Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

Wonderful Winter Hikes - With or Without Kids

Series: Hiking America | Story 1

Things can get hectic in the winter – the kids are still in school and the holidays can make everyone feel rushed. Getting outside and taking a nice long hike can be one of the most relaxing things you can do.

Exercise reduces stress, and if your kids are going stir crazy, letting them burn off steam on the trail will go a long way toward restoring peace in your home. You don't have to take the entire weekend off, or even a whole day – there are probably places to hike right near where you live.

Gilbert Riparian Preserve

For example, if you live in the Phoenix area you can check out the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. The Preserve is at 2757 E. Guadalupe Road, east of Greenfield Road, next to the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert. There are about 4-1/2 miles of gravel trails winding around between seven water-recharge basins that look like little lakes.

These ponds actually receive effluent water and serve to let the water settle into the aquifer.

The water attracts hundred of migratory birds, and winter is prime time for viewing them. You will see a lot of water birds, including waders, but you will also have a chance to see a huge variety of songbirds as well as birds of prey.

Bring The Kids

If you bring kids along, there is a lot for them to do. In addition to hiking the paths, there is a play area with restrooms and ramadas for picnics, a dinosaur dig, a garden area, weather station, and a scale model solar system.

A lot of prime bird-viewing areas even have blinds where you can relax and glass the water. Scattered along the trails are interpretive signs that help you understand what is going on around you. If you have a fishing license, you can even fish in the main lake.

Camping, Walking

I took four teenagers to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve and they all loved it. We hiked every inch of the trails. One of the things that surprised us was the fact that there are actually campsites there.

You can camp near the ponds and the sites are off the path and very private. In fact, the vegetation and the ponds make all the paths feel isolated and private. It's just a really nice place to walk.

You can take strollers and even wheelchairs on the paths, but they are gravel and can be a bit irregular. Horses and leashed dogs are also allowed, and we also saw several bicycles.

Winter Is The Time

We spent over three hours on the trails, but that was because we kept stopping to photograph birds and other animals. There are also plenty of beautiful plants and flowers, and the girls even spotted a prickly pear with heart-shaped pads.

Winter is a super time to enjoy this wonderful place. To make sure you don't miss anything, download a map here: http://www.riparianinstitute.org/pdf/riparian0108%20campsites.pdf

Gilbert Riparian Preserve Facility Fees

Ramada rental: $20.00 per hour for Gilbert residents, $30.00 per hour for non-residents

Campsite fees: Smaller - $30.00 per night, Larger - $40 per night

Dinosaur Dig Reservation (afternoons and weekends only): $15.00 per hour for site reservation. Additional $45 per hour for a staff facilitated dig experience.

Full common area can be reserved, which includes both ramadas, playground, grassy turf, and dino-dig site, at a rate of $50 per hour for residents, $75 per hour for non-residents.

Jewel Of The Creek – Dragonfly Trail

Jewel of the Creek is a 26.6-acre preserve that protects a beautiful riparian area - one of the last remaining perennial streams in Maricopa County. The Desert Foothills Land Trust bought the land in 2001.

The Dragonfly Trail is simply a one-mile loop through the riparian area. It is one of the prettiest desert hikes you will ever see, with towering trees, lush vegetation and flowers near the creek, and giant saguaros and other cacti a stone's throw away. It is open from sunrise to sunset, but there are no motorized vehicles, no dogs, and no horses allowed.

An Easy Hike

The Dragonfly is a very easy hike. The first little bit, when you are descending into the creek channel, runs along the face of a rather steep drop-off, but it's a good, stable trail. As long as you are able to manage a slope and a few rocks, you'll be fine. You'll be coming back up this same stretch when you finish the hike.

Once you get down into the bottom, the trail crosses the creek fairly soon, then follows the creek channel. You can choose to turn left at the first intersection and loop back to the trailhead, or you can continue on along the trail. If you choose to keep going, you'll get to see a cave off to the right, and you'll get to pass through several "tunnels" formed by overhanging branches. It's a fantastic hike.

The day we were there we never saw another person. This was in October and it was still a bit warm, so there may be more hikers as the weather gets cooler. It seems as if most of the hikers jet right past Jewel of the Creek and go to Spur Cross.

Keep Track

It's easy to get off the trail and end up on the Maricopa trail, so be aware of how far you have come. You will need to re-cross the creek (dry except for small pools when we were there) to head back to the trailhead. As long as you are following the creek channel you are still in Jewel of the Creek.

To make the shorter loop, which is considerably less than a mile, just make a left at the first opportunity. This will take you across the creek and back to the parking area.

If you continue on, you'll follow the stream for about half a mile before making a sharp left that will take you across the creek again. Then it will take you back to the trailhead, which is about another half mile. It's a very nice little hike.


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