December 17th, 2019 12:00am
There is no shortage of hiking trails in the Phoenix, AZ area. Still, oftentimes we find ourselves going to the same trails and searching the same trail maps only to end up on overcrowded and overworked trails. Finding the time to research new hikes in the Phoenix area can be time-consuming, so we did some of the leg work for you.
So, if you’re looking to find true serenity and seclusion in nature this upcoming year, it is time to take a walk down these trails less traveled.
One great way to stay active this new year is to get out and hike in new areas and on new-to-you trails. Not only that but if you are an avid hiker, consider trying out some longer, more difficult trails when you’re ready. This means that it is time to look beyond Camelback Mountain, Tom’s Thumb, or Pinnacle Peak hiking trails and branch out into the expansive conservation areas, national forests, and mountain preserves surrounding Phoenix, AZ.
NOTE: Most hikes listed below are not suitable for young children or novice hikers as they involve difficult terrain, high mileage, and/or route finding. The solitude scale is rated 1-5 with 1 being overcrowded and 5 being off the beaten path.
Bursera National Pyramid Loop
South Mountain Preserve
Skull Mesa Trail
Spur Cross Ranch
Black Cross Butte
Tonto National Forest
Bursera National Pyramid Loop Trail
Located within the South Mountain Preserve in the Gila Mountain Range, the Bursera National Pyramid Loop is an 11-mile loop trail. This trail is often considered strenuous due to an elevation gain of 2,260 feet, loose rock, steep inclines and declines, and narrow paths.
To get there, drive to the Pyramid Trailhead Parking Lot on the Southwest end of the South Mountain Preserve.
On the often-overlooked Western side of South Mountain Park, the Bursera National Pyramid loop actually links 4 trails together: Pyramid → National → Gila → Bursera is the most common route, but some hikers find their solitude is increased if they hike the trail counterclockwise.
Both the Pyramid and Bursera trails are heavily trafficked on the weekends, which is why this trail did not get as high of a solitude rating as others mentioned. Plan on getting an early start if you choose to do the loop so you can miss the crowds on both ends.
To Follow the Clockwise Loop:
You will start by following the Pyramid Trail, which will be the most likely area you will encounter fellow hikers.
Follow the Pyramid Trail until it intersects with the National Trail (3.1 miles). Once on the National Trail, you will encounter fewer hikers, but still be alert as this is also a common Mountain Biking trail.
You will follow the National Trail for 3 more miles until you reach the short 0.7 mile stretch of the Gila Trail.
The Gila Trail will then intersect with the Bursera and you will continue back to the Pyramid Trail (4.2 miles).
Be sure that you research the route ahead of time or use a GPS hiking map for guidance. These trails are not particularly well marked in all areas and it is easy to get lost if you aren’t paying attention. Click here for a detailed trail map of the South Mountain Preserve.
Skull Mesa Trail
The Skull Mesa Trail is an 11.3 mile out and back trail located near Cave Creek, AZ. Some hikers unfamiliar with the area may end up hiking closer to 14 miles as the trail is easy to lose when the grasses are high. With that in mind, be extremely cautious of rattlesnakes depending on the time of year you choose to hike. Even on the weekends, you will likely only see a few other hikers within the first few miles, and then you’ll have the trail to yourself.
To hike the Skull Mesa Trail, you will park at the Spur Cross Trailhead. TRAIL FEE OF $3.00 CASH IF PARKING AT THE SPUR CROSS TRAILHEAD.
Follow trail signs and trail maps to guide as you hike:
To start the trail to the mesa, you will hike the Spur Cross until it becomes the Cave Creek Trail (3 miles). This stretch is where you will likely encounter fellow hikers.
Continue on to the trail junction with Cottonwood Trail #247 and following that until you reach the Skull Mesa Trail #248 (2.5 miles).
This will lead you to the final mile to reach the top of Skull Mesa. This will be the most strenuous part of the hike.
Follow the route back to the parking area.
Black Cross Butte Trail
Black Cross Butte (Peak 2251) hiking trail should be considered a primitive hiking trail located in the Tonto National Forest. It is a 2.9-mile loop, but do not let the short distance fool you. This trail loop can take some hikers up to 7 hours to complete. Of the three hikes we mention today, this one is by far the most technical and should not be attempted unless you are a strong hiker and have some experience rock scrambling.
Despite its proximity to Tortilla Flat on the Apache Trail, this trail does not see many visitors. It does require some route-finding skills, but many hikers find that to be part of the adventure. To get to the hike, follow Forest Road 80 approximately 4.5 miles after you pass Tortilla Flat on the Apache Trail road.
Many hikers find this trail easier to follow if they take the loop clockwise. Cairns will mark the trail for most of the way so keep an eye out as you go. Due to route finding issues, some hikers prefer this trail as an out and back hike versus a loop.
Do the route that you feel most comfortable completing and don’t hesitate in turning back if you think you’ve gotten off-trail. We recommend using a GPS trail map (i.e. AllTrails Phone App) to ensure you are able to follow the trail and do not get lost. Enjoy the solitude and the views along the way.
Best Time To Hike In Phoenix, AZ
If you’re choosing to hike in Phoenix, AZ area, summer hiking is not advised due to extreme temperatures. The best time of year to hike on any of the trails listed is in the Spring, Fall, or Winter months. You’ll also want to consider more hiking in the Spring months for gorgeous wildflower vistas. If you hike during the summer months, plan to get an early start, bring sun protection, and bring more water than you think you will need.
Friendly Hiking Reminder: Please always follow Leave No Trace guidelines. If you are unfamiliar with LNT, take some time to familiarize yourself before your next outdoor adventure!
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