With more mountains than Switzerland—we swear!—and millions of acres of protected land, the number of hiking trails in Arizona is mind-boggling.
The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of hiking opportunities is the variety of scenery hikers can enjoy including desert, alpine, urban, remote, rocky, sandy, and grassy.
Because we couldn’t possibly cover all of this in one article, here are a collection of hikes perfect for Arizona’s balmy winter months. From Tucson’s Sabino Canyon to Thumb Butte in Prescott, explore these six natural areas for a perfect wintertime trek.
Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
The 3.2-mile (round trip) Wind Cave Trail makes a great family hike in the Pass Mountain. Although the “cave” is more of a shallow arch than a gaping, mysterious, bat-infested hole, the sweeping views to the north and west and the interesting array of plants growing from the “ceiling” make it worth a visit.
Be sure to pack a picnic lunch. The shade at the mouth of the cave creates a nice spot for an alfresco meal.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson
Northeast of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the lush Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers visitors open-air shuttle rides.
You can hike the area without the use of the trams (which cost $8 for adults and $4 for kids), but they do help you see more—and save some sweating—on your Sabino Canyon hike. (As of November 2018, tram service is temporarily suspended while a new provider is determined.)
The Bear Canyon Tram goes directly to the trailhead for this 2.5-mile walk to picturesque Seven Falls, which includes several stream crossings.
The Sabino Canyon Tram makes numerous stops along its 45-minute route. Several hikes of varying difficulty start along the bus path.
Thumb Butte, Prescott
Easy to spot from nearly everywhere in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers a nearly two-mile hiking loop, part of which is paved, that goes almost to its summit.
Upon reaching the loop’s high point several hundred feet below the summit, look for a spur trail that takes you to an interpretative sign and bird’s-eye views.
The sign gives you the names of each of the mountains in the Bradshaw Range you’ll see before you. On a clear day, you can even see north all the way to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, although there’s no interpretative sign naming those mountains.
A winter warning: The steeper side of the loop, which is partially paved, doesn’t see too much sun this part of the year and can sometimes be a little icy.
East Wetlands, Yuma
Just steps from downtown, you can explore the Yuma East Wetlands, where nearly 500 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area. Just past the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½-mile to a raised overlook, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. Or for a bird’s-eye wetlands view, walk the paved path along the levee.
For a more extended hike, follow the paved path heading west from Gateway Park. This route stays close to the Colorado River and is dotted with city parks.
Catalina State Park, Oro Valley
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, bird watching, and hiking.
The 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail is an easy hike through the foothills that begins and ends at the Trailhead parking lot. The loop is created by a link connecting the Romero Canyon Trail and the Sutherland Trail. The trail is relatively flat, but about halfway around there is a slope with approximately 90 stairs. The Canyon Loop Trail crosses a wash several times, so seasonal stream flow may result in wet feet.
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.
Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.
Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.
There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.