here on a cloudy day to catch some dramatic photos of the mountain side. I love this shorter trail and think it is widely underappreciated.

Camelback Mountain and Conservation in Phoenix, Arizona

hike camelback mountain

City of Phoenix with the shadow of Camelback (c) ABR 2020

When you hike Camelback Mountain, remember that this isn’t just a challenging and alluring mountain for hikers and visitors, it is a piece of Arizona conservation history. In the 1960s, local folks began to worry as people began building their houses higher and higher on the once wild mountain. They saw a potential future in which the beautiful heights of Camelback were owned and developed, marring the mountain forever. In the 1970s, with the leadership of Maxine Lakin and other legendary women, concerned citizens formed the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council. This council advocated for the protection of the mountain and assisted the City of Phoenix in eventually acquiring the upper reaches of Camelback so that it could be protected for all into the future.

While there were some mountain preserves at the time (historic North Mountain and what is now Piestewa Peak), but not nearly what we have now. These women of the community helped instill a new vision in the City of Phoenix and its people, one with open desert spaces that served everyone and protected the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert.

Conservation Today

hike camelback mountain

(c) ABR 2020

Now, when you explore the many wild places still to be found in Phoenix-metro, you can thank the inspirational Camelback Mountain and the women who fought to save it.

The fight isn’t over, however. Phoenix is the fastest growing city in the United States. Both its people and the nature here is at risk from uninspired development that cuts off desert preserves in the city from the surrounding desert. This chokes their plants and animals off from needed resources and making it harder for local people to access nature spaces. You can support efforts to protect the desert of Phoenix-metro through donated your time, money, or social media space to the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance or their partner organizations.

Learn More About Arizona

Whether you decide to give Camelback a try, there are so many wonderful things to do in the Phoenix-metro area. We have a guide on our home city that is growing almost every month. Check it out for more inspiration on hikes, food, museums, and more!

If you will be venturing out of Phoenix and into the rest of the state, we also have posts on hikes and towns across Arizona in our Guide to the State.

Want to save this for later? Try pinning it!

Hiking Quartz Peak Trail Outside of Phoenix, AZ

Hiking Quartz Peak Trail near Phoenix, Arizona, USA, isn’t something that a lot of people do. It is very out of the way, and it is a difficult trail. But it is also a fun challenge, with beautiful views, and ends in one of the most unique peaks in the Valley. This is the kind of excursion that I would only suggest to experienced hikers. For those who are working up to harder trails, or who have no desire to do really hard, steep hikes, this guide will provide a peek at this beautiful mountain.

Why You Might Consider (or not) Hiking Quartz Peak Trail

Quartz Peak is one of the larger peaks in the Estrella Mountain range, which looks down on Phoenix, Arizona from just beyond South Mountain. It is a spectacular, desert mountain from afar. What you can’t see from anywhere but the end of this trail, however, is the very cool Quartz formation at the top of the peak.

This is the main draw to this trail, and I would say, the main thing that will keep you climbing up, up, and up. Along with that, there are some very amazing views of the wild Sonoran Desert.

Alternatively, hiking Quartz Peak Trail is pretty difficult, and it isn’t even easy to get there. This trail is 6 miles round trip (RT), with 3 miles of upward climbing. For perspective, Piestewa Peak, the popular urban peak in Phoenix, is only 1 mile uphill. Piestewa is considered challenging and a lot of people go there to train for the Grand Canyon. So, you can imagine, I hope, that a trail three times as hard might not be for everyone.

Furthermore, the trailhead is not accessible to those of us without the luxury of a high clearance, 4WD vehicle.

Need to Know Information 

From AllTrails

Trail difficulty: Difficult

Trail Length: 6 miles RT (out and back)

Trail Type: Dry dirt/rock, rock hopping and navigating via cairns, scrambling (at the top only)

Bathroom facilities: Yes, outhouse at the trailhead

Fees: None

Vehicle Access: High clearance and 4WD needed

I suggest navigating to the trailhead with the assistance of a downloaded Google map. You can cross check the route with AllTrails and a guidebook with directions.

On the Trail

From the trailhead, you will walk on some flat ground to the base of the mountains. (Enjoy it while you can! And be sure to sign the guest book on your way out). After that, it will be up… and up… an up.

And this trail does not ease you into anything. Pretty much as soon as you reach the mountain, you will find yourself on a steep, and rocky track. This climbs to the top of a small ridge that stretches down from Quartz Peak. From the base, you can just barely make out the top, from behind another large peak.

The elevation gain is pretty steady when hiking Quartz Peak Trail, as the trail leads you towards the quartz crown of the mountains. You will weave your way between cholla, walk at the top of the ridge, and sometimes get a little bit of a breather when you can trek along the side of the mountain.

The trail is fairly clear most of the way up, until about 2.5 miles, at which point the path will fade away. At this stage, you will remain on top of the ridge, and Quartz Peak will be clear in the distance. There are cairns here and there to help you navigate as well.

Once you get up near the peak, the trail will officially end. Some people do scramble to the top, although I didn’t. I would suggest being extremely careful if you do do any climbing. Remember, you are 3 miles up a trail in the middle of the wilderness, that is a bad place to get hurt. I have never climbed to the top of Quartz Peak; but I thought that the view from the trail was special enough.

Safety Considerations

This is a very remote trail, although it isn’t technically far from Phoenix-metro. So, everything that I normally say about safety on the trail is still relevant PLUS you need to be EXTRA aware. True accidents cannot be prevented, but there is a lot you can do to protect yourself.

Remember, your safety is your responsibility. Do not attempt this trail unless the conditions are safe, you are in good health, and you are completely prepared. Even then – this guide is no guarantee of your safety.

That being said – Along with what I outline above and in my other hiking posts, here are some of my top tips for this trail.

(1) Bring sufficient water and food for the trail and store some extra in your vehicle.

(2) Always let someone at home know where you are going and when you plan on coming back.

(3) Bring blister prevention and appropriate footware. Treat your blisters before they fully form. If you start to feel a hotspot, it is time to stop and tape up your feet. I like to combine moleskin with medical tape, but another great option is moleskin plus KT tape. Also, I know this sounds silly, but trim back your toenails to avoid bruising.

(4) Don’t risk yourself for a picture. I know that the top is cool, but you don’t want to fall on this trail. Be careful with your selfies, particularly if you insist on climbing to the top.

Keeping Cairns in Mind

As I mentioned above, towards the end of hiking Quartz Peak trail, you will have to start navigating via cairns.

First, what is a cairn? It’s basically a nice little stack of rocks.

In recent years, these little guys have gotten increasing attention due to (1) people starting to make them everywhere to photograph them, and (2) people have started sharing how these little things can harm the environment.

The extreme proponents of either of these create some problems for us hikers. The people who make random cairns can hurt the environment, and they also create a dangerous situation. People can be lured off trail by useless cairns.

Those who are encouraging others to knock down cairns because of the harm that useless ones can do also create a dangerous situation. Without these little guideposts on the trail, you can become very lost. I’ve been on many a trail where that was the only way to find your way was cairns.

In short, please only build cairns if they are necessary for safe navigation. And please do not knock down navigational cairns.

More to Explore in Arizona

cave creek regional park

As a lifelong Arizonan, I’ve got a lot more to share about my homeland than just hiking Quartz Peak trail. We’ve got tons of hiking guides. Last week, for instance, I posted a guide to the Estrella Mountains Regional Park (part of the same mountain chain as Quartz Peak). I also have a page that will link out to most of my Phoenix-area hiking guides over time.

If you are looking for cultural attractions to check out in Arizona, we also have a bunch of great guides on those as well. Check out our guide to Phoenix to learn more.

A Local’s Guide to Visiting Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Arizona, USA

Estrella Mountain Regional Park is in the southwestern corner of the Phoenix-metro area in Arizona, USA. It is an expansive area that connects people to and protects the Sonoran Desert of the Estrella Mountain Foothills. While this does not include the challenging and massive Quartz Peak, this park has beautiful trails for all skill levels. There are also amazing amenities for families, and horseback riders, as well as a beautiful nature center and green park. Overall, this is a great Sonoran Desert park that is near Phoenix-metro, developed for access, and has a little something for everyone.

Why Visit Estrella Mountain Regional Park

estrella mountain regional park

Estrella Mountain Regional Park, despite being a part of the very impressive Estrella Mountain range, is a fairly tame park in terms of elevation gain. So, I think that this is an ideal park for people looking to get started hiking. Alternatively, if you want to get in some miles without needing to scale mountains, this regional park is a great option.

Furthermore, if you are looking for a park that is on the west-side of Phoenix-metro and is a little less busy than the White Tanks, Estrella Regional Park is a great option.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park also has a lot of amenities, which makes it a great place for families. This includes a nature center, very large green park area, and horse-back riding facilities.

That all being said, you should note that Quartz Peak IS NOT located in this park and cannot be accessed from here.

Need to Know Information

estrella mountain regional park

Official Website

Address: 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear, AZ 85338

Contact: (602) 506-2930 ext. 6

Entry Fees: $7.00 per vehicle

Bathroom facilities: Yes

4WD necessary? No

*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.

Baseline Trail

The Baseline Loop is your Estrella Mountain Regional Park option for a shorter, easier loop. This trail is a lollipop that is about 2.6 miles (depending on where you start). The elevation gain is also minimal at 370 ft (for reference, the summit trail for Piestewa Peak has 1,100+ ft elevation gain).

Basically, you can park on the south side of the green park, and then take the trails from there up to the loop. After climbing up from where you park, you will circle a small mountain for some wonderful views of the Sonoran Desert and the city in the distance.

If you are in the park with some kids, this is a great option, because it isn’t too long, but offers things for adults to enjoy and adventurous elements for the kids.

Rainbow Valley Trail and Butterfield Trail

estrella mountain regional park

While the Rainbow Valley Trail and Butterfield Trail loop does not have a ton of elevation gain overall, it is far harder than the Baseline Trail. That is primarily because this loop ends up being nearly 10 miles in length. For reference, this took me about 3.5 hours to complete, hiking as fast as I generally can go (a little under 3 mph). Consider that I hiked 500 miles in 2021, and you might get a sense for how your time might compare. If you aren’t used to hiking, I would generally plan for 2 miles per hour, just to be safe.

In any case, that may give you an idea for the kind of challenge that this hike will provide based on its length. There is a little bit of elevation gain in three places, but I don’t think any of these instances was more challenging than the length itself.

I would not suggest this trail in the summer, it is too long, and in the winter, I would still advocate for an early start just to make sure you have time to complete it before it gets dark.

On the Trail

estrella mountain regional park

Bring a map with you so you can track your progress. Maricopa County parks have very good signage. So you can figure out exactly where you are based on the other trails that you run into on your way. Further, if you decide that you need to head back early, the map will help you figure out the right trails to turn down.

I followed this loop in a counter clockwise direction. With this, you will start by walking through or around the rodeo area. From there, you will start climbing up a bit, heading west. The first leg of the trail will give you views of the White Tank Mountains and the city of Buckeye. For the most part, this is the most that you will see of civilization while on this trail.

estrella mountain regional park

After this, you will start losing elevation and heading south, into the wilderness. For a while, you will travel through some washes, along the bottom of the valley floor. Then you will find the trail starts heading east, and you will start climbing into the hills again. When you get to the top of the saddles here, be sure to take in exceptional views of the larger Estrella Mountains in the distance.

Take a final trip down, through more washes, and then make a last short climb when the trail turns north again.

Park Facilities

As mentioned above, there are a lot of great facilities at Estrella Mountain Regional Park besides the lovely trails here.

Nature Center

If you would like to stop in to chat with someone about the right trail for you, and learn more about the nature of the park, of course, the Nature Center should be your first stop. Maricopa County staffs its nature centers with volunteers and rangers, so there are experts to chat with about the park. There are also flushing bathrooms here. Most of the rest of the bathrooms near the trailheads are out-house style.

Green Space

For fans of picnics and ball games with friends and family, this is the park for you. There is a big, green field in the middle of the regional park, with picnic tables ringing the grass. There are also bathrooms and trees for shade. It’s a great place to retire after a nice hike or for non-hikers to enjoy while other group members explore the desert.

Rodeo Grounds

There is a small rodeo stadium in Estrella Mountain Regional Park, and plenty of room for horse staging. I can’t say that I have experience with either. But this is one of the few places that I have seen people riding horses near the city in recent memory. So, I do think this is a great park for people looking to take their horses out.

Trail running and Mountain Biking

I am a hiker, not a trail runner or mountain biker, however, I can tell from other people that I have seen on the trail, that Estrella Mountain Regional Park is a good place for both. The trails aren’t horrifically difficult for mountain bikers, and there is just enough elevation change to make for some challenging ascents and fun descents. Likewise, with such long and relatively level trails, the park offers trail runners a nice mix of challenges and training opportunities.

There are also events at Estrella Regional Mountain Park for both of these sports. So, keep your eyes peeled on the calendar if you enjoy these kinds of things.


Remember, your safety is your responsibility. This guide does not guarantee your safety and I always advocate that you avoid the trail if you have any hesitations. Further, the above list is not exhaustive. Be prepared, and put your own safety first.

Explore More of Arizona

Want to see more of Arizona? We have guides to different trails and towns all across the state from two locals.

We also have a growing guide to the Phoenix-metro area which includes hikes, food, and attractions.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

Hayden Butte Preserve

tempe hiking trails

ABR (c) 2019

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

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

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