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Friday, June 25, 2021



There's lots of shade at Gilbert Riparian Preserve

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

FACILTIES: restrooms

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

RATING: moderate

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

RATING: moderate

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



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