Arizona is full of some of the best hiking in America. But don’t limit yourself to the more popular hiking destinations such as the Grand Canyon or Camel Back Mountain in Scottsdale. There are plenty of hikes around the state that are a little off the beaten path and less crowded. Here you can experience the grandeur of Arizona in relative solitude and experience just how overwhelming complete silence in the outdoors can be. Here are a few of my favorite hikes in Arizona.
Welcome to the “Supes!”
The Superstition Mountains, known to locals as the “Supes,” is a range of mountains in Arizona located just east of Phoenix, near Apache Junction. Within these craggy peaks, erosion has formed natural sculptures, bridges and grottos. This area gave rise to the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine as well as some incredible trails.
The Flatiron trail begins in the Lost Dutchman’s State Park. The trailhead is actually called Siphon Draw. This is one of the more difficult hikes in the state but the payoff of reaching the top is worth it with wonderful views of the East Valley and Eastern Superstitions. The length is only about 6 miles round trip but on the way up you will climb almost 3,000 feet. Told you… it is a cardiac buster!
Peralta Trail is a 4.9 mile round trip, on a moderately trafficked trail, located near Gold Canyon, Arizona. This is a great hike based on scenic value and the satisfaction of reaching “the saddle” for spectacular views of the Weaver’s Needle formation and the Superstition Wilderness beyond. With a 1,400 elevation gain, you’ll get a good workout. This trail can get busy so I suggest avoiding the weekend. From Phoenix, take U.S. 60 east about 8 miles past Apache Junction and look for the Peralta Trailhead sign on the right side of the road. Turn left on Peralta Road (Forest Road 77) and drive 8 miles to the trailhead. FR77 is good dirt and passable by sedan.
See the Supes by Car
If you don’t feel like hitting the trail on foot, you can experience the Superstition Mountains from your car by driving the Apache Trail. This is a well-traveled road and affords drivers incredible view of canyons, desert and lake views, and some wonderful roadside attractions such as Tortilla Flat (www.tortillaflataz.com) and the Goldfield Ghost Town (www.goldfieldghosttown.com). The Superstition Mountain Museum (www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org) is also a fun place to stop along the way. To get there, from Phoenix, take U.S. 60 east all the way to Apache Junction to the cutoff for AZ 88/Idaho Road. AZ 88 is the Apache Trail.
Chiricahua National Monument is located in Southeast Arizona, and contains large expanses of eroded volcanic rocks that now appear as dramatic pinnacles and spires. I imagine this area was the inspiration for the scenery in the old Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons! Luckily not many people visit, since the monument is quite remote and access is difficult. The most striking volcanic pinnacles are in the Heart of Rocks, reached by a number of moderately strenuous hikes. One trail passes along the rim and later the floor of Echo Canyon, which has many huge boulders and eroded formations including the Grottoes and Wall Street, a straight, narrow passageway.
The Monument is located 120 miles southeast of Tucson. Take I-10 east from Tucson to the first exit for Wilcox. Travel 3 miles into town to the stoplight and turn right. You will follow Arizona State Highway 186 for 32 miles to the junction of Arizona State Highway 181. Turn left and 4 miles later you will be at the Chiricahua entrance station. I suggest spending the night in Wilcox, hiking the monument the next day and then heading to Bisbee for a night to relax.
Vulture Peak Trail is a 3.8 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Wickenburg, Arizona. Despite its imposing appearance, it’s not an incredibly strenuous hike but it will get your heart pumping. If you want to get to the very peak, you’ll have to travel and additional 240+ vertical feet to the top through a combination of chutes, rock-scrambling and cactus-avoidance. Not many avail themselves of this hike and you’ll find peace and solitude plus dramatic views of the Vulture Mountains on the peak.
Once in Wickenburg, a quaint, quirky western town with wonderful museums and festivals, stay west on US-60 past downtown for about 3 miles to Vulture Mine Road. Turn left and drive south about 6 miles to a well-marked turn-off toward the peak. Passenger cars park at the trailhead while 4-wheel drive vehicles can proceed another 1.5 mile to a higher trailhead – you definitely need a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to do this. It’s a great Jeep trail and one of many off road opportunities in the vicinity.
Be Careful Out There!
Please remember hiking can be dangerous, especially in Arizona when you combine a desert environment and the creatures that live there, with sometime extreme temperatures. Please prepare and train accordingly. A great resource to find that next trail is Hike Arizona (www.hikearizona.com).