Arizona Day Trips – 5 Awesome Hikes in the Southwest

It’s a well known fact that Arizona is beautiful, often breathtakingly so. From the fascinating Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona to the red rock country near Sedona and the Grand Canyon, Arizona features a staggering diversity of landscapes and awe-inspiring wonders, perfect for Arizona Day Trips and adventures. But with so many amazing places to trek, just where to you draw the line? Allow us the opportunity to present to you five of the most awesome, wondrous and secluded hikes in the southwest that are perfect destinations for your next hiking adventure.

The first of our five Day trips in Arizona offering big, uninterrupted space, plenty of cactus and southwestern flora to to experience and the unspoiled splendor of one of Earth’s major ecosystems…

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus | Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Beth Krueger knows the desert. As a trip leader and interpretive guide, she once spent four days camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, surveying birds and other wildlife. While most hikers avoid summers in this part of the world, this is Beth’s favorite season. At this time of year, she can savor the fruit of the organ pipe cactus, purported to be the best tasting in the world.

Beth and I collaborated on a late winter outing at the park’s nearly pristine desert wilderness, celebrating the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Our group hiked to the summit of Mt. Ajo, an incredibly beautiful trek which enabled us to experience the Sonoran Desert at it’s finest.

We marveled at magnificent organ pipe and saguaro cacti as well as a rich assortment of extraordinary plants. The preserve is a showcase for plants and creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this southwest region. Located between Arizona’s Ajo Mountains and the Mexico border, Organ Pipe is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus appears, rare in the United States but common in Mexico

A hiker can explore many sections of this international biosphere preserve where big views, uninterrupted space, lots of the namesake cactus and one of the Earth’s major ecosystems survives in almost unspoiled splendor. The monument lies next to Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which is connected to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. Together, these lands represent a large, unbroken desert habitat, home to species such as the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, Quitobaquito pupfish and desert bighorn sheep.

Our group hiked one and a half miles through dense stands of giant columnar cactus to the Bull Pasture overlook. There are exceptional views in every direction. The immediate surroundings are filled with smaller peaks, canyons, and other rocks formations; and in the distance are more mountains. If winter rains are generous, this vicinity of the park erupts with dense stands of Mexican Gold Poppies and other gorgeous wildflowers.

After we left Bull Pasture, the official trail ended and the unofficial cairned route began. A series of switchbacks quickly took us up several hundred feet, and the views just kept getting better. Before long, boulders and rock formations that were part of the backdrop at the beginning were now right in front of us. After a few short, steep switchbacks with some loose footing, the route meandered alongside amazing rock outcrops, including windows, arches and a series of huge cone-like stone formations.

At this point, the awesomeness factor jumped to a whole new level. After another mile of hiking on a ridgeline with stunning views, a short but fun boulder hop landed us atop Mount Ajo, the tallest mountain in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (http://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm). We scrambled a short distance on the summit and more grand views emerged. There was a large and colorful rock slab that looked like a spaceship, covered in lime green lichen. This made for a great resting spot.

On the return hike, we completed a loop hike by taking the Estes Canyon Trail to the trail head.  Estes Canyon is spectacular for birding and has many beautiful organ pipe cactus and saguaros. It’s a great place to observe the unique botany and ecology of this fascinating region.

For a brief cyber journey of this southwestern wonderland, turn up your speakers and enjoy Organ Pipe Magic.

NEXT UP: Top 5 Arizona Day Trips – Wet Beaver Creek


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About the Author
Mitch Stevens has been leading hiking and backpacking outings throughout the southwest for over ten years. As a Sierra Club hiking leader, writer and photographer, he has promoted the enjoyment and conservation of our remaining wild lands. Born and raised in New York City, Mitch came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. Through his countless trips across the state and region, Mitch made it his mission to encourage fellow hikers and enthusiasts to protect the beauty of the desert. Now, he continues to embrace his fascination with the desert beauty by creating and leading multigenerational tours throughout the southwest. His experience coupled with his passion for the great outdoors make him a unique tour guide and outings leader.
  1. Benrog15@gmail.com'
    Brenda Reply

    I am very interested in doing this with my family. My child is 10 years old. How many miles do you cover in a day? Is there a fee? An age limit? Brenda

    • Mitch Stevens Reply

      Hi Brenda,
      What hike are you specifically interested in and when are you planning on going?
      Thanks, Mitch Stevens

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