An exclusive MTS exploration of the Southwest’s lushest and most intriguing desert ecosystem
There's no place quite like the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest. Where else in the U.S. can you go in February or March to see carpets of wildflowers and hike beautiful, sun-warmed trails (in shorts, no less!)? While most of the country lies firmly in winter's icy grip, this corner of Arizona really comes alive, making it the peak time of year to visit our lushest desert ecosystem.
We've put together a star-studded itinerary that hits all the highlights of the region; the Superstiton Wilderness, decorated with rugged volcanic peaks; the Santa Catalina Mountains, with their waterfalls and migrating birds singing along rambling desert streams; and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, famous for its craggy granite spires. And throughout the journey we'll be amid all the wonderous species that make up one of the most diverse ecosystems in the U.S., including—of course—the mighty and ever-present Saguaro cactus.
6 days moderate hiking
- Traverse North America’s lushest desert on this MTS exclusive itinerary, and get up close and personal with that iconic giant of the Southwest—the saguaro cactus
- Soak in six sunny days of hiking on moderate terrain with sweeping vistas at every turn
- Get away from it all in an otherworldly landscape, without traveling too far from home
- Learn about the plants, wildlife, and history of Arizona from our expert naturalist guides
- See ancient petroglyphs, kayak down the Salt River, and visit the Sonoran Desert Museum, a world-class natural history museum
Duration: 6 days Start Location: Phoenix End Location: PhoenixDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
Meet in the hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn Express in Scottsdale, Arizona by 8 a.m., ready to venture out of this fifth largest city in the country. In the spring there is water in Cave Creek, and in the desert water is magic! We take a great hike on the Spur Cross Loop Trail near Elephant Mountain, which begins by passing through a bosque of mesquite trees, where we may startle a few whiptail lizards and vermillion flycatchers along our way. Here, we'll take in amazing views of Tonto National Forest and the amazing landscape beyond. We'll stop for a refreshing lunch break before a short drive to our idyllic lodging for the next two nights. (5.5 miles hiking, 600 feet elevation gain and loss)
Day 2 : McDowell Sonoran Preserve
We'll head northeast toward the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Tom's Thumb trailhead. This is a great climb into rambling granite boulders. At the summit we can take in the whole Valley of the Sun. In a few brief moments, we find ourselves away from the sounds of civilization, crossing over a cactus-laden hill into a wide ravine shadowed by towering giant saguaros. Enjoy your guide's descriptions of this amazingly diverse ecosystem. After a picnic lunch, we'll kick back in kayaks on the beginner-friendly waters of the lower Salt River. Keep your eyes open for wild horses, bald eagles, and river otters as the cool water winds west towards the Valley of the Sun. (4 miles hiking, 800 feet elevation gain and loss)
Day 3 : Pusch Ridge Wilderness
It is only a couple of hours to drive from the Valley of the Sun to the Santa Catalina Mountains, leaving us plenty of time for a great afternoon hike. We start hiking in Catalina State Park and soon thereafter find ourselves in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The elevations in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness range from 2,800 to 9,100 feet, making this one of the most precipitous areas in the southwest. In fact, if you were to hike the entire mountain it would be like taking a trip from Mexico to Canada.
Later, unlace your hiking boots and enjoy the drive south to the vibrant town of Tucson. Rising above the city to heights surpassing 9,000 feet, the beautiful Santa Catalina Foothills serve as the backdrop for our home over the next three nights. In the evening you'll want to sit back and sip on a cocktail as the stars make their nightly debut in the vast desert sky!
(4-6 miles hiking, 600 feet elevation gain and loss)
Day 4 : Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran Desert Museum
Wake up to Tucson’s gorgeous mountain backdrop. The city is almost completely surrounded by these geologic marvels and “sky islands,” amazing biomes that are essentially high-elevation forests surrounded by the a sea of dramatic lowland desert. Today, we get to experience part of this ecosystem in Saguaro National Park, which lies in a valley between the Rincon and Tucson mountain ranges. A classic symbol of the American West and a staple in any desert-themed movie, the stately saguaro cactus (pronounced ‘Sa-WAH-ro’) grows naturally only in the Sonoran Desert (roughly 1.6 million individual saguaros grow in the national park alone). Walk among these giants on our hike today, which takes us past old mining tunnels, ancient petroglyphs, and an optional hike to summit the highest point of the Tucson Mountains, Wasson Peak (4,687'). Lunch will be at the Sonoran Desert Museum. Refreshed from our break, we'll spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this world-renowned natural history museum, zoo, and botanical garden, which features over 1,200 plants and animals such as the adorable—though unforgivably poisonous—gila monster. (3.5-7 miles hiking, 1100 feet elevation gain and loss)
Day 5 : Sabino Canyon and Seven Falls
Bring along water shoes and a bathing suit because today’s desert hike eventually leads to rejuvenating Seven Falls! After crossing Sabino Creek our trail rises up the side of Bear Canyon, leveling off at Seven Falls. Take a dip and a relaxing lunch break on the smooth boulders beside a series of pools, before our hike down through this beautiful riparian oasis. Before dinner, experience the pride and joy of Arizona as we drive up Santa Catalina Highway to Windy Point for an unbeatable sunset. (5 miles hiking, 650 feet elevation gain and loss)
Day 6 : Superstition Mountains Wilderness
Awaken for a hearty breakfast before we depart for the Peralta Trail in the Superstition Mountains. Apache folklore runs along the trails and streambeds, and through the caves and canyons of these rocky desert mountains. Learn the legend of the Lost Dutchman, and listen for the call of the wild once lured explorers with hopes of gold and hidden treasure. Enjoy your lunch in the warmth of the sun, or the shade of a Cottonwood tree, as your guide shares stories and natural history of the area before we hike back to the trailhead.
From here we return to the Phoenix Airport where you can depart on early evening flight—or you can stay on and enjoy more of the desert sunshine! (5 miles hiking, 1200 feet elevation gain and loss)
DATES: Best time to go: February - April, October - November Departures: Nov 9 - 14, 2014 Dec 7 - 12, 2014 Feb 22 - 27, 2015 Mar 15 - 20, 2015 Apr 5 - 10, 2015 Nov 8 - 13, 2015 Dec 6 - 11, 2015
2014 & 2015 Prices
$550 single supplement
Rates quoted are per person, based on sharing double accommodations.
Cave Creek Tumbleweed HotelCave Creek, AZ
Cave Creek’s Tumbleweed hotel was established in 1968 by local Cave Creekers who wanted to continue the tradition of Cave Creek’s small town hospitality. The Tumbleweed Hotel is Cave Creek’s only main street hotel and continues to be part of the fabric of the town by maintaining its Western style decor.
Westward Look ResortTucson, AZ
It’s tranquil, yet mesmerizing. Private, yet wide open. A distinctive Tucson hotel where historic charm and modern luxury unite. Welcome to Westward Look Resort…Tucson’s first and finest resort.
Built in the early 1900s, our 80-acre, certified green resort is flawlessly set at the base of the striking Santa Catalina Mountains. A favorite Tucson hotel and vacation destination, Westward Look offers visitors of all ages the joy of getting close to nature with on-site hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Views of the mountains and city below abound, creating a true sense of serenity.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
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