Southern Arizona’s sky islands are like no where else on earth. These soaring mountains stand independent within long ranges, poking through clouds and cloistering unique wildlife and vegetation. Wildlife watchers flock to them, but so do hikers and mountain bikers, taking on trails suitable for both casual and extreme athletes. 

 

If you want to take a bite of Southern Arizona’s sky islands, Sierra Vista is your natural starting point. This mid-sized community (45,000) is adjacent to the Huachuca Mountains, the southernmost island range with a valley elevation of 4,623 feet. 

 

The trails into the Huachucas (pronounce it “wah-choo-kas” to sound like a local) are iconic and inviting, with names like Lutz Canyon, Joe’s Canyon, Pat Scott, and Bathtub Springs. But don’t let the folksy monikers fool you into planning for a wilderness stroll: the trails wander along backbone of the islands with steep climbs and descents from ridge to ridge. The highest trail, Miller Peak, will send you up to nearly 9,500 feet. But the view of wilderness stretching out beneath a startlingly blue sky is worth every blister.

 

Tackle the sky islands in the Sky Islands Summit Challenge on May 27, 2017. The Challenge offers three entry levels for casual, trained, and extreme hikers along routes in the Huachucas. Learn more on the city’s website, www.SierraVistaAZ.gov.

 

Sierra Vista’s sky islands are the starting point of the Arizona Trail, an 800-mile trek from Mexico to Utah. While much of the trail falls in national wilderness, the Trail stewards have mapped ride-around routes for mountain bikes. Do the Trail in segments (there are 43) or in one big trip. Along the way, you’ll pass through mountains, deserts, forests, canyons, wilderness, and, yes, communities for supplies, mail, and a night in a soft bed.