The desert has a lot more to offer than just cacti, rattlesnakes and heat. It has diversity, beauty and an endless amount of trails to explore. But not all trails are created equal.
When living or visiting the Phoenix area, it can be overwhelming when looking for a trail to hike. There are city hikes, hikes that require 4WD to get to, and hikes that are very easy to get confused, injured, or lost on. The desert is not to be taken lightly. But if you begin your hikes prepared, you’re almost guaranteed to have a great time.
A few tips to surviving the desert trails:
- Water, tons of water. Bring all of the water you can carry.
- Carry a comb – not to style your hair (the desert doesn’t care about that), but to help remove any cacti that may become attached to you, your gear or dog.
- Snacks – it’s important to stay fueled on the trails.
- Research – know the distance of your trail, the elevation change and absolutely check the weather beforehand.
Now, let’s get onto the fun stuff. The must-see trails in the Superstition Wilderness! The trails that will provide you with those iconic desert scenes.
The Superstitions are located about 45 minutes East of Phoenix. The closest towns are Apache Junction and Gold Canyon.
- Moderate Difficulty
- 4.9 Miles RT
- 1,345 ft in Elevation Gain
- Free Parking
This trail begins at the Peralta TH, which is 6 miles down a dirt road that is accessible by all vehicles – unless it’s after a heavy rain. Peralta Trail is a stunning out and back, that leads to Fremont Saddle and an incredible view of Weaver’s Needle (the heart of the Superstitions). This is a well-known trail in the Superstitions, and it never disappoints! If you’re into backpacking, there is the option to hike out to that Lone Pine (you see pictured, towards the right side). There is a unique and secluded campsite here that offers priceless sunset and sunrise views. Don’t miss out on Peralta Trail.
Wave Cave Trail
- Easy to Moderate Difficulty
- 3.5 Miles RT
- 990 ft in Elevation Gain
- Free Parking
The Wave Cave Trail is a truly unique experience. The cave can actually be seen from the parking lot, which is 4.5 down Peralta Rd. It’s a relatively easy trail, until a little uphill scramble towards the end. As you approach the cave, it has the appearance of a wave – hence the name! This hike is known for its fun silhouette photo opportunities. The Wave Cave is a blast for all ages. The cave itself is very large inside, with soft silt on the bottom; providing a great place to have lunch or just rest up before the return hike. I can’t recommend this trail enough; I’ve taken so many friends to share in this experience.
- Easy Difficulty
- 3 Miles RT
- 580 ft in Elevation Gain
- Free Parking
The Hieroglyphic Trail is a go-to for families and out of town visitors. It is one of the easier trails, that still leads to incredible scenery in a unique canyon. To put a cherry on top – this trail leads to beautiful Petroglyphs. The Petroglyphs are authentic and unique, please be respectful and do not deface them! The Hieroglyphic Trail leads to pools of water, that are full most of the year. The area, in the photo above, is the place where most people turn around. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can actually follow a rarely traveled trail deeper into the canyon. Most likely you won’t see another soul, past the pools and Petroglyphs! Enjoy whichever type of adventure you choose!
Lost Dutchman State Park
- Easy to Difficult (depending on trail)
- Treasure Loop is easy (2.3 Miles RT, 534 ft Elevation Gain)
- Siphon Draw to Flat Iron is very difficult (6.2 Miles RT, 2,993 ft Elevation Gain)
- State Park Fees for Parking: $7
Lost Dutchman State Park is quite possibly one of my favorite places in the world. This particular view of the Superstitions is hard to beat; the rock formations are just breathtaking. Lost Dutchman offers hiking, camping and a variety of activities such as guided night hikes and classes on wildlife and nature. There are many trails to choose from, at this State Park. I’d highly recommend the Treasure Loop Trail and Siphon Draw. Both offer incredible views, enough elevation gain to get your blood pumping and the opportunity to see wildlife.
If you’re up for a true challenge, you can hike Siphon Draw Trail all the way up to Flat Iron. This hike is not for the faint of heart; please do not attempt unless fully prepared. If you do decide to give it go, make sure to listen to your body, take your time and drink plenty of water – the views are worth it! And if you’re lucky enough to visit in the Spring (March), you can usually witness the Brittle Bush blooms – as long as there has been enough rain the year prior. Do NOT miss out on visiting Lost Dutchman State Park, the Arizona State Park system is one of a kind!
Boulder Canyon Trail
- Moderate Difficulty
- Up to 10 Miles
- 1,500 ft in Elevation Gain
- Free Parking, at the Canyon Lake Marina
This trail will be the most challenging, but also the quietest, on this list. Boulder Canyon has incredible, sweeping views of the Superstitions and Canyon Lake. It climbs right out of the gate, for about the first mile. From there, the trail is more gradual – with dips and small inclines. After a few miles, it will be you to the incredible view in the photo above. Seen in this view is Battleship Mountain (research that hike, if you’re looking for a really incredible challenge), and Weaver’s Needle peeping in the background. From this point, you have the option to continue down to the bottom of the canyon, or it can be a great place to have lunch before turning around. Boulder Canyon is a stunning trail that shouldn’t be skipped over.
Of everywhere I’ve visited, the Superstition Wilderness holds one of the dearest places in my heart. Arizona is known for the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Antelope Canyon, and the Painted Desert – but don’t discount this mountain range. They are worth every moment of the journey to see them. Absolutely worth every moment!
A few things to be ready for:
- Wildlife, including coyote, rattlesnakes, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, deer, hawks, javelina, bald eagles and more! It is not uncommon to see any and all of the wildlife listed, year round – even rattlesnakes.
- Sunrise/Sunset: it’s nearly impossible to beat the desert sky, so have that camera ready.
- Weather: Summer is hotter than you can imagine, and Monsoon Season (July-September) can be very dangerous – be safe.
- The beauty: just be ready to have your mind blown, by the desert!
- Cholla: not the kind of cacti you want to mess around with. Avoid these guys. But if you get one attached to you – that’s what the comb is for!