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Hidden Gem: Camping Near Weavers Needle

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This popular day hike east of Phoenix is also home to a lesser-known campsite that offers its visitors amazing views and a stunning sense of solitude

By Blake Hemmel, photography by Emily Jean Thomas

Weavers Needle at sunrise.
Weavers Needle at sunrise.

Half asleep and wrapped in my sleeping bag, I could hear the wind whistling through the single tree by our tent. I wasn’t sure what time it was; whether or not it was morning yet. I opened my eyes and I could see Emily, my companion on this trip, standing outside the tent.

“I highly recommend that you get up,” she said in a cheerful voice, before walking off — camera in hand.

I sat up, sleepy-eyed and disoriented, looking north through the door of the tent, and there it was: Weavers Needle — with its east face just barely touched by the first few rays of sunlight.

The Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle is no secret. Being just an hour east of Phoenix and only a moderate 5 mile round trip hike, it’s one of the more popular day hikes in the Superstition Wilderness. The trail rises through some lush desert foliage before offering fantastic views of Peralta Canyon as well as Weavers Needle — a towering volcanic neck that was once the core of ancient super-volcano.

View of the campsite on Fremont Saddle, overlooking Weavers Needle.
View of the campsite on Fremont Saddle, overlooking Weavers Needle.

But what most people don’t realize is that there’s an even better view. If you trek east after hitting the saddle, you can follow some unmarked trails on a ridge even closer to Weavers Needle. It’s a bit of a scramble, but definitely worth the effort. At the end of the ridge, there’s a lone pine tree next to what’s arguably one of the most epic campsites in the Sonoran Desert. Here you’ll find a well-built fire ring and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Also, the view of Weavers Needle from here is unbeatable.

I originally stumbled upon this site while hiking with friends a few years back, and have been intending to come back for an overnight trip ever since.

It was on an otherwise-mundane November afternoon that Emily and I decided to escape Phoenix for a night. We wanted to camp somewhere reasonably close, and didn’t want to hike too much, but we also wanted a fair amount of solitude — a trifecta that’s tough to come by. Then it dawned on us: that spot up on the Peralta Trail. And we were off.

So, after a 40-minute drive out of the city and an evening hike, we found ourselves to be the only ones up on the ridge. It was exactly what we were looking for: easy access, high solitude. We pitched our tent beside the pine tree and cooked dinner by the fire — still not a soul in sight.

The author watches the sunrise on Fremont Saddle.
The author watches the sunrise on Fremont Saddle.

The next morning, when I woke up to Emily telling me to get up, I was a bit apprehensive. Part of me wanted to stay in my warm sleeping bag as long as possible. But I knew I couldn’t miss the sunrise. I stumbled out of the tent and climbed up onto a boulder, looking east as the sun slowly rose over the Superstition Mountains.

We sat in silence for some time, and I felt a strong sense of rejuvenation. It’s one thing to hike in the wilderness, but to wake up out there — it brings about a strong sense of stillness, a natural cure to whatever is ailing you.

The sun was getting higher, so we went back to the tent. Right next to the pine tree, we found a small lockbox. Inside were a few journals. Some were old and tattered, others seemed new. Many of the entries were brief, with people writing positive things, talking about the beauty of nature. But after reading just about every entry, I found one that struck a chord in me, written by a man named Warren, who quoted the words of John Muir:

“Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand.”

Treasures of the trail: the campsite's lockbox is home to journals, mementos and quotes. Photo by Blake Hemmel.
Treasures of the trail: the campsite’s lockbox is home to journals, mementos and quotes. Photo by Blake Hemmel.
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