Arizona trail runners & hikers - your wisdom and recommendations please!
February 26, 2019 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Plan a couple days for me trail running or hiking based in or near (~1-2hrs drive) Phoenix. Female traveler. Loves cacti, desert landscapes, lizards, and tacos.

I am so excited for the chance to be in Arizona, and way too overwhelmed to construct a plan. I love the desert (or, what little desert I've known), but I don't have any friend or first hand experience with the region. I've read other threads on Arizona hiking, and been overwhelmed by hikearizona.com, but haven't been able to pull together a plan for myself. Would greatly appreciate community help from local or experienced MeFites...

The deets:
Work is sending me to Phoenix for a conference at the very start of May and I really want to take advantage. I can fly into Phoenix with 2-3 days to spare before conference starts, but need to book my flights really soon to make this a reality. Money is limited (or I'd be staying longer!), but I think a cheap car rental and 2 nights in an AirBnB is doable. (Guided trips and helicopters not in the budget, sadly)

I would like to have 2 days trail running, or if that's not realistic, then pretty substantial hiking. Because I've never been, I don't have a good sense of how serious the weather is in regards to risk. I'm from the PNW (Canada), and though I live for summer it's in a different climate. I run in wind, snow, and lots of rain - but even when we get high summer temps, we have a lot of shade on most trails. I'm a short distance trail runner, and don't imagine doing more than ~6-10 miles unless the terrain and weather were very gentle.

Other relevant: female person travelling alone, so safety/comfort is a consideration. Bonus points for accommodation, eats recommendations, or anything else you feel is a must do for a desert aficionado who wants to be outside in the trails.
posted by tamarack to Travel & Transportation around Phoenix, AZ (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: May in Arizona is HOT. I grew up in Tucson and we’d usually get our first 100+ degree day in May. Phoenix is typically a few degrees hotter. There is usually not much shade anywhere. This article on trail running in Tucson recommends being out the door for a run - or done with it - by 7 am in the summer, and that fits my experience of needing to be done very early in the day with other outdoor sports. Read up on other desert hazards too, like jumping cholla cactus and rattlesnakes.

I don’t have any experience trail running in Arizona but I would recommend you check out Tucson. It’s about two hours from Phoenix. Consider Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park for running/hiking. Then later in the day when it’s hotter go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (sort of like a really neat outdoor desert-focused zoo) and get your lizard/other desert animals fix. The drive out there is pretty gorgeous too. Eat dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa downtown (reservations needed) for really fresh, super delicious non-border Mexican food.
posted by bananacabana at 4:35 AM on February 27, 2019


For places to stay - I HIGHLY recommend Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch. The scenery is off the hook. The Bulldog Cliffs are just an absolute treasure to wake up to. There’s hiking onsite as well as horseback riding and also kayaking the Salt River. You can eat at the ranch (breakfast and dinner - check about lunch). Up the road at Butcher Jones recreation site is some stellar hiking and the Salt River wild horse herd.

Other places to hike - Usery Park - Pass Mountain Trail.

Edit: horseback riding may have wrapped up for the season by then so make sure to check first.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:27 AM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Hi, I live in AZ and part of my PhD program is about heat vulnerability. If you're from the PNW, please, please do not go hiking or trail-running in the Phoenix area after 7 a.m., and honestly, consider not going before then, especially if you're alone. Every year a not-insignificant number of very fit, very capable people die on trails around Phoenix because something unexpected happens and they die of heat exposure. Early heat is especially deadly because folks don't take it as seriously -- and sometimes early summer weather can swing from entirely tolerable to quite dangerous without much advance warning. I work on heat death cases and I would hate to see you become a statistic.

However! Do not despair of hiking! The *good* news is, AZ is a (beautiful) land of contrasts and there are lots of places really close to Phoenix that are much higher altitude that will be a lot cooler and shadier. Just off the top of my head, I would recommend anywhere on the Mogollon rim, Boulder Canyon, the Sierra Ancha. If you can get a permit, Fossil Creek is AZ's day hike gem -- bring a swimsuit so you can take a dip in the incredible ice-cold spring-fed waterfall at the bottom. May would be the perfect time to go!


Please take the risk of sunstroke, even in cooler areas, very seriously (wear hat/long sleeves/sunscreen, etc.) and carry far more water than you think you'll need. And electrolyte tablets! And watch out for snakes! But seriously, AZ is a great, beautiful state, and you'll have a great time with some practical precautions. Memail me anytime if you have more questions!
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: @bananacabana - thanks so much for the recommendations!
@Sassyfras - hopefully in a future trip I can visit the ranch. it looks beautiful, but out of my budget for this trip.
@WidgetAlley - thank you for the knowledgeable warnings, and alternate location suggestions!
posted by tamarack at 2:44 PM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: A couple months later, but thought I'd post a quick follow up for future searches...

I wound up checking out a few trails on Mt Lemmon and they were beautiful! With the limited time I had, I'm so pleased. Did a couple trails on the "Arizona Trail" (there were markers), and one called "Agua caliente". Probably obvious to everyone but me: I realised that the desert charm I wanted closer to the base, and the higher trails that the locals loved were less of what I was looking for.

The heat was fine in the early morning. I hit the trails between 5-6am and done by 9am-ish. Locals were just heading out, but I figured better safe than sorry since I'm not acclimated. I had a few people mention that I was just on the right side of May, and it would be a proper oven in a week or two.

Not a trail, but I did make it to the Arizona Sonoma Desert Museum-- the drive through Gates Pass was the most beautiful landscape. The museum itself was good, but I was there midday and cool morning probably would have been better.
posted by tamarack at 10:43 PM on July 30, 2019


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