Hike: Alderfer/Three Sisters Park Loop

 

The Alderfer/Three Sisters Park Loop is a popular pieced-together route consisting of 3 different trails that cover 6.9 total miles of unique landscape throughout the entire park.

The Park:

The Alderfer/Three Sisters Park is a 1,127 acre open space in Jefferson County containing 15.3 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Most of the trails in the park are rated as easy or moderate with only a small section of a difficult trail. One of the most appealing features of the park is the abundance of connecting trails allowing you to map out your own hike at virtually whatever distance and difficulty you desire.

The Hike:

One of the more popular loops in the park starts is 6.9 miles starting from the east parking lot and follows the Sisters Trail up through this difficult rated section through larger boulders and switchbacks. After you muscle up that initial ascent, the trails are moderate or easier the rest of the way.

The loops follows the Sisters Trail under it dead ends into the Ponderosa Trail. After a short time, you’ll veer right onto the Silver Fox Trail bringing you a walkway through a wide open meadow that intersects with the historic Alderfer Ranch. Take a break here to learn about the Alderfer family and the park’s history or do so at the nearby picnic area and parking lot restrooms before continuing across the street to the Wild Iris Loop.

Follow the Wild Iris Loop until veering onto the Evergreen Mountain West Trail through long gradual incline switchbacks through dense timber and even more downed trees. The forest is occasionally thinned by the city to prevent tree growth competition and decrease wildfire hazard which also creates a much more open forest.

You will soon run into the fork that leads up Evergreen Mountain via Summit Trail. This brings you up to the loop around the summit and the parks highest point of 8,527 feet. Take a break and enjoy the open views of Evergreen and even Mount Evans to the west. Feel free to take the 0.1 miles out-and-back to the Scenic View area also for a different viewpoint looking northwest.

After the summit, it’s all downhill from there. Just under 3.5 miles and you’re back at the parking lot after a nice moderate 7-mile hike throughout the entire park!

The Good:

  • Great views of park and mountains

  • Good mix of smooth and rocky trail
  • Covers most areas of the park including summit
  • Tons of connecting trails to make your own route

The Bad:

  • No running water available
  • Parking can be sparse in warmer months
  • Heavily trafficked in the summer with hikers and mountain bikers

The Links:

The Park Map

The GPS Tracks (.gpx file) -- Covers

 

The Parking Lot & Trailhead:

 

Hike: Devil's Bridge

 

Devil's Bridge is a heavily trafficked out-and-back hike to a giant picturesque arch located in Sedona, AZ.


DISTANCE: 2.25 Mi one-way, 4.5 miles RT
START ELEVATION: 4,646 FT
MAX ELEVATION: 4,998 ft
Date Completed: April, 2, 2017
 

The Route:

There are three main routes to Devil's Bridge Trailhead. (map pictured). The most popular two are accessible from the paved parking lot at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead. The other is from the dirt shoulder parking area at the Mescal Trailhead. The Dry Creek Vista is the only paved lot and only lot with restrooms. None of the lots offer running water so make sure you bring enough water! 

There are three options from the paved parking lot at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead:

  1. Simply follow the 4x4 road 1.0 mile to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead
  2. Take the scenic route and hike 2.1 miles on the Chuck Wagon Trail all the way to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead.
  3. Take the Chuck Wagon Trail to where intersects with the 4x4 road and take that to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead (not pictured, but this was the route we took).

The other option is to park at the Mescal Trailhead which has room for about 20 cars to park right on the shoulder of the road. Then take the Chuck Wagon Connector Trail to the Chuck Wagon Trail (left fork) which will run into the Devil's Bridge Trailhead.

The Hike

The easy 1.0mi trek down the 4x4 road is the shortest and easiest route, but you'll be robbing yourself of some great views offered by the 2.1mi Chuck Wagon Trail. I would recommend taking the Chuck Wagon Trail all the way to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead, or just take it until it intersect with the 4x4 road and follow that.

Chuck Wagon is wide open and exposed for the first mile or so then winds through mostly covered areas of smaller trees and desert vegetation. All trails leading to the Devil's Bridge Trail are mostly flat and pretty easy. Just be sure to keep your ears open and head on a swivel for mountain bikers on the trail and vehicles on the 4x4 road.

Once you've reach the Devil's Bridge Trailhead, you begin the main ascent up. The gorgeous red/orange sand is still present, but the trail get considerably rockier as you continue to climb rock stairs etched into the landscape. You'll see a clear path veering to the left which leads to a viewing area of the Devil's Bridge arch from below. Save this for the way back and continue up the trail.

You'll run into the most difficult part of the hike as you come to multiple sections of steep rock staircases cut into the side of the mountain. Not only are they steep, but they are narrow and will typically be even more complicated due to the heavy hiker traffic on the trail. Take your time here and don't hesitate to ask for assistance!

You'll be rewarded with a great flat scenic viewpoint atop the last steep staircase. We were stunned by just how green the valley around the red rocks was. Just down the trail from there you'll be greeted with your first look at the infamous Devil's Bridge arch.

I was surprised to learn that we could walk right out onto it, as most the arches I've come across (mostly in Utah) have strict rules about not climbing/walking arches in order to protect them. But as long as no such rule exists, we gladly took advantage of getting our photo op! It looks pretty terrifying but it's pretty wide and not too scary to be on if you've got the courage. There will certainly be no shortage of frantic mothers and loved ones on the viewing platform taking pictures while hyperventilating, but don't let them scare you away it!

You'll notice multiple large boulders and viewpoints in the area that are easily accessible and perfect for photo ops, so be sure to check those out, especially if going on the arch is a little too nerve-wracking for you.

Bonus tip: At Devil's Arch, go around the bend as if you were going to go out onto the arch but continue straight past it. You'll see a footpath along the ridge that will bring you through some brush and out to a wide open area. It's a perfect place to relax, hydrate, and have your snack while being shielded completely from any noise from the crowds at Devil's Bridge.

The Good

  • Well developed trails & multiple routes
  • Access to many mountain climbing areas
  • Great views of mountains and desert valleys
  • A stunning arch that you can actually walk out on

The Bad

  • Heavily trafficked

  • No running water available

  • Many hikers as well as sharing trail with mountain bikers
  • Steep narrow stone staircases can be intimidating and difficult

The Parking Lot & Trailhead

Note: If you have 4x4, you can continue past the Dry Creek Vista paved parking lot straight to Devil's Bridge Trailhead, but be aware that the road is ROUGH and there is hardly any space for parking at the trailhead. I would recommend just parking in the paved lot and making the extra mile hike in. It's scenic and I promise you won't regret it!

 

Hike: Tom's Thumb

 

Tom’s Thumb is a heavily trafficked out-and-back hike located within the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve that is accessible between sunrise and sunset.

Distance: 4.3 miles RT, 2.15 miles one-way
Start Elevation: 2,792 ft
Max Elevation: 3,793 ft
Date Completed: April 1, 2017

The Preserve

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve was established in 1990 to protect the McDowell Mountains as well as the surrounding 34,000 acres of desert and provide public recreational opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The Preserve is owned and operated by the City of Scottsdale in partnership with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.

The Preserve’s rustic breezeway at the parking lot offers rock climbing rules and regulations, detailed trail maps, as well as information regarding local flora and fauna and historical formation of the mountains during the Volcanic Era. There are nice restrooms at the trailhead, but be aware that this is absolute no running water here, so be prepared!

The Hike

This moderate hike is smooth throughout and starts relatively flat for the first half mile before starting a steady climb of switchbacks toward the ridge. Throughout the next 0.75 miles up, you’ll notice a few short hills leading to scenic viewing points overlooking the McDowell Mountains and surrounding desert space--great spots to stop, catch your breath, and take it the views.

The hike levels out after the initial steep ascent up the ridge and you’ll continue through rolling hills of enormous boulders and cacti while passing many of the turnouts for rock climbing areas. No question, this is the most beautiful and scenic part of the hike as navigate through car-sized boulders and often feel like you’re on another planet.

Be aware that the sign leading to Tom’s Thumb is labeled as a “Rock Climbing Access Route” for Tom’s Thumb and Gardener’s Wall. There were more than a few hikers that confusedly continued past the sign.

From the Tom’s Thumb & Gardener’s Wall sign, the route isn’t well-marked but is still easy to follow. By now you’ll clearly see the giant granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb and just need to keep heading up toward it. Take note that there are a few spots that require some agility and light scrambling. Kids should have some fun with this part and anyone should be able to make it with some assistance.

You’ll soon reach the prolific granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb. Pull out your snack and water and take a load off while enjoying the sights and sounds before heading back down.

The north side of Tom’s Thumb was closed due to the local falcons nesting in the areas and signs advised all visitors to keep their voices down.  

The Good

  • Dog-friendly on leash
  • Well developed smooth trail
  • Great views of moutains and desert
  • Plenty of paved parking spots available
  • Great views of mountains and desert area

The Bad

  • No running water available
  • Requires some simple scrambling

The Parking Lot & Trailhead