Although the Sonoran Desert surrounding the Phoenix metro area in Arizona has plenty of outdoor recreation to offer, one of the most accessible ways to get outside is to go hiking. Now that summer is winding down, and temperatures are mellowing out, it is easier to spend a day in the desert hiking.
Although Arizona hiking offers some spectacular views and is a great way to stay active, it does come with its challenges and dangers. So, before you hit the trail, here are Sonoran Outdoor Adventures top tips for hiking in Arizona.
Top 3 Desert Hiking Tips
1. Know the Seasons
If you live in the Phoenix area, you may already be familiar with the Sonoran Desert’s changing seasons. The primary season’s hikers in this region of Arizona need to be aware of are summer and monsoon season.
The summer is a dangerous time of year for hiking because of the blistering hot temperatures. Most days, short, early morning hikes are the only feasible option. The rest of the day becomes a hazard, and hiking in the hottest part of the day should always be avoided.
Temperatures usually start to climb in May, and some years won’t drop below 100 degrees until the end of September or into October. If you hike with a pet, extra caution should be taken during the summer, as the hot ground can burn their paws, and they easily overheat.
Monsoon season has also started to get longer, but will often fall between July and September. Monsoons are dangerous because the heavy rain and winds cause flash flooding and mudslides. Being aware of the forecast in either season and planning your day around the weather is important to a safe and successful desert hike.
2. Know the Signs of Heat Illnesses
Since there is limited shade when hiking in the desert, not only should you always bring sun protective gear, but you need to know how to recognize heat illnesses. Even in the cooler winter months, the sun can be intense in the middle of the day. Wearing a sun hat and sunscreen can help some, but the combination of constant sun exposure and the physical exertion of hiking can quickly lead to heat-related illnesses.
The two most prevalent heat-related illnesses to watch out for are heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion occurs when you aren’t replacing your electrolytes properly and are continuously exposed to a hot environment. Luckily heat exhaustion is not fatal, but it can lead to heat stroke if left unaddressed.
Heat exhaustion symptoms: headache, cramps, pale skin, cool/moist skin, nausea, and vomiting.
If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke is life-threatening because your body loses its ability to regulate internal temperature. This means your body temperature could rise above 100 degrees quite quickly. Treatment must be provided immediately, especially once symptoms begin to mimic a heart attack.
Heatstroke symptoms: weak/rapid pulse, flushed face, dry skin, confusion, hallucinations, fainting/unconsciousness, high core body temperature, or seizures.
See more information on heat-related illnesses and how to avoid them on the American Hiking Society website.
3. Drink Enough Water
A big part of avoiding heat-related illnesses is drinking enough water and replenishing electrolytes as you sweat. Although dehydration is a real danger in the desert, it is also possible to drink too much water. So, regulating the amount of water you drink as you hike is important.
The average adult should plan to drink anywhere from ½ – 1 liter of water per hour of hiking.
Your hiking pace, your general level of fitness, the terrain, and temperature will also change how much water you need to drink during any given hike.