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By Margie Anderson
Outdoors Editor 

Seven Great Places To Take Winter Guests

Perfect Time Of Year To Take Your Winter Guests

 

February 1, 2024

John and I couldn't resist a selfie on this beautiful spot on one of the trails at Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

This is the perfect time of year to take your winter guests or your family to some of the wonderful places in Arizona that get a bit warm in the summertime. We've taken the granddaughters to all of these places, and believe it or not, Trinity tells us that the Hassayampa Preserve was her favorite hike ever!

Some of these places are free to visit, and others are not, so I'm including current prices as well as how to get there and what not to miss! Enjoy!

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

The girls have loved going here ever since they were little. There are great trails, bridges, mining shacks, and even a small lake to explore. Our favorite trail is the High Trail, which has rock stairways and gives you an amazing view of the beautiful desert around Superior. You can bring your well-behaved dog, too.

The Arboretum has incredible gardens with plants from all over the world, and they have daily general tours as well as specialty walks if you want to focus on birds, geology, or botany. They also have classes and programs including gardening, gourd art, and photography. You can find out all about the programs at http://www.btarboretum.org.

Cost: $24.95 13+, $10 5-12, under 5 free.

Address: 37615 E. Arboretum Way Superior, AZ 85173 Just take US 60 east and watch for the sign near Superior.

Hours: May thru September Mon-Sun 6 am to 3 pm Closed Tuesdays June – September

Oct thru April open daily 8 am – 5 pm

Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas

Gilbert Riparian Preserve At Water Ranch

This is an amazing place with a number of ponds and trails, lots of trees, and an incredible number of birds almost all year long. You can spend hours here wandering around looking at the different birds on the ponds. The kids love the trails and they also have Parent/Tot programs, After School Adventures, and more. This place is beautiful and the amazing thing is that it's right in the city! You'd never know it once you get on the trails though.You can bring your dog along, too! Find out more at http://www.gilbertaz.gov

Cost: Free unless you want to rent a facility.

Address: 2757 E Guadalupe Rd, Gilbert AZ 85234

Hours: 5:30 am – 10 pm Trails open dawn to dusk

Sabino Canyon

This amazingly beautiful canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest. John and I visited there years ago and had a wonderful time. We saw a lot of wildlife, birds, insects, etc. What we did was take the tram to the top of the road, then we walked down. It's closed to private vehicles, but there are two different shuttles that have 30-minute round trips and three stops. You're welcome to get off at any stop. There are 30 miles of trails, and a bookstore with maps and souvenirs. No pets allowed in Sabino Canyon and no camping. Find out more at fs.usda.gov. For shuttle info http://www.sabinocanyoncrawler.com

Cost: Day use $8 per vehicle

Shuttle tours: $15 for adults, $8 under 12, $8 for one-way ride

Hours: Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is always open, but the bookstore, visitor center, and shuttle services are only open 8 am – 4:30 pm daily.

Address: 5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, AZ 85750

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

This place is a must-see for Arizona as far as I'm concerned. It's a zoo, a botanical garden, and a museum all in one, and it's an absolutely amazing and beautiful place. Just walking around the place is an adventure, and you'll see desert animals like wolves, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, bighorn sheep, javelina – you name it. The kids always especially liked the snakes and spiders, and there is always a lot of oohing and aahing in that area! It takes at least 2 hours to see the whole place!

They have tours and demos, raptor free flights, avian adventures, gardens, aquariums (you can touch sting rays!), and even a packrat playhouse for kids. Honestly, you have to go. Learn more at http://www.desertmuseum.org.

Cost: $29.95 adults, $27.95 65+, Arizona resident $24.95, 3-12 $19.95, Military $27.95

Hours: Oct – May 8:30 am – 5 pm

June – September 7:30 am – 2 pm open for cool summer nights on Saturdays

Address: 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson AZ 85743

Hassayampa River Preserve

This place changes with the seasons, and cool rainy seasons are the best! The ground is carpeted with grass so green it looks fake, and there are little streams to cross on wooden planks, which the kids absolutely love. There are plenty of trails here, and the visitor center is a beautiful old building that is fun to explore as well. A few years back the Nature Conservancy took care of this place, but now the Maricopa County Parks runs the Preserve.

You might see any of 280 species of birds that live or migrate through this amazing place, and the trails are beautiful with lots of trees, a lovely pond called Palm Lake, benches to sit on, and a picnic area. Last time we were there a fox was in the picnic area! They have guided bird walks (registration required), a discovery station called Cactus Curiosity, and a guided riparian walk that also requires registration. You can find out more at http://www.maricopacountyparks.net. No pets allowed.

Cost: $5 per person, 12 and under free

Hours: May through October Wed-Sun 7 am to 4 pm. Trails close at 3:30

Nov thru April: Wed-Sun 8 am to 5 pm. Trails close at 4:30.

Address: 49614 US Hwy 60 89, Wickenburg AZ 85390

Dragonfly Trail

This is one of our favorite desert hikes and the girls still love to go there. After the hike it's our tradition to have breakfast at the Grotto in Cave Creek – it makes for a great day. We've taken many of their friends to Dragonfly as well, and everyone loves it. It's a pretty easy hike, only about a mile and a half long, and not too much elevation gain. Pretty smooth going most of the way, but not set up for strollers or wheelchairs at all.

When Cave Creek is flowing this trail is really hard to beat. The lower part of the trail follows the creek for quite a ways, then crosses the creek right before a big open area that turns into a nice little pond when the creek is running. There are plank bridges for the crossings. There used to be a little cave the kids liked to go in (only about 4 feet deep) but last time we were there it was closed off.

You'll see a lot of gorgeous Arizona scenery here in the riparian area by the creek and on the hills around it. Absolutely beautiful. This is part of what is called The Jewel Of The Creek. Dogs on leashes are allowed.

Cost: Free

Hours: all

Address: Spur Cross Ranch Road 0.2 miles before the main parking lot for Spur Cross. Look to your left for the small parking area and Jewel of the Creek sign.

Montezuma Well

We've always thought that Montezuma Well was a lot more fun to visit than Montezuma Castle, but of course if it's your first time, definitely do both. The well is about an 11 mile trip north from the castle. Park, walk up a small hill, and boom! There's Montezuma Well, a circular depression with an almost perfectly round lake at the bottom. There is a paved path down to the water, and there are cliff dwellings along the sides of the sinkhole.

The trail down to the Montezuma Well is paved and definitely worth taking. You'll get to explore some old dwellings near the water.

Kids absolutely love walking that little trail and exploring some of the ruins, and there are interpretive signs to help you understand the importance and uniqueness of this spot. Whatever you do, don't miss the trail to the outlet. Water comes out of the rocks there and goes into a little channel and the area right around it is lush and shady, so different from the desert around it. This place is definitely magical and the kids absolutely love it. Pets on leashes are allowed (leashes 6' and under).

Cost: $10 per person at Montezuma Castle (The Well is considered part of this)

Hours: The Castle and Visitor Center are open 8-5, closed Christmas and New Years. Montezuma Well hours are 8-4:45, picnic area 8-4

Directions to Montezuma Well: Take exit 293 from I-17.

Address: Montezuma Castle 2800 Montezuma Castle Road, Camp Verde AZ 86322

 

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