★★★☆☆ Moderate / Phoenix Area

Nab a quick escape from Phoenix’s northern ‘burbs on these pretty desert trails! The combined Sidewinder, Ridgeback, Ocotillo Hiking Trail Loop crosses flat arroyos and Saguaro studded hills in the Sonoran Desert Preserve. At the highest point, 360° views stretch to Camelback Mountain, Crown King and Four Peaks. Hike early or late and you’ll likely see hot air balloons floating nearby.


TRAILHEAD: 1600 East Sonoran Desert Drive, Phoenix    DIFFICULTY: MODERATE  •  DISTANCE: 4.56 MILE LOOP  •  APPROX. TIME: 2.5 – 3.5 HOURS  •  ELEVATION GAIN: 600 FEET (43 STORIES)  •  APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 600-685  •  BEST TIME OF YEAR: NOV. – MARCH  •  PETS: YES  •  KID FRIENDLY: A little long for kids  •  FACILITIES: YES but no water  •  FEES: none

With over 20 interconnecting trails, the Sonoran Desert Preserve offers a mind-boggling array of possible hiking mash-ups. An all-time favorite is the Sidewinder, Ridgeback, Ocotillo combo. This well-marked loop is wonderfully varied and a welcome escape from Phoenix’s northern sprawl. From the Apache Wash Trailhead, head right onto Sidewinder Trail. This leg curves around the preserve’s easternmost hill and offers sweet views of the area.

A landscape view of hikers on the Sidewinder Hiking Trail leading to the Ridgeback Hiking Trail. In North Phoenix’s Sonoran Desert Preserve. Phoenix area hiking trails. Moderate Arizona Hiking trails. Dog friendly hiking trails. Copyright azutopia.com. No use without permission.After less than a mile of moderate uphill, the Sidewinder Trail slowly descends and then flattens out to cross the desert floor. Just before this descent, a side trail leads to the Apache Vista overlook. Feel free to skip this, as better views are to come!

A landscape view of hikers on the Ridgeback Hiking Trail leading to the Overton Hiking Trail. In North Phoenix’s Sonoran Desert Preserve. Phoenix area hiking trails. Moderate Arizona Hiking trails. Dog friendly hiking trails. Copyright azutopia.com. No use without permission.An easy stroll across the desert floor is followed by a winding hike through low foothills. Here Sidewinder intersects with Ridgeback. Turning left onto Ridgeback, the hike begins to climb as it loops back towards the start. This leg is the steepest portion of the hike. Make it to the top and you’re gold!

A landscape view of the hills and Satellite Tower in the Sonoran Desert Preserve. From the top of the Ridgeback Hiking Trail. Phoenix area hiking trails. Moderate Arizona Hiking trails. Dog friendly hiking trails. Copyright azutopia.com. No use without permission.A short access trail leads to the top of Ridgeback and amazing views, stretching for miles in every direction. The full length of the preserve is visible, all the way to the satellite tower on the western side and beyond.

A landscape view of a hiker and his dog; on the Ridgeback Hiking Trail leading to the Overton Hiking Trail. In North Phoenix’s Sonoran Desert Preserve. Phoenix area hiking trails. Moderate Arizona Hiking trails. Dog friendly hiking trails. Copyright azutopia.com. No use without permission.Celebrate. Because from here on out the hike is all downhill Baby! Ridgeback descends a half mile until it reaches its end at the Ocotillo.

A landscape view of hikers on the Sidewinder Hiking Trail leading to the Ridgeback Hiking Trail. In North Phoenix’s Sonoran Desert Preserve. Phoenix area hiking trails. Moderate Arizona Hiking trails. Dog friendly hiking trails. Copyright azutopia.com. No use without permission.Turn left onto Ocotlilo for the final leg. The trail gently meanders over a series of small undulating gullies. Then it flattens out once again as it heads back to the trailhead.

Balloons; Sky; Moon; Desert; Phoenix; Arizona; Sonoran Desert Preserve; Ridgeback Hiking Trail; Overton Hiking Trail; Sidewinder Hiking Trail. Phoenix Area Hikes. Moderate Hikes. Dog Friendly Hikes.Bonus! During mornings and evenings, October through April, it’s pretty cool to see hot air balloons floating nearby. The flat desert surrounding the Preserve is a popular launch site.

Total Nerdery

The Sonoran Desert Preserve is actually made up of two neighboring sets of hills, with no current connecting trails between them. The northern portion flanks Sonoran Desert Drive. While the southern portion is accessed through the Fireside Development.

Directions: From the intersection of I-17 and the northern loop of AZ-101 (in Phoenix) head north on I-17 for 7 miles to Dove Valley Road / exit 222. Turn right / east onto Dove Valley Road (which becomes Sonoran Desert Drive) and drive for 5.5 miles to the Apache Wash Trailhead Parking lot, on the left side.

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