Desert rats don’t have to travel far for a cactus-and-coyote fix.
Aficionados disagree about which city park is the country’s largest. Some count state and federal parks located near (but not in) a city, in which case Anchorage’s 490,125-acre Chugach State Park beats all comers. But when considering municipal parks that are within a city’s physical, cultural, and civic boundaries, Phoenix’s South Mountain Preserve takes the prize. At more than 16,000 acres, it’s no exaggeration to say the park is big enough to get lost in. Best plan: Connect the Alta, Bajada, and National Trails, on the park’s remote west side, for a challenging eight-mile loop. Most visitors stick to more accessible areas and smoother trails, so this route–steep, rocky, and rough in places–is perfect for solitude-seeking hikers. En route, you’ll pass Sonoran highlights like towering saguaros and, in spring, blooming barrel cactus and prickly pear. Note: Start at the Alta trailhead the first weekend of every month; at other times, due to a road closure, park at the Ranger trailhead and add 4.2 miles (total). phoenix.gov/parks