If Mother Nature ever played favorites, she heaped a bunch of the best in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Arizona consistently ranks as a top destination for outdoor adventurists, but if you’ve been there and done that, turn off the Interstate and head south to discover one of the state’s hidden gems.
While “going south” is usually associated with rising temperatures, Sierra Vista, at 4,633 feet, enjoys a comfortable climate all year long. With cool canyons, miles of hiking and biking trails, and abundant bird and wildlife, this southeastern Arizona community is earning a pin on the map.
Sierra Vista lies about 19 miles, as the crow flies, north of the Arizona-Mexico border, with the Huachuca Mountains skirting the line on the Arizona side. This range rises quickly from the valley floor to nearly 9,500 feet. The highest peak, Miller Peak (9,465’), is the highest, southernmost peak in the United States. The Huachuca’s steep rise and narrow valleys have created Sky Islands, diverse and unique ecosystems—among the most diverse in the world—that are geographically isolated by elevation and the distance to neighboring peaks.
The interplay of geography and elevation make for killer photo opps at sunset with blasts of orange, pink, and purple banding across the Huachucas. Have your camera at the ready; the light changes quickly.
There is no better way to get acquainted with the Huachucas than participating in the fourth annual Sky Islands Summit Challenge on May 29. The Challenge is a great opportunity to discover the Huachucas while putting your mettle to the test. Take on one, two, or three peaks—all in one day—and enjoy knock-out views along the way.
The Challenge was postponed in 2020 but is roaring back this year. In 2019, the time for the 18.1–mile triple summit challenge was 4:24:42, an amazing feat with the elevation changes on the course. The second and third place finishers came in just under 15 minutes later.
The Challenge begins around sun-up (and sunrise photos are just as awe-inspiring as sunsets). Transportation to the trailheads is provided. Challengers pass through unique ecosystems as they gain elevation, from grassy slopes to canopied forests. At the summits, exquisite, top-of-the-world views will make your shutter finger twitch, so stash a camera in your bag, along with an ample supply of H2O and snacks.
Round out the day at the Wine, Beer & Spirits Festival in the heart of Sierra Vista. Arizona is earning a reputation for excellent wine, and the majority of the state’s vineyards are within an hour or so of Sierra Vista. The Festival will feature some of Arizona’s top wines, along with local microbrews and distilled spirits, plus some great music to keep things lively.
If May 29 isn’t in the cards for you, plan a visit any time. The mountain trails are always open and ready for your boots, mountain bikes, and hooves (if you have ‘em). Just be sure to grab a National Forest permit before you leave home or stop by the Sierra Vista Ranger Station on your way to the trails.
With plenty of lodging choices, from B&Bs (air and regular) to conveniently located hotels, Sierra Vista is an excellent base for exploring nearby Tombstone and Bisbee, state and national parks, and the two dozen-plus nearby vineyards. And when the hungries come calling, enjoy authentic international cuisine, fine dining, or favorite chains. Check out the Sierra Vista Dining & Lodging Guide to learn more, and start planning your trip at VisitSierraVista.com.