There are some significant differences from hiking in the desert compared to hiking in the woods. Before moving to Arizona I never thought hiking in the desert would be fun, but I absolutely love it now! Thank goodness I do too because if I didn’t, I would need to drive 2 hrs away every time I wanted to hike.
The desert has a calm and peaceful feeling to it. After hiking AZ trails for more than 10 years, I appreciate the desert more than I ever did before. Desert hiking is a great experience, but it’s important to know a few things before heading out.
1 | Go hiking when the temperatures are not as extreme. It is not a good idea to go hiking in the 120+ degree heat in the middle of summer. This may seem like common sense, but it isn’t. There are numerous people that are rescued off the Phoenix Mountains during the hot summer months every week. The image above was taken at one of my most favorite places to hike- the Superstition Mountains. Flat Iron is the most difficult hike in this area and people are needing to be rescued all the time.
2 | Carry all the water you will need for your hike. Don’t count on refilling your water bottles along the way. The best rule of thumb is to bring (and drink) one liter of water for every hour you will be hiking.
3 | Be prepared for storms. Rain that falls miles away in the mountains can create a flashflood which roars down a bone-dry gully. Thunderclouds over mountains on the horizon could mean that water is coming your way, so stay out of dried waterways.
4 | Carry insect repellent to fight off mosquitos and other pesky critters. I I see so many recommendations for DEET- but in my opinion, this is far from the best option. DEET is seriously toxic. I use Deet free bracelets (that are good for up to 100 hours) OR I use my own insect repellent which is a combination of essential oils and witch hazel.
5 | Again- this may seem obvious, but there is little shade in the desert and prepare to burn like a lobster if you are not protected from the sun. Whenever possible, wear light, loose, long-sleeved shirts, long nylon pants, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Also, re-apply sunscreen periodically-especially if you are sweating a great deal or you are wiping it off.
6 | Carry a multi-purpose tool in your pack. The pliers for example are useful for extracting cactus needles. On this note, this is why it’s important to stay on the trail. The baby cactus that can camouflage into the environment. If you aren’t looking, you could easily step on one. On one of our tours, a guest stooped down to take a photo of a cactus and almost put his bum on one!
7 | Watch out for dangerous and poisonous plants. Brushing up against a cactus while wearing short pants can easily take an hour out of your hike and possibly ruin the whole thing.
8 | This Do can never be stated enough- let someone know where you are going. Whether you live in the desert or plan on visiting one in the near future, there are thousands of desert trails to choose from. You can find local hiking trails such as nwf.org (National Wildlife Federation’s website), trails.com, alltrails.com, and localhikes.com. On these sites, you can search locations by zip code and pull up detailed information on each trail. You can find out the level of difficulty, trail length, animals and plants you’ll see along the way and hiker reviews. If you are going solo, be sure to tell your friends or family the specific trail you are going on, the length, and how long you intend to be gone for.
9| A good sturdy hiking boot with great traction is also a must. Look for hiking boots/shoes that are beefy, thick sides, but not too heavy. If you plan on taking your kids hiking on a consistent basis, then invest in a pair of kids hiking boots as well.
10 | Watch out for dangerous critters. Arid regions have more venomous and poisonous critters than cooler areas. Snakes and reptiles are in the sun to warm up when it’s cool and in the shade to stay cool when it’s hot. Never put your hand where you cannot see, like in a hole or under a rock. Always check around the area before you rest or sit down. Keep your ears open for a rattlesnake’s warning.