A Wintry Desert Wonderland

These HOT parks evoke a sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland

Arizonans and seasonal visitors know that winter temperatures don’t stand a chance of stopping outdoor pursuits. Compared to the rest of the country, the mild temps and low seasonal precipitation create the perfect formula for outdoor adventure throughout the state.

Many national, state, and regional parks are primed for winter fun. The trails are perfect throughout the day, wildlife is active this time of year, additional birds have migrated into Arizona, and you just can’t beat the sunrise and sunset at your camping site.

Come along and we’ll expose HOT parks that will evoke your sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland! 

Catalina State Park

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, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult. These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains.

Alamo Lake State Park

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Crazy symphonies of prickly arms—nowhere else in the United States can you find these unique living sculptures, Unlike their more familiar Saguaro cousins, Organ Pipe cacti branch out from ground-level. Organ Pipe National Monument sits on the Mexican border. From November through April, the weather’s nearly perfect for hiking, camping, or just driving along the scenic loop road. This is one of the most stunning, and least-visited, corners of the Sonoran Desert—and worth the drive!

Lost Dutchman State Park 

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelina, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park.

Worth Pondering…
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.

Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Arizona has incredible surroundings waiting to be explored.

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Pay attention and be observant of your surroundings. Watching your feet can prevent an unfortunate encounter with a rattlesnake or other poisonous wildlife.

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. Eagle’s Nest Trail at Red Rock State Park (photo above) supplies panoramic views of the colorful rocks and craggy formations. After hiking through the lush vegetation surrounding Oak Creek, follow the trail up to views only previously imagined.

Eagle’s Nest trail is only one of several options available at Red Rock State Park. The park offers hikes for every skill level, whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat. Numerous bird species call Red Rock State Park home, pick up a current bird ID list at the park store; you’ll be amazed by the number of species that use the park. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, the park lends itself very well to creative shots.

Just up the road at Slide Rock State Park, trails lead into Oak Creek Canyon (above photo) and along the creek itself. Best known for its iconic natural water slide, this scenic hiking destination is bound to leave a lasting impression while creating lifetime memories. Birds and wildlife are common along Oak Creek.

The forested mountain views are accentuated by the gentle rumble of Oak Creek and add to the overall experience of this beautifully unique destination. Look up in awe of the jagged formations created by a combination of time and weather as you amble through this small, yet extremely beautiful park in the pines.

Southeast of Sedona, in the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park (photo above) offers a multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy.

Choose between the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail, which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood, or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail. The trails within the Verde River Valley and along the Verde River itself, give hikers the chance of experiencing many of the birds and wildlife that call Dead Horse Ranch home. Deer, javelina, raccoons, and otters hang out in the thick riverside vegetation year-round. 

Lost Dutchman State Park (photo above) always offers an incredible adventure, like the Full Moon Hike every month to see the starry night sky over the Superstition Mountains. Walk an easy loop around the mountain or wind through Siphon Draw to see all Lost Dutchman has to offer. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak (photo above) and the classic beauty of true Sonoran Desert landscapes is available for your enjoyment. Dive in to the Hunter Trail for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain, or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to a scenic overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. 

Catalina State Park (photo below) just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness, despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. Hike any of Catalina’s various trails for differing levels of difficulty, from short hikes to an all-day adventure, on foot, on a bike, or by horseback.

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina, from gorgeous Mexican gold poppies, to desert tortoises, to various desert creepy crawlers. Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored.

Remember, when you’re enjoying Arizona’s hiking trails to bring plenty of water and snacks, and be aware of the temperature. Arizona hiking destinations offer views of the desert and experiences you won’t find anywhere else. All you need to do is pick a trail and lace up your shoes.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey