When I left Los Angeles to join the Culdesac team in Tempe, I brought the usual moving anxieties with me. And though I was enthusiastic about the company’s vision for a car-free life in Tempe, I was pretty sure I’d miss Griffith Park and all the other nearby mountains. I had never been to Arizona before and didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to explore a new city. 

In the months since, I’ve come to love all Tempe has to offer: the arts and culture scene, the spirit of entrepreneurship, and the wide range of transportation options. I now know that in a few minutes’ ride—on bike, bus, streetcar, or light rail—I can find myself admiring the sunset reflecting on the glassy surface of Tempe Town Lake, or taking in a performance at the Tempe Center for the Arts. But my coworkers told me that one of the best views of Tempe itself could be found at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, home to Piestewa Peak and many trails. So I headed out on two wheels seeking a desert escape. 

The Journey Out

In Tempe, we’re truly lucky to occupy a Goldilocks position on the map. Easy access to nature is a rare plus for any city; it’s even rarer for those natural environments to be accessible without a car. I had biked to South Mountain to go for a hike before and knew I wanted to bike to the Phoenix Mountains Preserve as well. 

Using Google Maps, I looked up biking directions to a few trailheads in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve to find one that would have the best route. Quartz Ridge Trailhead ended up being the winner, as the route was 90% on protected paths through Papago Park and along the canals. While Google quoted 1 hour and 20 minutes to bike there, my ride was only about an hour because I was riding my RadMission ebike (check out our guide to ebikes!). My trip might have been even shorter if I hadn’t been riding at a leisurely pace to enjoy the scenery of the red rocks in Papago Park and the peaceful water along the canals. I mapped my exact route using Bikemap, a bike mapping tool. 

The red rocks in Papago Park
The red rocks in Papago Park

When I arrived, I found a bike rack at the head of the trail, creating a seamless transition between town and desert. I locked my bike, grabbed some trail mix from my backpack, refreshed my sunscreen, and set off from the Quartz Ridge Trailhead. 

On the Trail

From the Quartz Ridge Trailhead there are many trails to choose from, including hiking to the summit of Piestewa Peak, a steep but rewarding journey. I decided to try the moderate 4.5-mile Quartz Ridge and LV Yates Loop, which took me just under 2 hours, including breaks. The paths are well-maintained and surrounded by wildlife; I caught glimpses of ground squirrels darting into their burrows beneath palo verde trees to evade the hawks gliding on thermals overhead. Despite it being December, the weather was sunny and crisp, perfect for spending all day outside. Since moving to Tempe, I’ve learned that desert winters are truly the best.

From the trails, the panoramic view revealed a city in close communion with the desert. I could see that my new home was tucked into a valley between rippling mountains, under a truly cloudless sky. The Sonoran Desert itself was alive in ways I hadn’t understood before, full of plants and animals that had adapted to their environment, just as I was beginning to do. 

A Triumphant Return

After I finished my loop, I returned to find a deflated front tire–I had collected a nail on the journey out. Though I was secure in knowing that I could always take the route 70 bus to the light rail, or order a Lyft XL to get home, I had planned for a round-trip ride, and I was feeling energized. 

Luckily, years of cycling have taught me to always keep an emergency kit on hand stocked with a hand pump, valve core tool, bicycle multi-tool, and emergency sealant or patch kit (check out some pre-made kits here). So I set myself up at a bench by the trailhead and patched the tire, knowing I could get it professionally repaired at Archer’s Bikes once I made it back. 

The ride back was a great way to cool down after the trail, and by now I had gained some familiarity with the route I’d set for myself. I felt refreshed and victorious as I neared home, having seen the place from above for the first time. 

The view from the canal path
The view from the canal path


Biking to the Phoenix Mountains Preserve was an adventure, and every adventure comes with its little obstacles (like that stray nail). But the journey itself is surprisingly smooth, and it’s a route I’ve taken multiple times since. I’d recommend a ride to Quartz Ridge Trailhead to anyone looking to explore, whether they’re new to the Phoenix area or have spent years under Piestewa Peak’s striking silhouette. 

Really, the same rules apply any time you venture outdoors: have a plan for minor hiccups, bring snacks and water to fuel your exploration, and let nature surprise you. Heading into the wild requires both preparation and spontaneity—and it takes the same energy to make a new place your home.