Adventure Stories

Desert Hikes to Take – in the Winter

Sonoran Desert
Written by Emese

Hiking in the desert is one of my favorite activities – in winter. During summertime – that’s another story.
We have about 180 miles of trails in the desert around Phoenix, Arizona. I can get on a trail and if I walk long enough, I feel like I am in the wilderness, even the hum of the city fades.


The Sonoran Desert, after rain

The desert is green after rain, in winter

My favorite trail in town is flat, but goes through a few hills, so at times I feel totally cut from the city. It is part of Trail 100, in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  The full trail, a little over 10 miles long, crosses the wilderness areas of the city in the east-west direction, from North Mountain to Dreamy Draw, going  through tunnels under major roads.  Most parts of it are so wild, seemingly remote, even though it goes through one of the biggest cities in the US.

Hiking Trail in the Sonoran Desert

Hiking in the Desert

I went out very early in the morning once and I saw a pack of coyotes. I counted eight of them.  They walked right by me,  glanced at me, but didn’t acknowledge my presence in any other way. The encounter was so sudden, I didn’t even think of getting a camera to take their picture.

Jackrabbits are easy to spot, and I see a few almost every time I’m out. Sometimes I see roadrunners, although they are so fast, I rarely notice them.  Quail families cross the trail most often, the little ones following the parents in a line. Tiny hummingbirds hover around palo verde trees.

After an occasional rain, the distinctive smell of the creosote bush makes me happy. Everything is brighter, greener, and the air is very fresh.  It is the most enjoyable time to hike in the desert. Smaller cacti in the cholla family are scattered around the landscape, as well as wildflowers not yet in bloom.

Creosote bush in the Sonoran Desert

Looking at the desert through the branches of a creosote bush

The giant Saguaro cactus is visible from far away. If you see one, you know you are in the Sonoran Desert, since it doesn’t grow anywhere else. It grows slowly and lives a long life. A ten-year-old saguaro might be less than two inches tall. By the time it matures it might be 40-60 feet high, and have a few arms. When hydrated, a full grown saguaro could weigh up to four thousand pounds. You wouldn’t want it falling on you – or your house. Trail 100 goes through a lot of patches with giant saguaros, as well as younger ones. Sometimes birds perch on their arms.

Giant Saguaro cactus

Giant Saguaro

Other trails take you through the McDowell Mountains, North Mountain Preserve and Papago Park.  The longest ones criss-cross South Mountain Preserve, the biggest preserve within city limits in the US.

If you are tired of the snow or cold, visit Phoenix and bring your hiking and/or biking gear. Take a hike in one of the preserves surrounding the city. You have plenty of options, from mountains to flat trails, some even around a pond. You’ll change your perception of the word “desert”.
To find places to hike, visit an older article I wrote here.




About the author


I am a writer, translator, traveler. But before any of it, I am a mother. I've traveled the world with kids, occasionally (twice in twenty years) without. When in town, I hike (mostly with my husband and/or kids, sometimes by myself). Only in the winter. The desert is too harsh in the summer to be outdoors. That's when we travel, mostly to cooler destinations (with is almost anywhere). Since my kids are (almost all) grown, I have time to write - mostly about our travels. :)

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