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If you’ve done even one hike in the greater Phoenix area, it was likely Camelback Mountain. With its sheer, red cliffs and iconic, camel-shaped profile, the 76-acre park in suburban Scottsdale is a favorite spot. Yet every local—from hiking guides to restaurant owners—caution that the two trails leading up to its peak are not for beginners, even the physically fit. Instead, they’ll recommend treading on some of the many other paths forged through a state rich with desert flora and fauna, protected and enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Here are our favorite hikes across the vast Sonoran Desert.

RELATED: 8 reasons to love Scottsdale, Arizona

Pinnacle Peak
For a moderate, easily accessible introductory hike, try Pinnacle Peak Trail in Scottsdale. It can be congested during peak hours with joggers and hikers, but the whole trail, out and back, can be tackled in 90 minutes to two hours. The trailhead office is staffed, and has informational material as well as restrooms and drinking fountains. There is plenty of parking, a shaded area, picnic tables and spots for bikes and motorcycles (bikes and dogs are not permitted on the trail).

Though guided hikes are offered at 10am on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from November through March, the 3.5-mile round trip trek is well marked, with an elevation gain of just 1,300 feet. It’s possible, especially when not crowded, to see desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, coyote, grey foxes, mule deer, javelina, bobcats, mountain lions and more. Regardless, the twisting trail and desert foliage makes for a beautiful hike to scenic, panoramic vistas.

Spur Cross
About a 15-minute drive from Boulder’s Resort & Spa is the well-traveled trails of Spur Cross Rance Conservation Area in Cave Creek. There are no facilities for hikers here, but it’s well worth the extra effort and guides are available for hire through the resort.  Trails range from mild to challenging in the 2,154-acre conservation area, part of Maricopa County’s Regional Parks System.

Along the 2.6-mile Dragonfly Trail, for example, you might see petroglyphs created by the Hohokam Indians, who lived here between 700 and 1200 A.D., the opening to an old copper mine and Elephant Mountain in the distance. You might also learn about Arizona’s signature, saguaro cacti, which can live up to 200 years and start to form their first arms after 70 to 80 years. Many dot the rocky, south-facing slopes of the surrounding hills.

ALSO: You know what we say to anyone foolish enough to take a pass on Orbitz Rewards? Take a hike!

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
For a third and final hike, opt for a compromise between remote and congested trails and take the Gateway Loop Trail from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The preserve encompasses more than 30,000 acres of Sonoran Desert and more than 180 miles of well-maintained trails. Though there are seven trailheads with trails leading off from them, the Gateway Trailhead is well staffed, offering printed information, interpretive signs, bathrooms, water fountains, seating and shelter. Three trails lead off from this one location.

There are no-cost guided hikes available from mid-October through April, and it’s also possible to arrange for a private, guided interpretive hike for a fee. Arizona Outback Adventures, for example, offers half-day, single-day and multi-day trips in Arizona and other parts of the western United States. Though it’s not necessary to book a guide for a several-hour hike, it’s certainly a great way to learn a lot about the flora and fauna.


Mountain Shadows
Recently reopened after first opening in 1959, this sleekly modern boutique resort in Paradise Valley offers unsurpassed views of Camelback Mountain on one side and Mummy Mountain on the other. Mountain Shadows is a pet-friendly hotel with modern guestrooms and luxurious condos for guests. Enjoy the 18-hole golf course and clubhouse with grill and lounge; two 75-foot pools with a juice bar, a 4,000-square-foot fitness center, an expansive bar, and an indoor/outdoor restaurant serving American fare.

Photo courtesy of Boulders Resort and Spa

Boulders Resort & Spa
Named for the 12-million-year-old granite boulders that dot the landscape, this 1,300-acre Scottsdale resort seems carved out of the landscape. Guests can stay in well-appointed casitas, villas and haciendas, many of which border the two 18-hole championship golf courses and four swimming pools. There are six onsite restaurants, eight tennis courts and a 33,000-square-foot spa in which to fill hours that aren’t spent on the trails, as well as rock climbing directly on the property.

Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch
Families will find plenty to do at this expansive property, from a 2.5-acre water playground, a three story waterslide and a sand beach. Plus, your group can stay active with Hyatt Regency‘s ten swimming pools, 28-foot-high rock climbing wall, 27 holes of championship golf, four tennis courts, jogging and biking trails, Spa Avania and a Native American Learning Center. Meanwhile, kids will love Camp Hyatt Kachina, while eight restaurants and bars, live entertainment nightly and even gondola rides on the adjacent lake will entertain you throughout your stay.


McFate Brewing Company
Small batch, craft beers take center stage here, providing a great accompaniment to wood-fired pizzas, hearty burgers and a large selection of other casual fare at this indoor/outdoor eatery.

The Thumb
What at first looks like just a gas station and car wash turns out to be much more the minute you step inside. Grab hardwood smoked barbecue platters with savory sides, freshly made baked goods, unique gifts, and a wide array of wines and convenience items.

Brat Haus
Located in Old Town Scottsdale, but looking more like a European beer garden, this festive spot features indoor and outdoor dining, community style seating, has a dog-friendly patio and several lawn games to amuse patrons while waiting for their orders.

Buffalo Chip Saloon
This Cave Creek landmark, originally built in 1951, has experienced a rebirth after burning down. The bull-riding arena still holds sessions, there is karaoke on Monday, live music Wednesday through Sunday and dance lessons Thursday and Sunday evenings. Many come here just for the hearty barbecue fare.

The Vig McDowell Mountain
Opened in July of 2017, this fifth Vig location is ideal for hikers and bikers due to its close proximity to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The restaurant even offers lockers and an outdoor restroom for outdoor enthusiasts to freshen up and stow gear before heading in to eat.

Tagged: Arizona

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