Phoenix is a giant dog-friendly playground just begging to be explored. The east side of the valley is where Cool Whip and Hercules love to play most often. It is an oasis of national forest land, a wilderness area, and various state and regional parks.
I’ve compiled five of our go-to hikes to help you find pet-friendly adventures on the east side of town. Most of these hikes are within an hour of downtown, and each hike has a map at the trailhead and/or is marked with signs along the way.
Lost Dutchman State Park sits on the western edge of the Superstition Mountains, an area filled with good hiking and mysterious local legends. The park is named after the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine,” a lost gold mine from the legend of Jacob Waltz, “The Dutchman.” Waltz reportedly located a lost mine in the 1840s, but still hadn’t given up the location when he died in 1891. Due to the the mysterious nature of these mountains, the mine has yet to be located (cue spooky music and a howl from Cool Whip).
Treasure Loop Trail is an easy hike that provides a fantastic view of the mountains ahead and the east valley sprawling out behind you. With several trails that crisscross along the way, you’re able to adjust the length of your hike as you explore. Lost Dutchman also has camping available with fantastic views and easy access to the trails.
Just down the road from Lost Dutchman State Park is Massacre Grounds Trail. This trail is wrapped up in a gold mining legend from 1848 involving a group of miners who were ambushed and killed while preparing to transport their cache of gold back to Mexico. Despite its dramatic history, Massacre Grounds Trail is a beautiful showcase of desert landscape with a mountain backdrop. This trail is especially rewarding after seasonal rains when a waterfall forms on the cliffs at the end of the trail.
The trail is well maintained and easy to follow as it wanders through cholla, prickly pear, and other desert plants. Once you pass through a fence indicating you are entering the Superstition Wilderness, there is more brush as you make your way into the foothills. This was Herc’s favorite part of the trail — so many opportunities for sniffing out lizards under the bushes! After walking up a section of smooth off-white granite (see photo below), you will come to a split near the end of the trail: left will take you onto the bluff for a beautiful overlook or right will take you down to the base of the seasonal waterfall. Explore both if you have the time.
If you continue driving down the dirt road from the Massacre Grounds parking lot you’ll reach the First Water Trailhead, a launch point for several hikes into the Superstition Mountains. While meandering through the Superstitions, you may come across hieroglyphics, old farm equipment, and various remnants of the gold mining era. However, my favorite “discovery” out here is the spectacular sunrise you can see while hiking up Second Water Trail. It is worth the early morning wake-up!
Starting your hike early also means you’ll be back before the higher midday temperatures. Always keep temperature and access to water in mind while hiking in the desert, especially with dogs. Just because there was water in the creek last time you hiked, doesn’t mean it will be there next time. Be sure you bring enough water for you and your dog.
According to legend, “Butcher” Jones was a doctor who earned his nickname after performing surgeries on his kitchen table. But don’t let that gruesome tale keep you away! The Butcher Jones Recreation Area is a lovely beach and picnic area frequented not only by humans, but also by the local wild horses. Remember to keep your dog on-leash and stay at least 50 feet away from the horses.
Butcher Jones Trail wanders along the edge of Saguaro Lake, a reservoir on the Salt River. Each end of this out-and-back trail connects to the lake, as do several other locations along the way. If your dog loves water, this hike should be at the top of your list. Our hiking pace slows dramatically on this trail because Herc insists on playing in the water whenever he catches a glimpse of it!
If you purchased a Tonto Pass to explore the Butcher Jones Trail, also consider stopping by the Lower Salt River just a few miles down the road. This is one of our favorite pit stops during warm weather or when we don’t have enough time for a long hike. There are several parking lots from which you’ll see paths heading down to the river. From there you can follow along the shoreline and splash in the water. It is also perfectly acceptable to admire the view from a dry spot on shore if your dog is like Cool Whip, who doesn’t like to get her dainty princess toes wet. This is also another great spot to catch a glimpse of the wild horses.
Arizona may be known for its stunning desert landscape, but that’s not all it has to offer. Horton Creek Trail will take you into the woods for a hike to the top of a spring-fed creek. Bring along a snack or lunch to enjoy at the top because you’re going to want to hang out for a while. The scenery makes this hike worth including even though it is about 2-hour drive north-east of Phoenix.
Horton Creek Trail is a relatively gradual climb as you weave your way up through the trees. The water from the spring literally gushes out from the rocks at the top, forming the creek as it runs down along the trial. Even Cool Whip enjoyed hopping through the stream on this hike!
These hikes are a small sampling of the trails available east of Phoenix and I encourage you to venture out beyond this list. A few other pet-friendly areas you may want to explore include Usery Mountain Regional Park, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, and San Tan Mountains Regional Park. Be sure to review the rules at each location for leash requirements and other guidelines. I hope your dogs enjoy these adventures as much as Cool Whip and Hercules do — happy hiking!
Related Article: 7 Essentials for Desert Hiking With Your Dog