10 Best Winter Hikes in Metro Phoenix

While the thought of being outdoors during the winter may cause many across the country to shiver to their core (even under multiple layers of clothing), here in Phoenix it might be the best time of the year – especially for outdoor enthusiasts. After spending the summer months hitting the trails after dark or traveling to cooler parts of the state, hikers can now get their fix by taking to the picturesque mountains that surround the Valley. Here is a guide to the 10 best winter hikes in the Phoenix area.

Miner’s Needle Loop at Superstition Wilderness
Distance: 9 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Intermediate
Average Time: 5 hours

This loop begins on the Dutchman Trail #104, just east of the Peralta Trailhead. The hike is a great way to experience terrain ranging from rocky mountainside trails to creek beds and cholla-filled meadows. In one particular section, the cholla create a canopy, resulting in a strange, fairytale-esque scene. From there, the trail twists and turns, leading to some large boulders hiding pockets of water that make for a small amount of easy bouldering or rock hopping. The views on this trail are spectacular to say the least. You'll catch a peek through miner’s needle, see the tall, colorful canyon walls at Bluff Springs Trail #235 and be able to look out as far as the eye can see during the last two miles. Superstition Wilderness Area never fails to offer up a great supply of color and plant life. Cacti are abundant, and when the desert is in bloom, this area is home to some real desert beauty.

Holbert Trail at South Mountain
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Average Time: 2 to 2.5 hours

Though it's often thought of as one of the best sunset hikes in Phoenix, this trail offers up gorgeous views any time of the day. Holbert is rated intermediate due to its gradual uphill climb, which is a little over 1,000 feet. This trail is well maintained to a point where each step is almost calculated for you, making the trek just that much more forgiving. Once at the top, the 360-degree view of the city is incredible. The peak also offers benches to sit and enjoy the view, the remnants of an old stone ramada built back in the 1930s, and a large compass pointing out different landmarks across the Valley. At just above 2,300 feet, this hike is a great way to show out-of-town guests an amazing view of the city while familiarizing yourself with Phoenix's major landmarks.

San Tan Trail at San Tan Mountain Regional Park
Distance: 6.4 miles
Level of Difficulty: Beginner
Average Time: 2.5 to 3 hours

This is an ideal trail for beginners and those looking for great scenery without a lot of climbing. At 6.4 miles, it is the longest loop trail in San Tan Mountain Regional Park. The trail takes you in a loop that features wide trails, rolling hills, and a rare crested Saguaro that looks as if it’s giving the “hang-ten” sign. Thanks to all the vegetation, this is a great spring and fall hike, as well as one that can be enjoyed throughout the winter. The trail is often shared with mountain bikers and horseback riders, so remember to be aware of your surroundings and yield accordingly. While this hike does not require a lot of strenuous elevation gain, it is still important to stay hydrated and dress appropriately.

Seven Springs Cave Creek/Skunk Tank Loop
Distance: 10 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Average Time: 5 hours

Not only is there an actual Cave Creek, but there's also a beautiful trail that runs alongside and across it. The first section of this trail is nothing if not mesmerizing. You'll find plenty of color, water, and easy boulder hopping as you make your way along the creek, across the creek, and then down into the canyon. You’ll want to bring your camera with you on this hike, as you will find it hard to believe you are still in Phoenix. At just under the four-mile mark, you will turn onto Skunk Tank Trail, which is the section of the trail where you will begin to take on 1,100 feet of elevation gain. And the payoff at the summit is more than worth it, with panoramic views and green rolling hills. We suggest stopping for a moment and taking in the view because from there, you will have only a couple of miles left on this beautiful trek. 

Mormon Loop
Distance: 5 miles
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
Average Time: 2 to 2.5 hours

Touted as a great workout hike, this trail is ideal for winter mornings in Phoenix, when the air is crisp and the Valley is just starting to come alive. This trail starts with a one-mile climb to the Mormon Loop Junction that will definitely get your heart rate going while serving up views of downtown Phoenix. The trail mellows out a bit after the initial climb, with the entire hike gaining just around 700 feet of elevation. Consisting of rolling hills, rock piles, and steps, there's a constant flow of ascending and descending stints that make for a fun and fairly cardio-driven experience. This is a popular trail that can become very busy on weekends. So it's best to enjoy this trail early in the day or during the week to avoid the crowds. Given the rocky and often rugged trail, wearing proper footwear is crucial. And while it is not necessarily a long hike, it can be taxing and you'll want to be properly hydrated.

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Sara Palmer is a local improviser, writer, teacher, and storyteller. You can commonly find her exploring the surrounding wilderness areas of Phoenix.
Contact: Sara Palmer