In Arizona, a summertime trifecta of wildfires, forest closures and excessive heat can challenge even the most determined hikers. While escape to the high country and cooler mountain climes is often not an option, the scramble to find suitable hike destinations that are close by, offer a little shade, are entertaining for antsy kids and satisfying for adult hikers can be challenging.
But it is still possible hike safely during the Phoenix inferno months by hitting local trails
early in the morning (we’re talking, be done by 9 a.m.), take plenty of water, don a hat, sun-protective cloths and sturdy footwear and always tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return. Here are a few gems that are great choices for quick escapes.
Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area
|A restored section of the Salt River flows through the site|
Just two miles south of downtown Phoenix, where the Salt River once flowed, a former dumping ground has been transformed into a thriving 595-acre oasis in the desert.
|Dozens of species of dragonflies live by the river|
With the cooperation of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Flood Control District of Maricopa County and droves of volunteers, tons of waste were cleared out of the Salt River channel and replaced with ponds, waterfalls and tens of thousands of indigenous plant species. Although the revitalized strip of riparian habitat looks as if it occurred naturally, it’s a “demonstration wetland” that was created by tapping into the groundwater beneath the river channel and pumping more than 2.65 million gallons of water per day to sustain the habitat.
|Birds and waterfowl are easy to spot on the hike|
Trail segments are organized to feature specific desert habitats such as Cottonwood-Willow, Lower Sonoran, Mesquite Bosque and Palo Verde. The area is flush with native plants that were harvested from seeds or cuttings within a half-mile of the Salt River. Snowy egrets, raptors, toads and dozens of other species have settled into the reedy shores and shaded coves.
LENGTH: 13.8 miles of trails
RATING: easy and informative
Northeast 7th Ave. Trailhead: 2801 S. 7th Ave.
Northeast Central Ave. Trailhead: 2439 S. Central Ave.
Southeast Central Ave Trailhead: TEMPORARILY CLOSED
Southwest 7th Ave. Trailhead: 3212 S. 7TH Ave.
16th St. Trailhead: 3203 S 16th St.
HOURS: Sunrise to 7 p.m. or sunset, whichever comes first.
FACILITIES: restrooms at some trailheads
City of Phoenix
Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
|Waterfowl thrive in the preserve's 7 ponds|
The sound of waterfowl is deafening. Even with its proximity to U.S. 60 and a busy community center, a hike in this wetland complex of seven ponds and a fishing lake mimics a stroll in a wilderness marsh. These created groundwater recharge basins are surrounded by massive, green riparian vegetation attracting thousands of shorebirds, making for a cool, shady hike, even in warm weather.
|Over 4 miles of shady trails wind through the site|
Great blue herons, Snowy egrets, long billed dowitchers, mallards, grebes, killdeer, warblers and hummingbirds are extremely easy to spot. Short loop trails with interpretive signs weave among flower gardens, mesquite bosques, nesting sites and feeding grounds. For hard-core birders, viewing blinds are set up along the shores.
|Trails are easy and barrier-free|
In addition to the hiking trails, the site features a kiddie playground with educational (dinosaur dig, anybody) opportunities, an observatory and a hefty events calendar.
LENGTH: 4.5 miles of trails
RATING: easy, barrier-free
ELEVATION: 1,200 feet
DOGS: Leashed dogs are allowed, and owners must clean up after their pets.
2757 E. Guadalupe Rd.
HOURS: 5:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Trails open dawn to dusk
City of Gilbert
Skyline Regional Park, Turnbuckle Trail
|View from the top of Valley View Trail|
Anchoring the maze of paths that wind through 8,600-acre Skyline Regional Park, the Turnbuckle Trail offers an excellent introduction to the park’s mix of easy strolls and challenging mountain climbs among the washes and foothills of the southern White Tank Mountains. Although it's located just 2 miles north of Interstate 10, the blissfully quiet site has a wild yet accessible feel to it.
|Desert vistas abound on Turnbuckle Trail|
Like most hikes in the park, Turnbuckle begins with a stroll across a graceful, oxidized bridge spanning Mountain Wash. It loops around a prominent mountain peak and connects with Valley Vista Trail for an optional 0.33-mile, difficult climb to a vertigo-inducing summit. This short hiker-only trek involves some steep, narrow sections with drop offs. Begin at sunrise to get up and back before the heat of day sets in.
LENGTH: 4 miles round trip
ELEVATION: 1,500 - 2,300 feet
FACILITIES: Restrooms, picnic tables, campsites
HOURS: Trails open sunrise to sunset. Gates close at 10 p.m.
2600 N. Watson Road, Buckeye
INFO: City of Buckeye
Jewel of the Creek Preserve, Cave Creek
|A desert oasis along Cave Creek|
Showcasing the desert foothills and thriving riparian environment surrounding the “Jewel of the Creek” area of perennial Cave Creek, this unexpected strip of lush creek-side willows, alders, walnut trees and cattails is hemmed in by rugged Upper Sonoran Desert terrain making for a breathtaking hybrid desert-wetland hike. While there, you’ll also wander through a mesquite bosque, the 5th rarest eco-system on earth. Although most hikers prefer to grab a map at the trailhead and head out on their own, the park ranger, Kevin Smith—who knows just about everything about the local flora, fauna, geology and human history of the area, conducts regular guided tours for those who would like an educational experience.
|Many eco-zones are represented on the hike|
|There's year-round water at Jewel of the Creek|
Check out the link below to find out when the next one is happening. We can thank the efforts of the Desert Foothills Land Trust for securing the preservation of this delicate eco-system and for also raising the funds needed to plan for and build the trail.
|Rare desert water runs through the preserve|
LENGTH: 1.9 miles for the creek loops only
ELEVATION: 2,400 -2,150 feet
FEE: $3 per person (exact change is required)
FACILITIES: portable toilets at Spur Cross Ranch trailhead
SUMMER HOURS: 5 a.m. – 9 p.m.
44000 N. Spur Cross Road
Desert Foothills Land Trust
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area