Of all the preserves and parks in Phoenix, the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve is by far the closest to my house. It’s super accessible and the only problem with getting to explore this vast preserve has been the scorching Phoenix summer heat (and working full time, but that’s a different story). I was able to get in my maiden (and only) voyage right before the temperatures went from “mild” to “inferno” in March of last year.
This preserve is enormous, encompassing more than 9,600 acres. Truthfully, it’s certainly not the most wow-inspiring place I’ve ever been to or hiked at, but it’s a nice hiking spot, nonetheless. There are three main trailheads (Desert Vista, Desert Hills, and Apache Wash), which splinter out and offer 36 trails (!!) to explore. To access these different trailheads, you must enter the preserve from different locations. I will list these locations at the end of the blog.
The preserve is open 7 days a week, with parking and entrance hours from 5am to 7pm, and the trail hours are from 5am to 11pm. I assume this is to offer a chance for night hiking and star gazing, although it would scare the heck out of me to be out there at nighttime. I salute you, brave Night Hikers.
As mentioned, we went at the very end of March, when the weather is much more tolerable, around 89 degrees. It was fine at first, but then began to get toasty the longer we hiked. You are quite literally in the middle of the desert, so cover from trees is nonexistent. You could try to hide beneath a cactus, but that’d be like trying to cover a piece of paper with a pencil. You are completely out in the open, in the middle of the trail, so make sure to wear a hat and sunscreen, and bring lots of water! And remember – do not hike these trails in the middle of the day in the middle of summer (Juneish through Septemberish). Just. Don’t. Do. It.
We arrived at the parking lot around 10am, and there was ample parking available. There are bathrooms here, as well as information and fire danger warning signs. We began our hike and rarely saw anybody (loved it). We only passed about 4 different sets of hikers and one man going extremely fast on a bicycle. We hiked 2 miles, in and out, although the trail we took does not have to be an “out and back” trail. It can be made into a loop, as there are numerous trails (remember, 36 of ‘em) splintering off in different directions. It really boils down to how long you want to hike.
We chose the Desert Vista Trailhead, mainly by pure chance. We ended up on the Desert Tortoise Trail, which is 1.12 miles long. Once you make it to the end, you can go either left or right; however, we did neither, as we had mutually agreed on 2ish miles due to the heat.
Thankfully, these 36 trails are clearly marked by markers, plus you can scan a QR code at certain points that pulls up a screen on your phone telling you which trail you’re on and how long that trail is (yay, technology!).
Fun experience!: As we were walking back, I came upon a yellow Easter egg nestled against a rock, right off the trail. I knew it wasn’t there on our way up because it was positioned in such a way that you were supposed to see it coming up the trail (like if coming from the parking lot). By chance, I happened to look down and behind me when walking past and saw it. I immediately thought “that’s really odd” and stopped to pick it up. I shook it and could hear something rattling around inside. After cautiously opening the plastic egg, I found an awesome inspirational charm inside! It says “find joy in the journey”. I loved it and still have it. As we walked further, Kristi came upon her own egg, which had the exact same charm inside. We walked past 2 more eggs, obviously leaving them, so they could be found and enjoyed by other hikers. We were fairly certain that a group of elderly women we had passed earlier were the sweet souls behind the eggs, because they were the only group we passed before turning back and finding them. So, unless we happened to miss all those brightly colored eggs on our way up, thank you to those kind ladies!
Apache Wash – 1600 E. Sonoran Desert Dr.
Desert Hills – 705 W. Carefree Hwy.
Desert Vista – 1900 W. Desert Vista Tr.
Overall, I enjoyed hiking at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, mainly because of the peace and quiet it offered. Perhaps because of its northern location, it’s a hidden gem among Phoenix hiking aficionados. There are countless hiking locations throughout the city, and many are significantly more crowded, like Echo Canyon Recreation Area (Camelback Rock), Phoenix Mountain Preserve (Piestewa Peak,) and South Mountain Preserve (Exploring Phoenix: Dobbins Lookout.). While these locations do have their advantages (they offer incredible views of Phoenix and the Valley that many northern hiking locations do not), sometimes you pay for it in people. Soo, pick your poison! 🤷🏻♀️