Hitting the trail by foot offers one of the best ways to experience the desert flora up close and personal (not to mention fauna with countless species of birds, Big Horn sheep, deer and javelina roaming freely through the landscape). Mesa is surrounded by hiking trails for all ages with varying levels of difficulty and distances to choose from. Though Mesa boasts miles and miles of desert hiking trails, below are some of the more popular paths for visitors.
Usery Mountain Regional Park: More than 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. Trails here are popular because they offer enough elevation to experience spectacular vistas of the Valley. Entry fee. Detailed trail maps available at the on-site Nature Center.
Lost Dutchman State Park: Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Entry fee. Day use and overnight camping available.
San Tan Mountain Regional Park: More than eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The trails within the San Tan Mountain Regional Park offer a unique perspective of the lower Sonoran Desert with wildlife, plant-life and scenic mountain views.
Tonto National Forest: Nearest areas for hiking include the Four Peaks and Superstition Wilderness areas. For detailed hiking locations, contact the Mesa Ranger Station. Tonto Pass necessary for access.
BEFORE YOU GO...
Before heading out to explore the vast Sonoran Desert, take caution. While the desert offers breathtaking scenery, it can also be unfamiliar territory for out-of-town guests not acclimated to the varied temperatures and rugged terrain. Below is a list of tips before hitting the trail.
1) Always pack water. Avoid dehydration by drinking water often throughout your hike. A good rule of thumb is to pack one gallon of water for a full-day of desert exploring.
2) Dress appropriately. Desert temperatures can hit extreme highs and extreme lows in a 24-hour period. Wearing layers helps slow dehydration and limits your sun exposure. Always wear closed-toe shoes. Wearing a hat and sunglasses are also recommended.
3) Apply sunscreen - often. Even in the winter months, Arizona's direct sunlight can cause severe burns.
4) Hike with a friend or in a group. If heading out solo, let someone else know of your plans or alert the ranger where you plan to hike.
5) Never stray from the designated trail. Desert terrain is rugged and unpredictable. Most parks offer maps and marked guides along the trail.
6) Be alert! The desert is full of critters that will attack if approached. Watch for rattlesnakes, Gila monsters and scorpions to name a few. If necessary, make noise so critters know of your presence. Be mindful of their surroundings and treat them with caution and respect.
7) It is very common to pick up cactus needles during your hike. Pack a fine-tooth plastic comb for removing the needles - never use your fingers!
8) Use trail etiquette at all times. Runners and hikers yield to equestrians. Bicyclists should yield to everyone. Downhill traffic should yield to uphill traffic. When in doubt, give other users the right of way.
9) Pack out what you pack in. Deposit trash in receptacles and leave no garbage behind.
10) Knowledgeable guides are available to lead hikes throughout all the parks near Mesa.
11) In an emergency, call 9-1-1. Most parks are equipped to alert services and promptly execute a desert rescue.
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