The Southwest

The Subway Cave

Sedona
Uptown Sedona (Sedona proper) is usually pretty busy with heavy traffic. It’s a cute area with tons of shops, if that’s your thing. I normally skip that area and just do some hikes and then go to a winery or two. There are a TON of hikes, so I recommend downloading the AllTrails app and finding whichever hike you plan on doing there too.


Boynton Canyon Trail Head and the Subway Cave- The trail head is in West Sedona, near Enchantment Resort (Google “Boynton Canyon Trail Head”). You can park in the parking lot and pay for a Red Rocks Day Pass, or you can park on the side of the road and walk in. Just be sure to watch the signs and not park in a tow-away zone! There are bathrooms at the trail head if you need them, too.
The Boynton Canyon trail is an out and back, about 8 miles total. Towards the end is a steeper incline and lots of rocks. It will look like the trail stops when you get to the big boulder- just go up and around and you’ll be at the end in a few minutes!
Recommendations: Be careful at the end- the rock face can be pretty slippery!
Difficulty Level: Easy
The Subway Cave is a “secret” path off of the Boynton Canyon trail. At the 2 mile mark on Boynton, you’ll see a unique tree (pictured below) and a well-established trail off to the right. Take that trail! There will be a broken tree (like a tree stump, but not a clean cut) about 3ft high at a fork in the trail- the trail looks like it continues to the left, but take the sharp turn to the right and continue on the smaller trail. Make sure you are watching for little landmarks along the way, as it’s easy to miss your turns on the smaller trails on the way back! When you get to the Subway Cave, you can carefully climb up the steep rock face in the crevice, or there is another trail to the left that goes up by the pillared rock caves and you can walk around to the Subway Cave from there. When I went, we climbed up the crevice, walked around to the other side, and came down the little trail (instead of sliding on our butts down the same way we came up).
Recommendations: I’d suggest hiking boots on this one. It’s slippery, narrow, and a lot more dangerous than some of the other hikes in the area.
Difficulty Level: Moderate (because of the end of the trail/getting up into the cave)


Devil’s Bridge- I did this with a friend in February, and we did it mid-day. Depending on the time of year, it will definitely make a difference for how busy it is! Most people will suggest going very early. You’ll head to “Devil’s Bridge Trail Parking Lot,” but you can also park along Dry Creek Road/ Boynton Pass Road (on Google Maps, Dry Creek Road looks like it goes past the parking lot but that road is for 4×4’s with high clearance or more ideally, a UTV. Put it this way, we have a Jeep and I would not drive it on that road!)
There are two ways to get to the Devil’s Bridge Trail Head: First (and recommended!) is to take the Chuckwagon Trail to the Devil’s Bridge Trail. It’s more scenic, with better views of the Red Rocks. It does add a bit of length to your trip, but it’s worth it. The second way (which I would recommend taking back to the parking lot/road after you’re done) is to walk along Dry Creek Road. This way will be very dusty, as UTV’s and a few trucks drive along it. Total distance from parking on the road- Chuckwagon Trail- Devil’s Bridge Trail- Dry Creek Road- back to the car: approximately 6 miles.
Difficulty Level: Moderate, because of the end of the trail. You’re climbing up some big boulders, and the area near the bridge can be slippery and dangerous.

Kristi and I at Devil’s Bridge

Thunder Mountain Trail Head- The trail head here is also in West Sedona, with a decent sized lot. Disclaimer: our Airbnb (Luna de Sedona Casita) was actually close to here, so we just walked to the trail head! We had our daughter in her pack, so we didn’t do a long hike here- we followed the Lower Chimney Rock Trail to the Upper Chimney Rock Trail, and then caught the Thunder Mountain Trail on the SE side to return to the trail head.
Difficulty Level: Easy


Jordan Road/ Jim Thompson Trail Head (to Seven Sacred Pools and Devil’s Kitchen)- We were up early (before dark), so we began hiking as the sun was rising. We were debating on starting at Soldier’s Pass or Jordan Road, but found out that Soldier’s Pass Parking Lot opens at 8am and there is usually a line. Since we were up so early, we went to Jordan Road and took the Cibola Pass Trail to Jordan Trail over to Devil’s Kitchen and then continued on Soldier’s Pass Trail up to the Seven Sacred Pools. On the way back, we followed the Jordan Trail back to the parking lot (it makes a loop with Cibola Pass Trail).
Recommendations: Go early if you want to do a super short hike to Devil’s Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools… but you’re really missing out if you don’t do the Cibola Pass Trail!
Difficulty Level: Easy

Cibola Pass Trail
Devil’s Kitchen (see Adam over there?)

Grasshopper Point and Slide Rock- Slide Rock is great, but I don’t like people or waiting in line… and that’s exactly what you’re dealing with. Plus, you need to watch the E. Coli levels before you head there. However; when we went in February, it wasn’t very busy, but we had jackets on and had no intention of swimming. Anyway, we opted for Grasshopper Point when we visited in May. There were still a lot of people, but there’s a parking lot, facilities, and it’s an easy walk to the creek. It is very rocky after the paved path ends, so carry light (we had our daughter along, so Adam and I ended up carrying a cooler, our pool bag, the diaper bag, the stroller, and our daughter. Going back I would leave the stroller, but we needed it for her to sit still for 5 seconds.)

Bump photo, 7 months!

The Grand Canyon– South Rim
We’ve only been to the South Rim, mainly because it’s the easiest to get to from Phoenix/Flag. The Visitor Center is located at Mather Point, and there are wonderful paved paths along the rim with several lookout points, but too many people. I enjoy the roadside stops along Route 64/ Desert View Dr (between the East Entrance and South Entrance Rd) a lot more, and there are still paved pathways along a lot of it! Near the East Entrance, you can stop and climb to the top of the Desert View Watch Tower for more great views! This has been a little less busy than Mather Point when I’ve gone, but there are still quite a few people.
However, my favorite place to go while I’m visiting is Shoshone Point. It’s a very easy, flat trail (out and back, 2 miles total) with pavilions and bathrooms at the end. you can walk out past the picnic tables to the point for some amazing views! And bonus: I’ve only seen a max of 5 other people here, and I’ve done it 4 times!
Difficulty Level: Easy (in fact, my 75 year old mom did it.)

Page (Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend)
We easily added this on as a half day trip (we stayed overnight in Flagstaff, drove up to Page in the morning and did the Antelope Canyon tour, stopped by Horseshoe Bend, went in the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon, walked the Shoshone Point trail, left out of the South Entrance, and went back to Flag all in one day). It was busy, but do-able!
Upper Antelope Canyon requires no hiking at all- it’s an above ground, flat 1/4 mile walk in sand/on sandstone. The canyon walls are “A” shaped here, beacause the entire canyon is above ground. You will need to have a tour set up (or in our case we just drove up to one of the outfitters on Highway 98 and hopped on the next available) and they take you in a 4-wheel drive truck to the slot entrance. The guides stay with your group at all times, and are very knowledgeable about the geology and history of the area. Lower Antelope Canyon is a little more strenuous, as you have to climb ladders down into the canyon- since you’re going down, the canyon walls are “V” shaped. We did not do Lower Antelope Canyon; all of our pictures are from Upper.
Note: You must go with a tour operator for both Upper and Lower; it was mandated by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation after an incident in 1997.

Phoenix
We spent 11 months in Phoenix (Jan-March 2020, and October 2020-May 2021). Surprisingly, we didn’t do as much here as I thought we would have… we spent a lot of time with family, and a lot of time golfing.

Hike Camelback
This hike was a little more difficult to do, so definitely bring a lot of water. First things first… parking. There is a parking lot at the Echo Canyon trailhead (one of two trailheads, the La Cholla trail is still closed) but it fills up fast. You can’t wait for a spot to open up, so you either have to drive around and try again, or just go park somewhere nearby and Uber in. We parked at a Trader Joe’s (and made a purchase there) and took an Uber to the entrance. The La Cholla trail closed with Covid, but I would be surprised if they re-opened, as you have to park on the side of a busy street and walk through the neighborhood to the trail (there is a lot of signage). The hike is mainly scrambling over big boulders as you ascend. Overall, I am glad we did the hike- the views of the city are cool and everyone talks about this one, but A-Mountain/ Hayden Butte has just about the same views (and it’s less busy, easier to do, and there are things to do nearby since it’s in downtown Tempe on the ASU campus).


A-Mountain or Hayden Butte
This was an easy “hike” to do, and the views at the top were great! It really only took about 20 minutes to get to the top, so you could easily squeeze this into any itinerary.

Pin at the parking lot to go to. The trailhead is clearly marked (there are 2 paths that join together about halfway up)

Parking is kind of strange here- I couldn’t find too much information online before we had gone, so hopefully this helps! This parking lot is in the perfect location if you want to stop at one of the restaurants/coffee shops after, otherwise there is also parking closer to the Salt River/Tempe Town Lake- on the map it’s “Tempe Beach Park Surface Lot.”


Bartlett Reservoir
Located northeast of the metro, this reservoir is popular with boaters and fisherman (especially those who don’t have deep pockets or slips on Lake Pleasant). There are a few beaches along the reservoir too, and Rattlesnake Cover even has several shelters and grills by their parking lot. If you follow the road north from the Marina, you’ll reach Rattlesnake Cove, as well as SB Cove Swimming Area and the Bartlett Flats (where you can camp, so bring your RV!). You’ll also be able to see across the reservoir to the Yellow Cliffs.
This is a fun way to spend the morning or afternoon, plus you can stop in Cave Creek on your way (or way back) for your western/cowboy fix. I’d recommend Buffalo Chip Saloon for some food and to watch bull riding and mutton bustin’ (typically Wednesdays and Fridays, but check their full schedule for music and more here)
You can purchase your pass at the Cave Creek Ranger Station (on the corner, when you turn off of N Cave Creek Rd).


White Tank Mountains
Located in the West Valley, the White Tanks are beautiful and easy to access if you’re in Phoenix! My in-laws liked to go here when they visited because there are trails that are easy enough for young kids and older adults, and because it’s by my husband’s cousin’s house. We personally enjoyed the Waterfall Canyon Trail and the Black Rock Loop with young kids. There are several more trails, and the park is additionally open for biking, horseback riding, and multi-day hikes (with permit).
Price: $7 per vehicle
Official website with more information here.
­čÜ╝Trails are not stroller friendly. We have a Baby Jogger City Mini GT2 (with big rubber wheels) and we used that on the Black Rock Loop, but it was still difficult and I would have preferred to pop Mila into a hiking pack.


Neighborhood Hiking
There are a ton of hikes to throughout the Valley, and we always did the same one because it was conveniently located right outside my brother-in-law’s house! The trails/peak don’t have an official name, but it’s near the Cave Buttes Recreation Area. Other notable neighborhood hikes are: Lookout Mountain, Phoenix Mountains Preserve (so many trails throughout!), North Mountain Park, and Piestewa Park. Basically, you can just go to Google Maps and zoom in to a neighborhood to see all of the trailheads.

Hiking in a North Phoenix neighborhood

Other Popular Hikes
We didn’t get around to hiking everywhere we wanted to, but a couple of other hikes to look into would be:
Superstition Mountains- There are several trailheads near Gold Canyon and the Lost Dutchman State Park
South Mountain Park and Preserve- official website with maps and trailheads here.


Desert Botanical Gardens
The gardens are fun to walk around, especially to see and learn about the different plants native to the area! I’d definitely recommend it if you have some time to kill near downtown Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale. They also have events all the time, so be sure to check out their calendar here!
Price (range based on events): Adults $30-$40, Children 3-17 $15-$19, Children under 3 are free
The 2nd Tuesday of each month is Community Day (free admission!). Reservation required.
Official website here.

Adam and (pregnant) me

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park
We went early in the morning, as soon as they opened (the line gets very long for entry!) and had a great time. Mila was about 6 months old, and my nephew was 1 year and they both enjoyed it. There’s a lot to see, so you could easily spend the better part of the day here! Check Groupon for better ticket prices.
Price: Adults 13+ $45, Children 3-12 $26, Children 2 & under are free
Visit their website for more details here.


Golf
We like to golf, but we don’t have a disposable income to spend on rounds. So we frequented the courses in and around Sun City (known for their “age-restricted communities” in the valley, aka retirement central) because they were a bit cheaper and more laid back; and since I’m not very good, it worked out well! Let’s just say we weren’t playing TPC Scottsdale…


Other Fun Things for Kids
Once it got warm enough (by May), we were on a search for a fun park with a splash pad and we certainly found it! Paloma Community Park in Peoria was the BEST! The splash pad was huge and brand new, plus they have pavilions you can rent, a huge playground, a fishing lake, a baseball complex, and more. Another worthy contender was the Adventure Playground and Splash Pad in Anthem. Their splash pad is a little smaller, but the huge playground and kids train definitely make up for it!
Finally, if you’re visiting in fall and are looking for a Pumpkin Patch, stop by MacDonald’s Ranch in North Scottsdale! There are farm animals you can feed, cowboy carnival games, and of course, the pumpkins.


Food and Beverage Worth Noting
Breweries
OHSO Brewery, Paradise Valley or Scottsdale locations are both great- I haven’t been to the others
Goldwater Brewing, Scottsdale
Wren House Brewing
LoveHouse Ale House and Bottle Shop
Front Pourch Brewing, North Phoenix
Simple Machine Brewing, North Phoenix
Superstition Downtown, this is a meadery in downtown Phoenix

Bars
The Whining Pig (& PigTails Speakeasy!), Desert Ridge
Casey Jones (Packer bar), North Phoenix
Edelweiss Biergarten, North Phoenix
Pattie’s Bar, OT Scottsdale
Cien Agaves, OT Scottsdale
Giligin’s, OT Scottsdale
Rusty Spur Saloon, OT Scottsdale
The Mission Old Town, OT Scottsdale
Buffalo Chip Saloon (Bull riding and mutton bustin’ on Fridays), Cave Creek

Food
Que Chevere, Venezuelan food truck with arepas
White Chocolate Grill, North Scottsdale
Vogue Bistro, French cuisine in the west valley
Krua Thai, North Phoenix
Federal Pizza
Barrio Queen, several locations
Yolk Cafe, brunch in North Phoenix
Toca Madera, Scottsdale

Note: This is not a comprehensive list, just a few of the places we have been and enjoyed

Saguaro National Park/ AZ-Sonora Desert Museum

Tucson
For a smaller city in Arizona, Tucson has quite a bit to offer if you know where to look! I’ve done a few short trips there, but I’ve never been there officially on vacation… just for Mila’s Global Entry appointment, once with a friend to help with her boudoir photo session, and Adam and I used to play in a tennis tournament there. My favorite place to stay is this adorable Airbnb (perfect for a bigger family or group of friends- 3Bd, pool, hot tub, etc).

Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum
The botanical gardens here are the real attraction- the zoo and aquarium are alright, but not spectacular (go to Reid Zoo instead). You’ll learn all of the native plants, spend time in the butterfly house, and wander through the zoo and aquarium. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon, or early morning if you want to see more animals!
Time to allot: ~2 hours
Price: Adult 13+ $25, Children 3-12 $14, Children under 3 are free
Official website here.

Saguaro National Park
Just west of Tucson and north of the Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum is this national park with several hiking trails, some wilderness camping, and all the cacti you could want!
Price: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
More info on hiking here.

Mt. Lemmon
*coming soon

Flagstaff & Snowbowl
*coming soon

Jerome
*coming soon