The Best Spring Wildflower Hikes in Metro Phoenix | Phoenix New Times


The Best Desert Wildflower Hikes in Metro Phoenix

Here are 10 hikes, from easy to difficult, where you can see the beautiful wildflowers of the Arizona desert.
Blooming trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area.
Blooming trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Bruce Cooner/ Flickr
Share this:
The painted landscapes that come with spring often bring a boost to our sense of adventure and a brief respite from our weary world. Lucky for us, Phoenix is surrounded by beautiful landscapes waiting to be explored. Here are 10 great Valley hikes where you'll find wildflowers in bloom. 

Telegraph Pass Trail to Kiwanis Trail

Distance: 4.5 miles
Level of difficulty: easy
Average time: 1 to 2 hours

Not only is South Mountain the largest regional park in the country, it's also a great way to escape the hustle of the city within minutes. Its Telegraph Trail is not one to miss — especially when it comes to wildflowers. This hike begins on the southern side of the mountain, and, in fact, it's the only trailhead on that side. This is an out-and-back hike, and it connects to Kiwanis Trail. Adding Kiwanis to your trip will take an extra 40 minutes to an hour, but it's worth the easy trek if you have the time. These two trails will easily welcome you into an array of such colorful wildflowers as the blue phacelia, Coulter’s lupine, and the eye-catching intensity of the Mexican gold poppies. Besides wildflowers, this trail also offers a brief glimpse into history as you pass by a series of Hohokam petroglyphs.

Siphon Draw Trail

Distance: 6 miles
Level of difficulty: intermediate to difficult
Average time: 3 hours

This hike is packed with amazing views and a beautiful parade of wildflowers during the spring. Get a glimpse into history as you scale past the remnants of an old bunker from a mine that once operated in the area. Depending on winter rainfall, you might catch the sounds and sights of a seasonal waterfall. This is a popular trail, as the Superstitions are riddled with beautiful scenery as well as historical landmarks and plenty of folklore. But it is not for the timid, as there is quite a climb near the end of this out-and-back trail. Although, if you’re up to it, expect to be dazzled with a beautiful display of brittlebush flowers, poppies, lupine, and globe mallows. Overachievers, take note: The top of the Flatiron is less than a half-mile from the end of this trail, where you'll find a stretch of strawberry hedgehogs. This occurs most frequently in April and May.

Spur Cross and Maricopa Trail #252 Loop

Distance: 6.5 miles
Level of difficulty: intermediate
Average time: 3 hours

This loop is located just north of the city of Cave Creek. Besides being a beautiful wildflower hike, this trail opens up to a host of washes, springs, and canyons. This makes for a beautiful lineup of riparian vegetation alongside the blooming spring flora, which often includes bright yellows of the California poppies, the pinks, oranges, and yellows that come from the Arizona barrel cactus in bloom, and the greens and yellows seen in the flowering jumping cholla. There will be some creek crossings as the route follows Cave Creek and with a pathway leading over a wooden bridge. For wildlife enthusiasts out there, don’t be surprised to hear the whistling chorus or spot the unmistakable fiery red of the Northern cardinal. 

Butcher Jones Trail

Distance: 6 miles
Level of difficulty: Easy
Average time: 3 hours

This trek will scramble the senses a little bit, making the desert seem like a faraway place with its cool temperatures, vegetation, and wildflowers. The trail winds around two of the northern arms of Saguaro Lake with views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountains, and the Flatirons of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This easy hike is great for a family stroll, with opportunities to stop off and enjoy views of the lake alongside the remarkable flowering plants and trees. An interesting find here is the common buttonbush, found in desert washes and lakes. This bush is fragrant and can grow up to 12 feet tall, with a unique ball-shaped flower, usually white and yellow. Butcher Jones is an easy way to spend the day experiencing the diversity of Arizona’s desert landscapes.

Windgate Pass/ Bell Pass Loop  

Distance: 9.7 miles round-trip
Level of difficulty: intermediate to difficult
Average time: 5.5 hours

Located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, this combination of two pass trails makes for a very remote, open, and wildflower-filled trek. There is a significant elevation change throughout this hike, about 2,100 feet, which makes for an impressive diversity in vegetation. The trails offer outstanding views of Four Peaks, Tom’s Thumb, and the Superstition Mountains. In springtime, expect to see large open fields of bright yellow California poppies. Other notable flora include the orange tinge of the Calich globemallow, the white flowers of the desert rosemallow, beautiful purple hues from the Mojave lupine, and alluring yellow flowers associated with the bird’s foot trefoil. A favorite on this trail is the desert mariposa lily, with its brilliant orange flowers, a sight not to miss. Be sure to bring a camera.

A closer look at the unique construct of the purple-blue phacelia as seen on the Telegraph Pass Trail to Kiwanis Trail.
Ruth Hartnup/ Flickr Creative Commons

Quartz Peak Trail

Distance: 5.5 miles
Level of difficulty: difficult
Average time: 4 to 5 hours

This trail exists in a beautiful, remote area of the desert. We must say this first and foremost: Make sure to bring plenty of water. You are about to take on a unique trail, one that will have you ascending approximately 2,600 feet. Upon reaching the peak, you'll find yourself standing upon bright, white stone, overlooking some of the most incredible panoramic views in this area. Though the hike is difficult, the presence of filaree, brittlebush, phacelia, fields of teddy bear cholla, and rows on rows of saguaros make this hike well worth it. Another interesting aspect of this trek is that you will most likely witness some flashing specks as you climb upward. This is due to the remains of the Crusher Mica Quarry, which left mica crystals embedded in and along the trail.

Bluff Spring Canyon Trail #235 via Dutchman Trail #104

Distance: 9.4 miles round-trip
Level of difficulty: intermediate
Average time: 5 hours

Located in the Superstition Wilderness Area, east of Phoenix, this trail offers a great view of Miners Needle, a prominent landmark in the area. At just under 9.5 miles, this loop sends hikers on a magnificent, eye-catching adventure. The climbs will most likely get the heart racing, and the views are nothing less than breathtaking. This hike also offers the opportunity for waterfall sightings, depending on the average rainfall of the previous winter. Some sightings may include blooming saguaro, wild hyacinth, desert larkspur, Arizona barrel cactus, shrubby deervetch, rock echeveria, and seep monkeyflower. For those wildlife enthusiasts out there, this area is no stranger to the Western diamondback rattlesnake and the less-known greater earless lizard. 

Apache Vista Loop Trail

Distance: 2.9 miles
Level of difficulty: easy
Average time: 1 hour

Located on the northern section of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, this trail offers amazing views of the northern Valley over a quick trek up and around Apache Vista Peak. The trail starts off at a generous elevation, just below 1,700 feet with an easy gain of 340 feet, making for a views accessible to almost anyone. Springtime in this area presents itself with a colorful arrangement of yellows, oranges, and purples with flora such as Caliche globemallow, California poppies, white ratany, buckhorn cholla, the native Arizona fishhook pincushion, and Coves' cassia — as well as the greens and pinks of the jumping cholla when in bloom. 

Jacob’s Crosscut Trail

Distance: 6.5 miles one-way
Level of difficulty: easy
Average time: 3 hours

Located in Lost Dutchman State Park, this fairly easy, scenic trail offers up a beautiful array of desert wildflowers along the base of the Superstition Mountains. This is what some may call a “shuttle hike.” That means if you're not interested in hiking there and back (a total of 13 miles), then it may be best to go in a group and park one car at each end of the trail. Hikers will enjoy great views of Camelback Mountain, Four Peaks, and Praying Hands, which is Lost Dutchman’s notable landmark and climbers' jewel standing at 150 feet tall. Mexican gold poppies, along with the ocotillo and hedgehog cactus, are abundant in this area. Flora sightings may also include abundant yellow brittlebush, bright red chuparosa, and the one-of-a-kind fairy dusters, which are, interestingly enough, a member of the pea family.

Ballantine Trail/ Pine Creek Loop

Distance: 2.5 miles
Level of difficulty: intermediate
Average time: 1.5 hours

This loop, located in the Tonto National Forest just 40 minutes out of the city, hits with an impressive display of wildflowers and desert grasses right from the start. Beyond the colorful cast of spring flora provided on these trails, there are also some interesting rock formations scattering the landscape. These can be fun to explore and scramble up and over for an additional workout — or to get a better view of the blossoming wonderland that surrounds this area. With an average amount of rainfall, hikers will most likely find themselves surrounded by magnificent meadows filled with multicolored, blooming wildflowers. Some of which include the bright white flowers of the desert chicory, the eye-catching violet hues of the annual windmills, the blazing magenta of the littleleaf ratany, and the violet-blue blooms of the wild hyacinth. 

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in February 2016. Sara Palmer and Lindsay Roberts contributed to this article.
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.