Hiking in sunny Arizona is a welcome winter break.

Pittsburgh is gray-skied, so even if Arizona experienced unseasonably low temperatures, there was sun.

Sabino Canyon Hiking, Tucson

Located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Sabino Canyon is a relaxing recreational area not to be missed. Rock formations, cactus of every variety including the grand saguaro, and the backdrop of deep cerulean skies.

We opted to pay for the tram (not run by the park service) to the top, through multiple flooded creeks, rather than hike in and out. You pay the same price for one way or round trip and frankly, $10 a person is too much. While the driver was helpful, she really didn’t provide much information about the canyon—she spent most of the time telling us the tram rules. Repeatedly.

The things she did tell us:

  • You can get on and off the tram at any of their marked stops.
  • Hohokam Indians lived here, but disappeared.
  • The canyon has been used in multiple movies.
  • Saguaro grow for 70 years before sprouting side arms.
  • There are restrooms located at select stops.

So disappointment in the “tour” aside, it was worthwhile to start at the top and walk the 5.5 miles down. Phoneline trail follows the southern side of the road. It’s clearly marked at the few junctures you come to except at the very end and by then it doesn’t matter.

Before leaving the visitor’s center, a ranger said that hiking down we would have to walk through the last creek, but that it was only 2-3” of flood water.  He has a distorted view of measurements! We both removed our shoes and socks. The water was over my knees, wetting the bottom two inches of my shorts. At first, the brisk and forceful water was startling cold, but in a quick moment our hot feet felt refreshed.

The park was formed by a failed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC was attempting to build a road through to Mt. Lemmon, but ran out of money in 1939. The road disappeared and the spot got left a canyon and became a recreation area. Up until the 1970s cars were allowed to drive in—you can only imagine the chaos of cars from that era passing each other on a narrow, winding one lane road.

Hike moments:

A Saguaro that looked like a peace sign.

Trail hopped with a couple from Philadelphia—he wore a Penn state hat and we discussed the polar opposite natures and locations of our home state cities.

We learned names of cactus when we toured the Desert Museum—go there first and you’ll be a step ahead of us.


Don’t be fooled that the mere 900 foot descent will be easy. You go up and down a lot, and in some places the trail is narrow and rocky.

It was our only 80 degree day and the hike took from 9:30 – 2:00 so remember to wear sunscreen, take hats, water, snacks and wear sturdy shoes.

I was glad of my hiking poles.

It’s $5 per car to park at the visitor entrance. The lot fills up fast, so get there early or park at the alternative location.

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Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale

This is not a hike I’ll repeat because it is extremely busy and, while there is a vista, the main views are of multi-million dollar homes more than of scenery.

Pinnacle Peak Park contains 150 acres and has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet.

The highest peak on the trail is 2,889 feet, but hikers don’t actually get to the top of the 3,171 foot peak. That craggy top is left to rock climbers. If you’re one of those folks, make sure you check out the website first.

It’s about an hour trek in and out. It was hard only in the way that Diamond Head was hard—it goes up, up, up, which means down, down, down and then up some more.

From various spots along the trail, you can view McDowell Mountain or Camelback.

If you only have a short time for a hike, then choose this one for location and distance, otherwise, head somewhere more remote and enjoy the solitude.


Same as Sabino Canyon, make sure you have sunscreen, hats, water and snacks.

Horses use the trail, but we didn’t encounter any.

It’s 3.5 miles, dusty, tons of people of all ages and fitness levels.