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Get out at sunrise to enjoy spectacular summer hiking in the Valley

Enjoy the flora and fauna along the winding 6-mile Go John Trail loop at Cave Creek Regional Park. (Photos: Jill Adair/
By Jill Adair | Arizona Digital Free Press

With temps well into the triple digits, summer hiking can still be an option for enjoying the outdoors — as long as you get started early and take plenty of water!

The nice thing about Scottsdale is you don’t have to go far to find a great hike. Here are a few local favorites and must-sees any time of the year:

Tom’s Thumb at Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Interesting rock formations all along the trail, including the piece de resistance at the top.

Ascending more than 1,200 feet, hikers will enjoy interesting rock formations and spectacular views along this 4-mile out-and-back hike to the rock named after Tom Kreuser — the first member of the Arizona Mountaineering Club to climb it decades ago.

Heading up the switchbacks from Tom’s Thumb trailhead, you’ll see panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains as well Phoenix, Scottsdale and Cave Creek, plus you may see some desert wildlife, including rattlesnakes (this is a wildlife preserve) so watch your steps!

Enter and park at the north gate to the preserve, which opens at sunrise, and the hike will take you two to three hours to complete. No fee to hike here. There are numerous trails branching off from this trailhead, but if you want to see the “Thumb,” follow the signs.

Many hiking trails through the McDowell Mountains begin here.

Go John Trail at Cave Creek Regional Park

Expansive views from the hiking trails at Cave Creek Regional Park.

For a delightful desert hike with all its flora and fauna, try the winding 6-mile Go John Trail loop with an elevation gain of about 850 feet at Cave Creek Regional Park.

Even though the trail is smooth and well-maintained, you’ll feel way more out of town than you actually are with spectacular views of the surrounding area and an abundance of mighty saguaros and cholla cactus.

Stop at the Nature Center for more info about what wildlife you might see here, including deer, and bring the binoculars in your backpack if you like bird-watching as there is a great variety.

The park opens at 5 a.m. and there is a $7 per vehicle entry fee for Maricopa County Parks. The hike will take a couple of hours, depending on how much you stop and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Sonoran Desert.

Many varieties of cacti are found along the desert trails.

Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Elevated views of Saguaro Lake from Butcher Jones Trail.

If you like hiking around water, and who doesn’t — especially in the summer —then enjoy the best lake-viewing hike around: the 6-mile out-and-back Butcher Jones Trail in the Tonto National Forest.

Nearly each step along this narrow trail with a 636-foot incline will give you gorgeous, elevated views of Saguaro Lake, popular for fishing, water-skiing and wakeboarding. You may also catch a glimpse of a variety of wildlife in and out of the water, including wild Salt River horses that may be frolicking in the lake or bedding down among the trees.

You can turn around at any time on this out-and-back trail, but getting to the end is a payoff view and you can always jump in the lake to cool off at several spots along the way.

Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash. Wear good shoes as the trail is rocky. Access to enjoy this recreation area requires a $8 Tonto Daily Pass, which can be purchased at several convenience stores on the drive to the lake.

The end of Butcher Jones Trail rewards the hiker with a view of a tiny island and desert vistas.
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