Hike Into The New Year
January 1, 2018
We have a family tradition of going on a fun hike on New Year's Day each year. Since we live in the desert, this is the best time of year to hike close to home. If you are also a desert rat, now is a great time to go for a hike. Here are some great hikes near Phoenix to get you started.
Wave Cave Hike
This trail is in the Superstitions and it gets quite a bit of traffic - for good reason. The trail takes you to a large cave with incredible views. It's called the Wave Cave because right in front of the cave is a rock formation that looks just like a big wave CURL - you'd swear you could surf on it.
It's an out-and-back trail and the round trip is about four miles. Dogs on a leash are allowed, but be aware that the last quarter mile or so of the trail is pretty steep with loose rock, so it may be difficult for you to hang on to a dog and keep your footing.
Have Good Hiking Shoes
This trail requires good sturdy hiking shoes or boots with plenty of grab on the soles. Also, the road to the trailhead is a dirt road, so a vehicle with a bit of clearance is desirable.
The Wave Cave Trail can be difficult to follow. There is a fork in the trail with a fence, and it can be confusing, but you don't take either fork - instead, go through the zig zag in the fence. The middle part of the trail after the first half mile or so is marked by a big pile of rocks; that signals for you to turn left and follow a wash. In fact, just stay left on the forks and you should be fine.
A Bit Difficult But Worth It
The last bit is really steep and can be difficult if you're not in decent shape. Also, be aware that there can be bees in the cave. That said, lots of people bring young kids - not toddlers, but kids age nine and up or so, and they make it just fine. If you need a little help on the steep slippery bits, you might want to bring trek poles. On the way down you can always sit and slide a bit.
You can see the cave from many places on the trail, so use that as a guide to keep you going in the right direction. This somewhat-challenging hike is totally worthwhile because of the view from the cave. You won't regret doing this one.
To Get There
To get to Wave Cave Trail, take Highway 60 east to Peralta Road. Turn left on Peralta, then after half a mile make a slight left onto Carney Springs Road.
This easy loop trail is just under two miles long and follows the creek. It's part of the Jewel of the Creek Preserve. We love this trail because when the creek is running, it's gorgeous and you get to cross it several times on cool plank bridges. But even when the creek is dry, this beautiful riparian area is lush with green trees and plenty of shade for much of the hike.
When you first begin the hike, you head downhill along the side of the little canyon that holds the creek, and the first fork you come to goes straight to the creek channel. It's the fork to the right. You'll be coming back on this part of the trail if you choose to stay on the high part of the trail at first. We've gone both ways and I must say I prefer to do the high (and less shady) part of the trail at first. You get gorgeous views from up here.
When you do descend to the creek (if you go straight instead of turning right at that first fork), you come to a wide sandy area with a couple of big boulders right in the middle.
If the creek is running, those boulders are little islands in a shallow pool, but even when the creek is dry it's a fun place to take some photos. Once you cross, the trail is mostly in the trees and there is plenty of shade. There's even a small cave that goes about 20 feet or so into the rocks and the kids love to go in there.
It Doesn't Take Long
Even the desert around this trail is gorgeous, with plenty of big saguaros and palo verde trees. There are lots of birds, lizards, rabbits - who knows what you'll see. The trail follows the creek on the way back to the trailhead. To keep on the easy loop, don't take any forks that head away from the creek. You'll cross a final time, and then head back toward the trailhead.
After climbing up some dark rocks that are so angular they almost look like a stairway, you'll realize you are now on the trail that was that fork to the right when you started out. There is a bit of uphill after that because you are now heading up the same part of the trail you started out on.
This trail doesn't take long, but it's so pretty that we just love it. We like to go into Cave Creek and have breakfast at The Grotto Café afterwards. They have great coffee and a killer breakfast burrito.
To Get There
To get to the Dragonfly Trail, take Cave Creek Road to Spur Cross Road. Take Spur Cross road until just before you reach the entrance to Spur Cross. Look to the left and back as you head toward Spur Cross and you'll see a rock wall with a beautiful metal sign that says "Jewel of the Creek". There is a small parking area there, and that's the trailhead.
This park is in north Phoenix close to I-17 so it's easily accessible from almost anywhere. Just take Happy Valley Road west from I-17 to 51st Avenue and turn right. 51st becomes North Stetson Valley Parkway. Follow this as it curves to the left and intersects 55th Avenue. To the right, 55th Avenue becomes Deem Hills Parkway. Turn right onto Deem Hills Parkway and it goes straight to the park.
Varying Degrees Of Difficulty
There are several trails here with varying degrees of difficulty. We chose to do the Ridgeline Trail, which is listed as the most difficult. There is uphill walking involved, but nothing incredibly strenuous.
We entered on the East Trailhead (27500 N 39th Avenue), so we took the Circumference Trail to the Basalt Trail. On this part of the circumference trail, you pass close to the CAP canal, and when we went last New Year's Day, a recent rain had turned a low spot on the road into a big pond, which was fun.
When we reached the Basalt Trail, we turned left, and went up between the hills until we came to the Ridgeline Trail, which goes to the right from there (west). This trail took us up to the top for some gorgeous views, and then brought us back to the Circumference Trail, which we took back to the parking lot. This was a round trip of almost 4-1/2 miles - a great way to start a new year.
An Enjoyable Hike
We really enjoyed this hike because of the views and because the trails are very nice. You can stay on the circumference trail and avoid climbing, and that gives you 5.73 miles. We plan to re-visit this park in the near future and explore some of the other trails as well.
Caveats And Suggestions
Even though it isn't summer, please do not forget to bring along plenty of water. I'm always seeing people strolling along through the desert with absolutely nothing, and that bothers me. I can't tell you the number of times we've given people water, sunscreen, or Band-Aids.
Carry A Small First-Aid Kit
That brings me to another bit of advice: Carry a small first aid kit. You never know who's going to trip and get a scrape, run into a cactus, or get stung by a wasp or something. I have a special little dayhiker backpack that I always carry, even on really short hikes. I carry water for all of us, a first aid kit, hand sanitizer, tissues, sunscreen, etc. The family teases me, but I always have what they need.
Be A Considerate Hiker
Here are some tips for being a considerate hiker: Please be judicious in building cairns. I don't know why, but suddenly it seems as if everyone and their brother is building cairns for no apparent reason. They were originally used to mark trails and intersections, but now there are so many in some places that if you really needed one for guidance, you'd be out of luck.
It's sort of like those teepee things that are everywhere on the trails around Flagstaff. Seriously, we were on one trail and you could hardly see the forest for the teepees.
Okay, I'm off my soapbox. Just try to leave the trail the way you found it. Take your trash with you, and nothing else but photos. Thanks!