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Discovering the Sonoran Desert

by Teresa Bitler

Dec 26, 2019

Teresa Bitler

Destinations / North America

Phoenix is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, and the winter, with its typically sunny yet mild days, is a perfect time to explore it. Discover what makes this region so unique by foot, horse and 4×4 vehicle.

 

By Foot

 

Despite being in a desert, Phoenix is one of the nation’s best cities for hiking, especially in the winter. Head to South Mountain Park for 50-plus miles of trails suited to all fitness levels. Families with small children can stick to the less-challenging, one-mile Kiwanis Trail while those looking for postcard views can trek the 2.5-mile Holbert Trail to Dobbins Lookout. Meanwhile, active families can hike part or all of the 14.5-mile National Trail.

 

Lost Dutchman State Park is another option. Not only are several of the trails considered easy (Discovery, Native Plant and Jacob’s Crosscut) and moderate (Treasure Loop and Prospector’s View), but the area is shrouded in tales of lost gold. Note: The 5.8-mile Flatiron Trail is steep, difficult to follow and not suitable for inexperienced hikers.

 

For those unsure about striking off on their own, 360 Adventures offers both full- and half-day hikes in the Phoenix area. If you do decide to go on your own, be sure to bring plenty of water, wear closed-toed shoes and apply sunscreen.

 

Hiking in Phoenix. Photo: Teresa Bitler

 

By Horse

 

Experience the Sonoran Desert like the early settlers did — from the back of a horse. Ponderosa Stables leads guided rides through South Mountain Park. Choose from breakfast, lunch or steak dinner rides or book a ride by the hour. Ponderosa can accommodate most riders (up to 300 pounds) and children ages 6 and up can ride their own horse. (Children ages 2–5 can ride with an adult.)

 

Not a fan of nose-to-tail rides? Koli Equestrian Center lets you spread out and enjoy Gila River Indian Community’s 2,400 acres. During the winter months, Koli saddles up four times per day for 90-minute group rides. Expect to learn about the flora and fauna as well as tribal history and lore. Riders must be at least 6 years old and weigh less than 250 pounds (under 6 feet tall) or 275 pounds (6 feet tall and up).

 

View while hiking in Phoenix. Photo: Teresa Bitler

 

By 4×4 Vehicle

 

Area 4×4 tours combine Sonoran Desert landscapes with off-road adventure. Apache Trail Tours takes families on Jeep excursions ranging from a 30-minute loop tour of the Sonoran Desert to a two-hour, off-road trek past Weaver’s Needle. Families will learn about the flora and fauna, the Lost Dutchman’s lost gold and the Native Americans who originally settled in the area.

 

360 Adventures adds another element to their tours — the Hummer. In addition to teaching about the Sonoran Desert’s unique geography and history, the tour includes off-roading thrills, including steep descents and heart-pounding climbs.

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