Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix, Arizona

There are loads of family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix. These are smaller parks, with amenities for kids, trails for exploring together, and a little less crowding than some of the other parks in the city. That all being said, these aren’t all technically in Phoenix-proper. Rather, they are in the greater metro-area, to the north. This is a great area for family-friendly hikes because northern Phoenix metro has unique parks that mix desert-goodness with playgrounds, scavenger hunts, and small parcels of uniquely preserved oases.

Give this guide a look to see what park is the best fit for you and your family. Or, if you are like me, try to see them all throughout the year.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

Desert Awareness Park

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

The Desert Awareness Park is one of my top picks for family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix (even though technically it is in Cave Creek, not Phoenix). That’s because it has a good handful of flat, easy trails that showcase the nature plants of the Sonoran Desert. So, it is a great place for the whole family to learn more about the ecosystem that the city is nestled within.

It also has some nice playground facilities, lots of ramadas for picnicking, and a desert heritage center. Additionally, there is a very cute environmental education scavenger hunt that you can do with your kids. That means that you could easily spend a couple hours here, exploring the nature trail, letting the kids play, and learning about the desert.

For those hikers out there though, this probably won’t top out your bucketlist. But it might just be a good fit for you if you are introducing some really young folks to the desert.

Desert Awareness Park Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

Looking out at the wash at the Desert Awareness Park (c) ABR 2019

Official website: https://hollandcenter.org/desert-awareness-park/

Manager: Town of Cave Creek

Size: 26 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: Yes

4WD Needed: No

Food Nearby

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

If you check out the Desert Awareness Park and you are looking for a little caffeine pick-me-up, be sure to check out Black Mountain Coffee Shop. They are an old, local shop that are in a very cute part of town, with a very nice atmosphere and some good food!

George “Doc” Cavalliere Park

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Of the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix (in this case, Scottsdale), I think this is a great spot for mixed groups with both young and a little bit older kids. The GDC park has a big, shaded playground that is perfect for kids. But its nature trail, while short, is a little more wild than the Desert Awareness Park. There is some more elevation gain and a little more possible touchpoints for some dangerous plants like cholla.

That being said, there is a very cool art installation here – Jeff Zischke’s Sonoran Seed Pods. There are large, medal sculptures that are scattered around the nature trail. And they are designed to evoke the marvelous seeds of the Sonoran Desert. These are very fun to photograph. I think they might be of some interest to older kids who might appreciate the scavenger hunt/cool art.

George “Doc” Cavalliere Park Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official website: https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/george-doc-cavalliere-park

Manager: City of Scottsdale

Size: 34 acre park

Hiking Trail: 1 mile loop

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: Yes

4WD Needed: No

Address: 27775 N Alma School Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85262

Reach 11

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Reach 11 is a bit of an odd ball when it comes to City of Phoenix parks. First, it has a weird name. Not that I think all the parks in Phoenix have inspired names. (I mean, South Mountain is the mountain south of town…) But it doesn’t fit the general naming conventions of the rest of the park system. A little bit of research says that Reach 11 is named for the Central Arizona Project canal that it is located nearby. Specifically, the park is near the 11th section (or reach) of the canal.

Besides that, Reach 11 lacks the hills and mountains that characterize the rest of the desert parks in Phoenix. It is basically flat all around. And while I actually think this is really important from an ecological perspective, it does not make for an interesting hike.

BUT, it is still one of the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix. It’s flatness means that this is a great area to introduce your kids, your partner (or yourself) to hiking, mountain biking, or even horseback riding. If you want to get used to the desert and explore some of the plants that call the Sonoran Desert home – this place is a great intro.

Reach 11 Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official website: https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/reach-11/trail-map

Manager: City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation

Size: 1,500 acre park

Trails: 18 miles of trails

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No

Other Small Desert Parks in the North Phoenix Area

Jewel of the Creek Preserve

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2020

The Jewel of the Creek Preserve is another part of the Desert Foothills Land Trust system. The name is apt, I think it is the crowning jewel of the land trust’s lands. And it is right next door to one of the most spectacular county parks – Spur Cross Ranch.

The trails in this preserve mostly follow the creek, and it is a great place to enjoy the verdant green of a Sonoran Desert riparian area (or near-water ecosystem). The milage here isn’t particularly long. In fact, there is only one, short lollipop hike that is totally in the preserve. But you can access Spur Cross trails from within the Jewel of the Creek if you are looking for a longer hike.

*Remember, for all family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix that have running water – you need to be extra careful with your kids. Even shallow water can be dangerous for kids, and you need to also be cautious of flash flooding when the weather is iffy.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2020

This park was obtained by the DFLT from the Arizona State Land Department. AZ State Land is notorious among those hoping to preserve the state’s environment for being extremely hard and expensive to get land from. One reason for this is that they are constitutionally mandated to sell their land to the highest bidder – with that money partially going to support AZ schools. Generally, this is a good thing, but it makes it impossible for conservation uses to compete with developers. In the case of Jewel of the Creek, DFLT made it happen, and this is a huge accomplishment. When you come to this small preserve, be sure to take a moment to think about the effort that went into protecting this amazing place.

Official Website

Manager: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Size: 26 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No; although a dirt road is used to access

 

The New River Nature Reserve

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

The New River Nature Reserve is a unique recreational area, in that it is cared for by a land trust. In 1886, this land was the headquarters of the Flying Y Ranch, and it was deeded to the Desert Foothills Land Trust in 1994 by Steve Bragg. The land was important to protect in the long-term because it has historical significance. It also includes desert wetlands which are important to birds and many other animals.

In terms of family friendly desert parks in north Phoenix, this really isn’t one. Parking for this reserve is along a dirt road that is actively used by local people to access their homes. This means that there isn’t a lot of room for lots of people. And you will be in close proximity to folks that generally are looking for some peace and quiet. There also really isn’t a lot of hiking here, at least from my experience. You basically walk down a road in this area. The wetlands are ecologically important, but they aren’t the most beautiful thing in the world.

This spot probably isn’t the #1 among the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix, but I will always be grateful for the protection of these little places.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official Website

Manager: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Size: 20 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No; although a dirt road is used to access (Old Stage Coach Road in New River)

Safety 

Even though I mark these as family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix, it is still important to keep safety in mind. This guide is not a guarantee that you and your family will be safe exploring any of these parks.

For kids in particular, I think there are some extra things to keep in mind.

  • Never let them out of your sight near water – tragedy can be quick to strike with water. Even shallow streams can be dangerous.
  • Arizona is also home to dangerous animals like rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes, and more. The desert is there home. And we all need to learn to respect them by keeping our distance. Make sure your kids know to stay away from animals.
  • The Sonoran Desert is also home to lots of dangerous plants. Make sure to prep your kids to keep their distance from cacti – particularly cholla. And do bring a comb and tweezers just in case someone gets a cholla pod in their skin.

This is not an exhaustive list. But I can almost guarantee that you will run into cholla and other cacti on the trail. So, these are some definite good things to help get your kids ready for some adventures on the trail.

Exploring Phoenix

If you are looking for more ideas of places to explore in Phoenix, Arizona, check out some of our other guides. I lived in Phoenix for more than 30 years, so I know the city well.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s fantastic to see how you’ve curated a list of captivating parks that offer a perfect blend of outdoor fun and educational experiences. From cactus-studded landscapes to desert critter encounters, you’ve painted a vivid picture of the natural wonders waiting to be discovered. Your insights into each park’s unique features and amenities make planning a day out with the family a breeze.

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