Saturday, March 5, 2016

More spring break hiking in Arizona

Posted By on Sat, Mar 5, 2016 at 1:56 PM

click to enlarge BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone

Last week, I talked about places to go hiking while vacationing in the Phoenix area. Today, I’ll feature a couple more of my favorite places.

Bell Pass, located north east of Scottsdale in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, offers wide, expansive views of Scottsdale and Phoenix to the west, and as far as the Superstition Mountains to the east. Once you get to the summit of the pass, you can return on the same trail for an approximately 7.5-miles round trip, or continue east and meet up with the Wingate Pass trail, approximately 10-miles round trip.

There is a small trailhead at E. Bell Road and N. 104th Street. From there, take the trail north to the marked Levee Trail and turn right (east). Follow the Levee Trail to the Paradise Trail and turn left (north) to the Gateway Loop Trail, then turn right. Gateway Loop Trail comes to a fork, the right side being the Bell Pass Trail. 

Until this point, the trails have all been rocky and mostly flat, but after about another half-mile the Bell Pass trail starts uphill, including some switchbacks, and becomes rather steep. After approximately another 1.5 miles, you’ll reach the summit of Bell Pass.

To get there: Take the 101 Freeway to Bell Road, then head east on Bell Road. When you pass N. Thompson Peak Parkway, look for the parking lot/trailhead on the left, opposite N. 104th Street. There is no shade on this trail, so wearing a wide brimmed hat and bringing a lot of water is an absolute must.
click to enlarge View to the west from Bell Pass. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View to the west from Bell Pass.

If you’re looking for something more challenging, Picacho Peak, deserves your attention. Located along I-10, about 76 miles south of Phoenix, Picacho Peak is a very prominent, 3800’ peak jutting out of the surrounding desert.

There are two routes to a saddle about half way up the mountain — they merge at the saddle and share a trail to the summit. The Hunter Trail is a steep, 2-mile trail on the east side of the peak. Another trail, the 3-mile Sunset Vista Trail, follows the north slope of the peak.  When the trails merge at a saddle, things get interesting. The trail goes over to the opposite side of the mountain, down a steep, slick rock incline. So steep, in fact, that a cable has been installed to help hikers down — and back up. The trail then winds its way around to the back side of the mountain, where you'll have to scramble on slick rocks, climb cable ladders, walk on a rickety platform and climb up narrow stairs cut into the rock face.

Once at the top of Picacho, the scenery is spectacular with great 360-degree views of more peaks and the surrounding desert. And the return trip is no less thrilling than the trek from the saddle.  

Obviously, Picacho Peak is for the more adventurous hiker and probably not the best hike for toddlers or anyone not sure of their footing. Proceed at your own (considerable) risk.
click to enlarge Along the Picacho Peak summit trail. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Along the Picacho Peak summit trail.

To get there: Take I-10 south to exit 219 and follow the signs the short distance to Picacho Peak State Park. Entry fees do apply.

click to enlarge View from the summit of Picacho Peak. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View from the summit of Picacho Peak.
Picacho Peak State Park Trail Map Arizona State Parks

If you’re looking for something a little more family-friendly (and less hair-raising), there are plenty more options in the area. Two of my favorites are the Thunderbird Conservation Area northwest of Phoenix, in Glendale, and Pinnacle Peak Park, located north of Scottsdale.

Within Thunderbird's 1,100-plus acres there are a number of trails ranging from .25- to 5-miles long, and varying from moderate to difficult. It’s very popular with families and has enough hills to offer nice views from almost any trail. You can also link trails together to make longer hikes; my favorites are the Cholla and Arrowhead Point Trails. For more info visit

Another family-friendly option, Pinnacle Peak Park, offers a single, 3.5-mile out and back trail that is moderately difficult. Despite its name, the trial goes around Pinnacle Peak, not to the summit. None the less, the well-built and maintained trail is very popular and has very limited parking — you’ll want to plan accordingly if you go. For more information visit this page on

Obviously there are many more hiking trails in the Phoenix area including Lost Dutchman Park, the rugged Superstition Mountains to the east, the Cave Creek area to the north — or even Sedona — that you could squeeze into your Arizona springs break. But this should get you started.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 24 years. You can follow him on Twitter (" target="_blank">@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:

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