8 all-day Valley adventures tailor-made for trail season!
Where else but in the Valley of the Sun can day trippers indulge in a gorgeous riverside hike followed by a round of boilermakers and an olive farm tour – all in one blessed afternoon? Or explore high-elevation ranch ruins before doing some gold panning? Or scale an urban mountain followed by some PG-rated voyeurism in an art studio? No need to travel the world. It’s all right here, in the finest hiking metro in America. We’ve teased out eight offbeat itineraries – each with a hike, honky-tonk and hangout – for complete body-and-soul adventures that last all day. Just pick your poison.
All the Arizona hiking items included in this story can be purchased at Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company (justroughinit.com) with locations in North Scottsdale and East Phoenix. For additional prime pieces of hike merch, visit phoenixmag.com/hikemerch.
ADVENTURE NO. 1:
DESERT HARBOR DELIGHT
Containing the flow of the Agua Fria River and runoff from the sawtooth ridges and springs surrounding the Hieroglyphic Mountains, Lake Pleasant is an oasis in the desert and a magnet for water-centric outdoor activities.
SPRING VALLEY TRAIL
Spanning 9,951 acres of wild space a few miles northwest of Lake Pleasant, Hells Canyon Wilderness Area offers a quick way to escape into an untamed swath of desert that’s more paradise than purgatory. Of the several sketchy routes that wander through the area, the most popular and easiest to follow is the Spring Valley Trail. Navigating the trail requires just two crux moves: 1) finding the trailhead and 2) climbing down into Garfias Wash. For the latter, the problem is easily solved by paying attention at the parking area.
From the dirt turnouts near a cattle guard on the access road, a small trail sign on the west berm indicates the start point. Across the usually dry corridor of Castle Creek, a white trail register and a huge rock cairn mark the official trailhead where the route veers right and uphill.
At the top of the rise, the path swings left, where two big cairns mark the unsigned junction of the Spring Valley and Hermit trails. Beyond this point, it’s clear sailing. The trail traces the foothills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains, passing by mounds of volcanic ash and a stock tank frequented by native wildlife and the feral burros that live in the area.
Where the trail appears to dead-end on a ridge overlooking Garfias Wash, a faint footpath zigzags down into the slick rock basin. The tricky descent is thorny and rough, but worth it for the opportunity to explore the secluded crags of an ephemeral desert waterway.
LENGTH: 5 miles out and back
ELEVATION: 1,800-1,920 feet
Located just off I-17, the Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon is a rough-around-the edges, creaky-floor joint with special parking for bikers. Cold beer and standard bar fare spill over into an outdoor arena that hops with bull riding, live music and Sunday night karaoke. 47801 N. Black Canyon Hwy., New River, 623-465-9903, roadrunnerrestaurantandsaloon.com
Part marina, part water park, Pleasant Harbor at Lake Pleasant crams a full menu of attractions into its lakeside venue. Boat, kayak and paddleboard rentals, sailing lessons, sightseeing cruises and the “World’s Largest Floating Waterslide” headline the ticket. 40202 N. 87th Ave., Peoria, pleasantharbor.com
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Artsy Water Bottle
$45 for 36 oz., $40 for 18 oz.
With designs by Flagstaff artists Ashley Matelski and Duane Koyawena, these stainless-steel Artist Series insulated flasks from Canyon Coolers are rugged and pretty. The bottles are also vacuum-sealed, so they’ll keep your beverages icy all day. Available in Desert Cactus, Mountain Lupine (shown) or Hopi Pottery designs. canyoncoolers.com
From Interstate 17 in Phoenix, take State Route 74/exit 223 (Carefree Highway) and go 11.4 miles west to Castle Hot Springs Road. Turn right and follow the road 5.4 miles to the stop sign at the park’s north entrance. Turn left and drive 5.4 miles to a cattle guard past milepost 25 and park in any of the dirt turnouts along the road. Look for the Spring Valley trailhead sign. Castle Hot Springs Road is graded dirt suitable for carefully driven sedans. Part of it may be impassable after storms.
Going Boho in SOMO
From archaic hunter-gatherers to New Deal workers to contemporary ranchers, farmers and industrialists, people have been leaving their marks in the south fringe of Downtown Phoenix for thousands of years. Evidence preserved in artifacts, rock art and historical records are pervasive in the south swath of Phoenix that’s bolstered by South Mountain Park & Preserve (SOMO), which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024.
One of the newest additions to South Mountain Park & Preserve in Phoenix is the Hau’pal Loop. Named for the O’odham word for red-tailed hawk, it’s the modern, cleaned-up version of the quagmire of confusing, terrain-damaging, user-created paths that preceded it. Newly aligned, signed and stabilized, the route is now a safer, more sustainable trek that responds to the demand for more challenging hikes in the park’s northwest sector. Comparable to Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak in terms of length and challenge, Hau’pal provides an alternative to the congested, central city climbs.
Heading counterclockwise from the 19th Avenue Trailhead (go right), the hike begins with an immediate uphill haul that gets gradually steeper as the dirt single track gains more than 1,000 feet, twisting over clipped shelves and stony folds in the far edge of the park’s Ma Ha Tauk Range. The final segment is preceded by a short scramble through a rock chute before the trail calms down and swings downhill on gully-riddled foothills with scenic lookout points that frame views of city grids, urban landmarks and distant mountain ranges.
LENGTH: 3.2-mile loop
ELEVATION: 1,320-2,359 feet
Cross-pollinated with the laid-back feel of a place where everybody knows your name and the pluck of a dive bar, the Silver Pony doesn’t shrink from its eclectic DNA. Though the bartender might not know your name (at least right away), everybody’s a pal at this South Phoenix staple, where the clientele runs the gamut from bikers and farmers to rhinestone cowgirls and bemused millennials. Even the music seems flummoxed – country, rock, hip-hop, whatever. For a come as you are, whomever you are kind of place, this heirloom corner bar is the real deal. 620 W. Dobbins Rd., Phoenix, 602-268-1318, thesilverpony.com
Formerly known as the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, the S’edav Va’aki Museum (say: Suh-UH-dahf VAH-ah-kee) was renamed in March 2023, with a grand re-opening held the following October 9 on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The new name, which refers to a ceremonial tribal platform, better reflects the site’s connection with Arizona’s O’odham and Piipaash communities, advocates say. The museum and archaeological site are home to an excavated prehistoric Hohokam village with pit houses, gardens, a ball court, canals, adobe houses and other structures. A 0.66-mile interpretive trail explores the lifeways, arts and technologies of the Hohokam culture that lived in south-central Arizona from A.D. 450-1450. 4619 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-495-0901, phoenix.gov/parks/arts-culture-history/sedav-vaaki
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Inspired by a lifetime of adventuring with his family, Mesa-based Near Zero owner Scott Jensen designs packs, tents, tools, sleeping pads, quilts, hydration bladders and various gadgets for health and safety in the outdoors – including the Near Zero titanium digging trowel. With its serrated edges, pointed tip and comfortable handle, the device is ideal for trenching around a tent or digging cat holes. It weighs less than 2 ounces and can pinch-hit as a tent stake and bottle opener. nearzero.co
From Downtown Phoenix, go south on Seventh Avenue to Baseline Road. Turn right (west) and continue on Baseline to 19th Avenue, then turn left (south) and follow the road to the 19th Avenue trailhead (10484 S. 19th Ave., Phoenix).
ADVENTURE NO. 3:
THE RUINS OF SCOTTSDALE
“The West’s Most Western Town” is diligent about honoring its roots while embracing the future. Putting a premium on quality-of-life issues, the City of Scottsdale has enacted forward-thinking land preservation policies and natural resource conservation measures. From the arty-party blocks of Old Town to more than 30,000 pristine acres of protected Sonoran Desert habitat, pockets of the Old West abide among bustling shopping centers, gated communities and freeways.
A mile and a half north of the busy Brown’s Ranch trailhead, a gnarled mesquite tree grows through and around the crumbling walls of a concrete feed trough. Nearby, tangled barbed wire, weather-worn and clinging tenuously to wood posts, surrounds a conglomerate of disintegrating foundations and rusty metal scraps. The relics are what remains of Brown’s Ranch. Established in 1916, the 44,000-acre operation ran cattle in the mountainous desert space before being abandoned mid-century.
The historic site, which is now part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, is the key attraction in the popular Scottsdale recreation hub. To find it, start at the trailhead – easily accessed off Alma School Road – and hike north on Brown’s Ranch Road to Corral Trail, a 2.3-mile loop that swings through gorgeous Sonoran Desert between the distinctive flat-top form of 3,253-foot Brown’s Mountain and the jumbled granite mounds of 3,406-foot Cholla Mountain. The first set of ranch ruins appear off to the left just a few yards from the road junction.
Even with encroaching cacti, catclaw, frothy turpentine bushes and mesquite poking through cracked stonework, the Old West character is so animated here that one might expect to find cattle grazing among the ruins. Occasional glimpses of sagging fences are the only relics visible until near where the trail reconnects with Brown’s Ranch Road for the return leg of the trip.
LENGTH: 5.5 miles
ELEVATION: 2,645-2,763 feet
On weekend nights, the thrump-thrump live-music vibe of the Rusty Spur Saloon spills onto the streets of Old Town Scottsdale. The decades-old watering hole is an authentic slice of Arizona history. Its building dates to 1921 and survived several iterations (a former bank vault now serves as a cooler) before settling in as “Scottsdale’s first bar” in 1951. Known to attract locals and celebrities alike, it’s the place to see and be seen in denim or Dior. The “Rattlesnake Eggs” on the lunch menu are legendary. 7245 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-425-7787, rustyspursaloon.com
For voyeuristic peeks at Western artists at work in their studios, the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tours fills the bill while doing good. Presented by the Sonoran Arts League, a nonprofit arts organization that promotes community artists and arts education, the six-day, self-guided event takes place November 17-19 and 24-26, 2023 in Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale. Serious collectors and holiday shoppers alike may view and purchase original art in intimate settings. Admission is free. sonoranartsleague.org/hidden-in-the-hills
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Bladder Care Gizmo
Hydration bladders and soft flasks are fantastic for carrying large amounts of water – but keeping them funk-free and dry between hikes can be a pain. The Bondry (say: “bone dry”) Hydration Bladder Dryer by Phoenix-based Fossil Outdoor, Inc. utilizes a reusable, sustainably sourced moisture transport technology that wicks away residual moisture, keeping bladders fresh and germ-free. fossiloutdoor.com
Finding Browns’ Ranch Trailhead is as easy as typing this address into your phone: 30301 N. Alma School Rd., Scottsdale
ADVENTURE NO. 4:
DOWN IN COW TOWN
In the Town of Cave Creek, horses always have the right-of-way. Harleys, too. It’s a party place with a cowboy edge that leans into its heritage of Native culture, ranching, mining and tossing back beers by the corral. Anchoring the Valley’s north end, the town brushes up against horsey suburbs and the wilds of Tonto National Forest. Hiking trails are just minutes away from a hopping main drag replete with Western-themed restaurants, watering holes, shops and street fairs.
MARICOPA TRAIL: BRONCO TRAILHEAD TO SPUR CROSS
Long-distance trekking has never been more popular, and the Valley’s own Maricopa Trail makes tackling the miles achievable. The 315-mile trail circumnavigates the Metro Phoenix area, connecting 10 county regional parks, urban centers, suburbs and national forest trails. Outfitted with dozens of trailheads and community access points, the trail is easily accessed from virtually any neighborhood and is ideal for folks who want to savor the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a long-distance hike, without committing to a months-long, non-stop journey.
The trail can be knocked off with a series of manageable day hikes. While naming the “best” segment of the Maricopa Trail is purely subjective, the bit that goes from the Bronco Trailhead in Tonto National Forest to Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek is as fine a candidate as any. Rich in biodiversity, ecozones, history and scenic beauty, this moderately challenging hike is a great way to sample and possibly get inspired to complete the entire route.
LENGTH: 13.6 miles one way (Bronco Trailhead to Spur Cross)
ELEVATION: 2,400-4,224 feet
Mules have lounged on the Buffalo Chip Saloon patio like they owned the place since 1951. The Cave Creek classic watering hole’s dirt lot and airy, high-beamed construct brings the outdoors in with a gritty luster that remains true to its Old West bones. Famous for its barbecue and bull riding nights, the place also vibrates with country music and dancing. Don’t know your Tush Push from your Hoedown Throwdown? No prob. Learn the steps at free Tuesday and Sunday night line dance classes. It’s easier after a few beers. 6823 E. Cave Creek Rd., 480-488-9118 buffalochipsaloon.com
No experience is necessary to saddle up and trot into the Sonoran Desert sunset. The experienced wranglers at Arizona Horseback Adventures provide basic riding skills and safety overviews before leading gentle horses on family-friendly tours along mesquite-cluttered foothills above Cave Creek. The outfitters offer one- to four-hour horseback rides as well as custom or private options with dining and entertainment at the on-site cantina. 44029 N. Spur Cross Rd., 480-488-9117, arizonahorsebackadventures.com
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Pack Rash Balm
When hiking or backpacking, raw, blistering skin comes with the territory. Anti-chafing salves from Squirrel’s Nut Butter soothe and protect irritated feet, underarms, thighs and crotch with all-natural ingredients like beeswax, peppermint and coconut oil. The balm is produced in Flagstaff. squirrelsnutbutter.com
From the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Pima Road in Carefree, continue 11.6 miles north on Cave Creek Road, which turns into Seven Springs Road/Forest Road 24, to the Bronco Trailhead on the left. The last 3 miles of FR 24 is an all-weather gravel road suitable for passenger cars. maricopacountyparks.net/park-locator
ADVENTURE NO. 5:
ALL ALONG THE RIVER FRONT
At the confluence of the Salt and Verde rivers on the border between Mesa and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a string of day-use picnic areas set among mesquite and saguaros attract a steady flow of heat-weary Phoenicians, kayakers and herds of feral horses to reed-addled banks. Nearby trails overlook the waterway where flotillas of tubes tethered to coolers drift downstream every summer.
WILD HORSE TRAIL
The Sonoran Desert (Hawes) Trail System in Tonto National Forest boasts more than 20 miles of interconnected paths located between the Salt River and north Mesa. The northern-most route in the system is the Wild Horse Trail, which is also part of the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail. As its name suggests, the trail passes through the domain of wild horses. The elegant and sometimes controversial beasts can be spotted wading in the river, poking around in the riparian corridors and grazing in the surrounding desert foothills.
Starting from the trailhead on Usery Pass Road, the trail heads out through wide washes and scoured gullies. Within a short walk, the hike takes on a surprisingly remote character with inspiring vistas of the Salt River Valley, Four Peaks, Red Mountain and the Usery Mountains.
The green band of the Salt River snakes through a chiseled landscape to the north, then arches south where it wends around Red Mountain in the Granite Reef Dam area.
The Wild Horse Trail ends at the 3.3-mile point, but the Maricopa Trail continues west for another 4.2 miles to Bush Highway for watery views and the best chance to see mustangs in the mist.
LENGTH: 3.3 miles one way for Wild Horse Trail or 7.5 miles one way for Maricopa Trail section to Bush Hwy.
ELEVATION: 1,320-1,880 feet
From the chrome-and-Naugahyde barstools and blazing karaoke to the garishly lit array of pool tables and in-your-face use of red in the décor, everything about Roosters Country is unapologetically loud. The family-owned business in Mesa is consistently recognized in local media as the “best place to day drink,” among other things. Patrons can indulge in cornhole tournaments, “redneck lunch” specials and (seemingly) perpetual happy hours, while two-stepping to up-and-coming bands on weekends. 3731 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-985-4088, roosterscountrybar.net
Picnicking, bird watching and wild horse spotting are the main attractions at the Lower Salt River Recreation Area. The Tonto National Forest-managed sites at the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers include Granite Reef, Phon D Sutton, Pebble Beach and Coon Bluff and are open year-round for swimming, fishing and non-motorized boating. In summer, fleets of tubes glide downstream courtesy of Salt River Tubing. saltrivertubing.com
AZ HIKING MERCH!
AZ Hike Guides
Hit the trail with PHOENIX magazine’s The Hike Book series. Volumes 1 and 2 feature trails all over Arizona, while Volume 3, City Summits, focuses on hikes in the Metro Phoenix area. More than 400 trails are profiled with trail stats, photos and detailed descriptions. cities-west-publishing.square.site
From U.S. 60 in Mesa, take the Ellsworth Road exit 192 and go 9 miles north (Ellsworth turns into Usery Pass Road) to Wild Horse trailhead on the left, marked by a Maricopa Trail sign and a no-shooting post. There’s space for about six vehicles in the dirt turnout parking area. No fees or facilities. maricopacountyparks.net/park-locator/maricopa-trail/trail-maps
ADVENTURE NO. 6:
GHOSTS IN GOLD COUNTRY
The Superstition Mountains contain a mother lode of mystery, lore and geological history. Around 25 million years ago, the rugged backcountry around present-day Apache Junction was a churning cauldron of magma – due to a super volcano that left behind a stunning landscape of ash pillars and rich copper deposits. Although the fabled cache of Lost Dutchman gold never panned out, the area’s outdoor recreation and entertainment bill is golden.
SECOND WATER TRAIL
Garden Valley, on the western edge of the 160,200-acre Superstition Wilderness, is one of those places that sears vivid images into the memories of those who trek through it. Rife with otherworldly scenes of desert life in an environment sculpted out of ancient volcanic ash, the area’s story arc spools out from violent origins, cataclysmic geological events, erosion and resurgence.
Between 25 and 15 million years ago, the craggy backcountry was a roiling cauldron of molten rock and white-hot ash that eventually collapsed on itself, forming a series of depressions called calderas – a similar grand-scale “super-volcano” phenomenon to what’s incubating beneath Yellowstone National Park right now. Ringed by mesas, mountain ranges and bizarre pillars and piles of solidified ash or “welded tuff,” the yawning basins have settled into a quiet old age marked by a slow-motion epoch of falling apart.
The Second Water Trail offers an approachable option for exploring Garden Valley and a haunting hinterland of rugged terrain. Twisting over slick rock and sections of crumbling stone, the trail bends northeast, flanking scoured gorges above the course of First Water Creek gradually descending to where it ends at the Boulder Canyon Trail.
LENGTH: 7 miles out and back
ELEVATION: 1,940-2,420 feet
A souvenir license plate claims the Hitching Post Saloon is “Home of the Biggest Cock in Town.” That’s likely referring to the massive rooster sculpture out back at the Apache Junction watering hole. Or maybe the chicken wings on the menu. (There’s prime rib, too, but that’s not as slogan-friendly.) A raucous dance floor showered in pulsating light keeps beat with bull riding in the outdoor arena. If the walls could talk, a taxidermist would be the narrator. Mounted big game heads, antlers and incongruous objets d’art blend right in with the rough-around-the-edges timbre. 2341 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction, 480-983-8800,
Apache Junction’s Goldfield Ghost Town recreates life in a 19th-century mining camp with a theme park twist. The roadside park is a replica of the defunct Mammoth Gold Mine that operated sporadically between 1893 and 1926. While the actual gold haul was disappointing, the site realized its mother lode by rehabilitating itself as an entertainment venue. Costumed gunfighters and saloon floozy “hosts” (no, not like the West World kind) roam among the town’s trove of tchotchke traps and food vendors. The Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad departs, whistle wailing, every 35 minutes. 4650 N. Mammoth Mine Rd., Apache Junction, 480-983-0333, goldfieldghosttown.com
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Not your typical bulky outer layer, the Flagstaff jacket by Goodyear-based gear outfitter O.T.T.R has slim-fit styling and on-trend colors that seamlessly adapt to the urban wilderness. The wind- and water-resistant, full-zip softshell moves with the body like a second skin. ottr-inc.com
From Phoenix, go east on U.S. 60 to exit 196 for Idaho Road (State Route 88). Turn left and follow Idaho to SR 88, turn right and continue to First Water Road (Forest Road 78), located just past Lost Dutchman State Park and signed for First Water Trailhead. Turn right and go 2.6 miles to the trailhead. Forest Road 78 is maintained dirt with some potholes and washboard sections passable by carefully driven sedan. fs.usda.gov/recarea/tonto/recarea/?recid=35525
ADVENTURE NO. 7:
HIKING & AGRITAINMENT
In the early 1900s, homesteaders farmed cotton, pecans, vegetables and fruit when the community of cultivated fields and ranches around the Queen Creek wash was known as Rittenhouse. Incorporated in 1989 and renamed after the ephemeral waterway that runs through it, the Town of Queen Creek in the southeast Valley is synonymous with olives, peaches and outstanding recreational opportunities in the San Tan Mountains.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park in Queen Creek is a 10,198-acre mountain-bound property that anchors the far southeast reach of the 10 Maricopa County regional parks that encircle the Valley. Situated in a hilly expanse bolstered by Goldmine Mountain in the north and the Malpais Hills in the south, the park’s 20-plus miles of trails wander among lush desert vegetation, scoured washes and scenic high points with excellent valley vistas.
One moderate route to try uses parts of the Littleleaf, Goldmine and San Tan trails to connect with the park’s northwest classic – the Dynamite Trail. All three trails are also part of the Maricopa Trail system. Maps available at the visitor center and on a phone app show how to use easy-rated connecting paths to get to the Dynamite Trail where the mountainous nature of the park becomes headily apparent.
At 2.4 miles from the trailhead, the route takes on a series of switchbacks that ease the climb to a mountain saddle. On the breezy divide, views open over sprawling East Valley suburbs that stretch into the Superstition Mountains and – on clear days – all the way to the New River Mountains to the far north. From the saddle, the trail spirals downhill over long, lazy curves, passing by historical grave sites before reconnecting with the Goldmine trail near the Goldmine trailhead on Wagon Wheel Road.
LENGTH: 4.1 miles one way or 8.2 miles round trip
ELEVATION: 1,617-1,894 feet
San Tan Flat is more like a small village than a restaurant and bar. Multiple buildings replete with scattershot Western kitsch mimic the look and feel of bunkhouses, chuck wagons and corrals, but it’s the huge outdoor spaces that set this place apart. Picnic tables placed around fire pits and an open-air stage create a party atmosphere with views of the San Tan Mountains.
Steaks, barbecue ribs and s’mores kits for the kids are legend. On weekend nights, long lines, loud music and sometimes short tempers are the norm. Comes with the territory, y’all. 6185 W. Hunt Hwy., Queen Creek, 480-882-2995, santanflat.com
As the standard bearer for Valley “agritainment,” Queen Creek Olive Mill dives deep into the business of farm-to-table cuisine. Visitors at the 56-acre working olive farm immerse themselves in tours, classes, dining and annual festivals. The popular Olive Oil 101 class explores the flavor notes, health benefits and uses of EVOO, and mill tours give a blossom-to-bottle crash course in sustainable farming and oil production. Fresh food, wines, an open-air kitchen and a gourmet market round out the experience. 25062 S. Meridian Rd., Queen Creek, 480-888-9290, queencreekolivemill.com
AZ HIKING MERCH!
Trim every last ounce of excess weight with the Ultralight Soolite34 series of backpacks from Arizona-based gear manufacturer PBD (Pack Back Designs). Made of durable 100-percent recycled materials, the roll-top, frameless packs weigh in at a scant 16.4 ounces, with roomy 34L capacity that holds up to 17-20 pounds comfortably. pbd-ultralight.myshopify.com
From U.S. 60 in Mesa, take the Ellsworth Road exit 191. Go south on Ellsworth to Hunt Highway and continue east to Thompson Road. Go south on Thompson Road to Phillips Road and follow the signs to the main park entrance (6533 W. Phillips Rd., Queen Creek).
ADVENTURE NO. 8:
THE WESTERN FRONTIER
Anchoring the western edge of Maricopa County, Buckeye is not only the largest city in Arizona in terms of area, it’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. While it was incorporated in 1929, it wasn’t until the last decade that the area at the base of the White Tank Mountains morphed from sleepy farm community to a suburban supernova. Amid the explosive growth, city planners recognized the value of balancing subdivisions with parks and natural open spaces, making the city a popular recreation destination.
JAVELINA SUMMIT TRAIL
One of four difficult-rated summit hikes in Skyline Regional Park in Buckeye, the Javelina Summit doesn’t scrimp on thrills. Spooling off connecting routes in the park’s far east end, the 0.9-mile trail offers a not-insane 745-foot climb from trail base to summit – but that accounts for less than half the story. Getting to the 2,200-foot mountain high point involves using three trails and logging more than 1,700 feet of accumulated elevation change.
The rollercoaster-style trek starts from the main trailhead with a 1.6-mile hike on the Quartz Mine Trail. About a half mile in, you’ll get your first peeks of the destination on the horizon. The prominent ridgeline rising over foothills and valleys looks imposing. And irresistible. The undulating path winds through washes and slopes below ragged ridges and stone outcroppings before making an ascent to a saddle where the Tortuga Trail spins off to the east. The Tortuga Trail leg of the hike takes back much of the elevation gained with a smooth downhill on long, lazy switchbacks. At the half-mile point, the route encounters its final segment, the 0.9-mile Javelina Summit Trail.
It’s here where the real work begins. While the lower quarter mile feels just moderate and has a few level bends, the climbing becomes an unrelenting uphill haul with loose rock and a fair amount of exposure. The trail is well engineered but still very steep and precipitous as it clamors along a knife-edge, rocky backbone. Persistence and careful footwork pay off on the tiny summit. The airy pinnacle displays 360-degree vistas of the southern White Tank Mountains, the distant profile of Downtown Phoenix, the Sierra Estrella Mountains and sprawling desert plains.
LENGTH: 5.8 miles out and back
ELEVATION: 1,312-2,200 feet
From the street, Waddell’s Longhorn doesn’t look like it’s worth a stop. But inside, the West Valley stomping ground – billed as a “dive bar with a friendly neighborhood feel”– makes up for the bland exterior with two bars and another on the outside patio, plus a roomy dance floor and live music. The place serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and hops until midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends with karaoke, cornhole and pool tournaments. Located north of Interstate 10 on the dusty, industrial side of Buckeye, right before the freeway heads west into a nether land of desert, this roadside gem might be the last chance to indulge in an authentic Arizona honky-tonk before you reach California. 1629 N. 195th Ave., Buckeye, 623-853-0395, waddellslonghorn.com
Since 1964, the mile-long oval track at Phoenix Raceway has hosted NASCAR’s biggest stars including Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott. Race fans can immerse themselves in the sport’s history and hype with a walk through the FanShield Infield Experience, which offers pre-race activities, a beer garden, up-close looks at pit crews and race memorabilia in the Tunnel of Triumph. When not packed with NASCAR events, the Avondale event space is home to year-round music events and a campground. 7602 Jimmie Johnson Dr., Avondale, 866-408-RACE, phoenixraceway.com
From Interstate 10 in Buckeye, take the Watson Road exit 117 and go 2 miles north to the park entrance (2600 N. Watson Rd.). Roads are 100 percent paved. No fees.
2023 TOP 10 VALLEY HIKES
Looking for more Valley trail recs? We asked the 30,000-member-strong Arizona Hiking Facebook group to name their favorite Valley trails. While the results include a few hyper-popular “concierge hikes,” the balance represents a refreshing mix of family-friendly walks, challenging hauls and trails that showcase the fascinating geology, history and bio-zones of our Sonoran Desert.
MORMON TRAIL-HIDDEN VALLEY-FAT MAN’S PASS
South Mountain Park & Preserve, Phoenix
“This is a great go-to hike for visitors. Short enough to do quickly, hard enough to get a workout. Great views of the city and really cool rock formations!”
— Jill Diamond, Phoenix, event planner
PERALTA TRAIL to FREMONT SADDLE
Superstition Wilderness, near Apache Junction
“The Fremont Saddle hike from the Peralta trailhead leads you to amazing views of Weavers Needle. This moderate, 4.6-mile out-and-back hike shows you the beauty and magic of the Superstition Mountains.”
— Rachelle Heinzen-Ruchty, Gold Canyon, realtor
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
“A tough, steep hike to the monolith rock called Tom’s Thumb. Some years it hosts peregrine falcon nests and is also open to rock climbers. It’s a steep, 4.5-mile in-and-out on loose granite pebbles with a few boulders to climb around. Pick up a map at the trailhead to plan your next hike of the preserve’s nearly 200 miles of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.”
— Neal Nichols, Scottsdale, business analyst
Tonto National Forest, near Cave Creek
“Skull Mesa is a challenging, steep hike that is rewarded with awesome views that go on for miles and miles. One of the best reasons to attempt this long hike are the wonderful petroglyphs you encounter. It’s a cool-weather hike that is well worth it.”
— Robyn Kristol, Phoenix, retired
Superstition Wilderness, near Apache Junction
“Go early with plenty water and snacks. Go with someone who knows this trail. This hike is a lot of bouldering and scrambling, sometimes on all fours, and if you’re lucky, you might meet the legendary Flatiron Jim, who is now 91 years young and does this hike a couple of times a week!”
— Kim Hay, Cave Creek, retired
Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Phoenix
“It’s crowded but fun and rewarding once you get to the top. The steep hike is a good workout, and that’s why many people are there, so be aware of speed hikers and runners. The summit pays off with great views of the entire Valley and, if you’re lucky, you might spot a ringtail.”
— Anonymous local dude, Phoenix
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale
“Stunning desert, unique geology and tranquil mornings. Escape crowds, embrace nature. A serene gem in North Scottsdale, not your average busy trail. Ideal for photography!”
— Patricia Rosciano, Chandler, ASU program coordinator
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Cave Creek
“Elephant Mountain Trail is both a spectacular hike and a thrilling journey into the past. Atop the mountain, the walls of an ancient Hohokam fortress have been awaiting your respectful visit (park rangers host guided tours) for more than 800 years.”
— Lance Motta-Vilensky, Goodyear, retired
Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
“Wind Cave trail at Usery park is a local favorite. It’s a quick and easy enough trail to get some friends to join you, but still offers some cardio challenge as well. Plenty of wildlife and great views… and, if you time it right, you can see the fountain at Fountain Hills.”
— Adrienne, Apache Junction, retired parole officer
(tie) MARCUS LANDSLIDE and PASS MOUNTAIN
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale; Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
“Family-friendly and outfitted with educational signs describing the area’s incredible… formations including the bizarre mushroom rocks,” says one anonymous trekker of Marcus Landslide. Meanwhile, retired Gilbert resident Gunild Hvid Kulkarni says this about Pass Mountain: “It is close to town and still out in the wilderness. The mountains are beautiful out there, the views are incredible and the vegetation is amazing.”
- Brown’s Ranch
- Buffalo Chip Saloon
- Goldfield Ghost Town
- Hau’pal Loop
- Hitching Post Saloon
- Javelina Summit Trail
- lake pleasant
- Maricopa Trail
- phoenix raceway
- Queen Creek Olive Mill
- Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon
- Roosters Country
- Rusty Spur Saloon
- San Tan Flat
- San Tan Mountain Regional Park
- Silver Pony
- Skyline Regional Park
- South Mountain
- spring valley trail
- Spur Cross
- Superstition Wilderness