After spending about 2 months in Florida with family, in Jacksonville, St Augustine and Bradenton, we decided to find a new warm winter locale after New Orleans….Phoenix, Arizona! I had been to Phoenix and Sedona Arizona with my mom in June which was brutal but winter in Phoenix is a whole different animal. The weather is typically mid 70’s during the day, and 40s or 50s at night…and DRY! It is very nice, just don’t forget to stock up on lotion and maybe some saline nasal spray! The landscape in Arizona is absolutely breathtaking, and it is very different everywhere you go! In my opinion, the best way to see the state is on foot by hiking in Arizona.
Hiking in Arizona
Hiking in Arizona is absolutely amazing, but you have to be smart! This means bringing layers, wearing proper footwear and carrying lots of water. Because Arizona is in the desert, you go from really hot temps in the sun, to really cool temps in the shade or at sunset. It is best to be prepared and comfortable with layers (and a headband for my ears)! I always recommend wearing trail shoes and/or hiking boots when hiking short or long distances, because otherwise you feel every single rock under your feet and you won’t have the best ankle support. If you are in the market for better trail or hiking shoes, check out this link from Gear We Are, for the best trail running shoes to see some great options and reviews for choosing your trail shoes!Lastly, HYDRATION!! Because it is dry in Arizona, you sweat and it evaporates before you realize you were sweating. I really like carrying a Camelback, because you can easily sip on your water as you go, versus chugging water when you are thirsty. If you are going on long hikes, be sure to bring salty foods or some electrolytes! Dehydration is no fun!
On our first full day in Phoenix we took a drive to the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, next to Mesa. Through a recommendation from someone I follow on Instagram, we drove the Apache Trail for a while, taking us by the beautiful Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flats. On All Trails, we found the Massacre Grounds Trail which looked to be the right distance and difficulty for our first hike here. This was a very doable hike for most people because there were a lot of flat areas, as well as some other spots that got your heart rate up a bit. I believe it was rated moderate 5 mile hike, but it was a good diverse trail with nice views.
Photos from our hike in the Superstition Mountains on the Massacre Grounds trail
Our next serious hike was the Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain. This is a CHALLENGING, 2.6 mile hike! You are climbing the whole time, with some pretty narrow edges, many spots you need to climb and scramble up some rocks, and it is not for the faint of heart. Once you get to the top, you have an excellent view of the city and the neighborhood of Paradise Valley though!
Cholla Trail Hike Shots!
Papago Park was a nice scenic 5k loop with fitness stations along the way! We had fun trying out the stations along the way, and stretching our legs on the 5k loop. On the other side of the park is Hole in the Rock, which is a really cool rock formation, which requires a very short hike with great photo ops. One thing we didn’t get to do, was the Botanical Garden, but the 2nd Tuesday of the month is FREE! We heard it is great.
Piestewa Peak aka Squaw Peak
We had so many options for hiking in Arizona! A very popular hike is Piestewa Peak, otherwise known as Squaw Peak. We wanted a longer hike, so we opted for the Freedom Trail #302, which takes you around the circumference of the mountain, with the option to climb to the peak as well. Don’t let the reviews on All Trails fool you. This is not an easy hike, but I would say moderate. There are definitely many climbs that get your heart pumping and your legs burning! It was about 4 miles and took us about 2 hours to complete.
Our last hike in Phoenix was at South Mountain, which another awesome place to get into nature, JUST outside the city. We hiked the Mormon Loop trail which started with a pretty good climb, but the rest was very manageable. We wanted some more mileage, so we added on Hidden Valley, making it about 6 miles round trip. If you are not in the mood for a hike but want a nice scenic view, be sure to drive to the summit on South Mountain! We did this one night because other plans fell through. I got a few great pictures up there because the lighting was just perfect! Be sure to check out Dobbin’s Lookout!
Photos from our hike on the Mormon Trail Loop at South Mountain
Photos from our Drive up South Mountain at Sunset
After Phoenix, we headed up to Prescott, per some recommendations we received. Our place here was really off the beaten path, off a dirt road in Williamson Valley. It was nice to get out of the city, and enjoy nature all around us, including deer, javelinas and birds. While we were here, we did a few great hikes including Thumb Butte and Watson Lake.
Thumb Butte was close to historic downtown Prescott and was a pretty short, but challenging hike. From the parking lot, we headed STRAIGHT up the butte on a paved trail full of steep switchbacks. Even though we prefer natural steps over pavement, the view was great at the top! The way down was on a dirt path in the woods, which was much more enjoyable!
Watson Lake and Flume trail was a nice long, 4.6 mile loop, which started with some rocky trails as you follow the white dots to stay on the trail. It required crossing a few rivers and streams either on a foamy foot bridge, stepping stones, or getting creative on some fallen trees and rocks. Once you clear the Dells, you are back on a nice, flat trail that takes you around the lake. We went clockwise from the parking lot which we felt was the best way. Otherwise it would have been a boring start on the flat path.
Our next Airbnb was in Clarkdale, AZ, right on the Cottonwood line. The great thing about this area was its proximity to Jerome (10 mins) and Sedona (20-30 mins). When I went to Sedona with my mom, we did yoga for activity, but not a lot of outdoor hiking in Arizona, so I knew that we had to hike here! Even though I was in the middle of a terrible cold, I wasn’t going to pass this up!
On our way to Sedona, we stopped at the Tuzigoot National Monument to purchase the Annual America the Beautiful National Park pass. This pass is $80 and grants you access to all the national parks and monuments in the US! This is a HUGE money saver if you plan on hitting up several parks in one year. For example, Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon are all $30 to enter…pass paid for in just those 3 trips!
The views in Sedona are amazing, whether you are driving, walking on a flat trail, or hiking up one of the formations. We went to Cathedral Rock first, which is a pretty steep but short climb with some scrambling on the rocks. Just make sure you follow the caged in rock piles which mark the trail. It is easy to get off the main path (sharing from experience!)
Bell Rock was another recommendation from some friends, and it is also one of Sedona’s famous vortexes! There is a 4 miles trail that goes all the way around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, but we went half way around to the north side of Bell Rock, and started climbing! Apparently you can get all the way to the top, but we went as far as we could until we started feeling a bit uneasy and unsafe. That’s always my cue to turn around!
After our visit in Clarkdale, was Flagstaff, and before we checked in, we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon has many trails for hiking in Arizona, most of which are very challenging, even for experienced hikers. We walked down the Kaibab trail a little bit to take a few photos, but we were not equipped for hiking that day. We simply wanted to see the many view points of the canyon, enjoy the view, and take some photos. The free shuttle is very convenient, as some view points and trail heads are not accessible by cars. We took it to the Kaibab trailhead and all the stops on the way back, then got our car. The red route is only accessible by car December 1st-February 28th but all other months, you need to take the shuttle for the red route, as there are very limited parking spots at the viewpoints. I highly recommend taking 64 all the way to 89 on the way back, because it is a super scenic, beautiful drive, filled with Navajo stands to buy dream catchers, pottery and jewelry!
In Flagstaff we got more use out of our park pass at Walnut Canyon and Sunset Crater Volcano. Walnut Creek was a nice quick place to visit, because you can hike the Island Trail, which takes you down a bunch of stairs into the canyon, where you can see 25 different ancient cliff dwellings and back up to do the Rim trail which is only about 1 mile long which some nice views. Sunset Crater was incredibly cold and windy when we went, so we layered up with all the random clothes we had in the car. This is the site of an old volcano that erupted about 900 years ago, with trails leading you around lava. Between the Lava Flow trail, Lennox Crater trail and A’a trail, we did just under 3 miles. More of a destination than a long strenuous hike!
On our drive to Utah, we passed through Glen Canyon on the Arizona side on route 89 and got to see Horseshoe Bend and the Glen Canyon dam. Horseshoe Bend requires a ¾ mile “hike” to the overlook for some awesome pictures, and a ¾ mile walk back to your car. We almost missed it, and made a U-turn to head back. We also passed the dam where we just stopped to take some pictures, as the visitor center had closed by that point.
So when you find yourself in Arizona, be sure to make time for hikes and National Parks! There are plenty of options for different fitness levels, and it is such a great way to see this amazingly beautifully diverse state!