City Hiking Guides

Exploring the Best Hikes Near Phoenix

POSTED ON May 29, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Phoenix, Arizona, is a treasure chest of natural beauty and outdoor excursions, offering some of the best hiking spots that cater to adventure seekers of every level. In this post we explore the best hikes near Phoenix.

Nestled in the heart of this vibrant city, you’ll find the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, a sprawling group of parks that promises an escape into nature’s serenity amidst the buzz of city life.

Walking these trails, one quickly understands why hiking in Phoenix is both a challenge and a delight. The paths are adorned with loose rocks and sandy sections, emphasizing the need for sturdy hiking shoes for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or someone looking to immerse themselves in outdoor adventures for the first time, our guide is designed to unveil the rich tapestry of terrain this area has to offer. Additionally, for pet lovers, the trails’ dog-friendly nature means your furry companions can join in on the fun, making every hike memorable.

Whether you’re looking for tranquil paths, rugged landscapes, or panoramic vistas, the Valley of the Sun has it all.

Arizona National Scenic Trail

Into the deep, Grand Canyon

  • Location: Arizona, from Mexico to Utah borders
  • Distance: Approximately 800 miles (1300 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Variable (multiple days)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
  • Trail Type: Point-to-point

The Arizona National Scenic Trail is a remarkable trail that spans across the diverse landscapes of Arizona, from the Mexico border to Utah. Considered among the best hikes in Phoenix, this trail offers an unparalleled experience that diverges significantly from other trails in the region.

This trail weaves through deserts, mountains, canyons, and forests, providing a unique opportunity to explore the rich natural and cultural heritage of Arizona. It is an ideal option for those seeking a longer hike that encapsulates the vastness and variety of Arizona’s terrain.

The route passes through several key areas, including the Coronado National Memorial, the Gila River Canyons, and the Coconino National Forest, each offering distinct sights and experiences. Hikers can find a detailed trail map and plan their trek through these captivating regions.

Camelback Mountain Hikes

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain is an iconic landmark in the Phoenix skyline, offering some of the most rigorous and rewarding hiking experiences in the region. The Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail are among the best hikes, noted for their steep ascents, rugged paths, and the panoramic views they offer at the summit.

These trails challenge avid hikers and immerse them in the raw beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

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Echo Canyon Trail

Echo Canyon Trail

  • Location: Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: approximately 2.1 miles (3.4 km)
  • Hiking Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain is renowned for its significant elevation gain, recognized as the most challenging hike in the Greater Phoenix area. This trail ascends sharply from the parking lot trailhead (location) to the summit of Camelback Mountain. It’s an endeavor that demands physical fitness, endurance, and experience in navigating treacherous terrain. Thus, it is mostly recommended for seasoned hikers.

This trail offers more than a rigorous physical challenge; it rewards adventurers with spectacular views. Once at the peak, hikers are treated to a 360-degree panorama encompassing the sprawling cityscape of Phoenix and the undulating contours of the surrounding landscape.

The path itself is a study of desert beauty, with steep inclines, rocky passages, and the distinct flora of the Arizona high desert.

Cholla Trail

Sonoran desert, Pima County, Arizona, with Santa Rita Mountains in the background.

  • Location: Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 1.47 miles (2.4 km)
  • Hiking Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Cholla Trail stands out as one of the most visited hiking paths in Phoenix, marking its presence on the west side of the city in Glendale, AZ. Notable for its serenity and relatively lesser foot traffic than other trails, it presents a peaceful wilderness experience.

Parking for Cholla Trail is conveniently located on Invergordon Road, just south of Cholla Lane, making it easily accessible for hikers. The trailhead’s accessibility is a small part of why this trail is favored by locals and visitors alike.

The initial segment of the Cholla Trail is known for its moderate hiking path, which allows hikers to enjoy the native desert flora and fauna, including sightings of the majestic saguaro cacti and occasional bighorn sheep. However, the hike intensifies past “the saddle,” transforming into a more challenging scramble towards the summit. This transition offers an exhilarating experience for those seeking an adventure beyond simple trail hiking.

Superstition Mountains Hikes

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman State Park, Near Apache Junction, Arizona

The Superstition Mountains, located near Apache Junction, AZ, is a haven for hikers and adventurers drawn to its rugged landscape and the legends it holds, such as the fabled Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Its extensive network of trails, including the Peralta Trail, Reavis Ranch Trail, and the Fire Line Trail, provides a diverse range of hiking experiences from moderate walks to challenging treks.

Notable spots like the Wave Cave and Broadway Cave offer unique landscapes for exploration and photography. Additionally, the Treasure Loop Trail and Massacre Falls, boasting a seasonal waterfall, promise breathtaking natural vistas and an immersive outdoor experience.

Peralta Trail

Peralta Canyon, Superstition Mountains

  • Location: Superstition Wilderness, Apache Junction, AZ
  • Distance: 4.9 miles (7.9 km)
  • Hiking Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Peralta Trail is a moderate trek celebrated for its stunning elevation gain and the saguaro-studded landscapes. Hikers beginning their journey from the trailhead (location) are immediately immersed in the rugged beauty characteristic of the Arizona desert.

One of the trail’s most captivating highlights is the Fremont Saddle viewpoint. The ascent culminates here, offering an unrivaled view of Weaver’s Needle, a towering, solitary rock formation that dominates the landscape. This natural spectacle serves as a focal point for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.

The Peralta Trail provides a blend of physical challenge and scenic rewards, making it a must-visit for those exploring the Superstition Mountains’ unique terrain. Check out more details about the Superstition Wilderness.

Double Butte Loop Trail

botanical gardens in Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, Papago Park.

  • Location: Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 3.7 miles (5.9 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Loop

The Double Butte Loop trail (direction) provides a scenic and accessible adventure in the heart of Papago Park, marked by its easy terrain that invites enthusiasts of all levels. Located on the west side of the park, near the West Buttes Parking Lot, this trail encircles both the Big Butte and Little Butte, offering unique desert landscapes and the convenience of a looped route that returns hikers to their starting point.

Aside from hiking, the trail is also popular for mountain biking, offering a relatively smooth ride with occasional elevation changes to keep things interesting. The path is well-marked and requires basic hiking shoes for a comfortable trek.

Starting off North Galvin Parkway, it becomes an ideal spot for a quick outdoor escapade, with sightings of local flora and the distinctive red rock formations of the buttes. This trail epitomizes the natural beauty adjacent to urban Phoenix.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock, Arizona

  • Location: Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 3.7 miles (5.9 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Loop

The short and easy Hole-in-the-Rock Trail is an integral part of Papago Park, offering an opportunity to explore the iconic Hole in the Rock, a remarkable geological formation. This landmark is characterized by its series of tafoni (cave-like openings in the red arkosic conglomerate sandstone, sculpted by natural erosive forces over millennia).

Situated conveniently near the parking area, Hole in the Rock presents an easy ascent that rewards visitors with panoramic views of Downtown Phoenix, making it a perfect spot for sunrise or sunset viewings.

What sets the trail apart is its appeal to families with children looking for a short nature walk to couples seeking a romantic sunset viewpoint.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hiking Trails

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Just to the northeast of Phoenix is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a beacon of natural beauty and tranquility. It’s a place where hikers of all levels can explore a network of trails that meander through the lush Sonoran Desert landscape.

The Gateway, Lost Dog Wash, and McDowell Sonoran Preserve trails offer a mix of easy strolls and more challenging hikes. Keep your eyes peeled for the area’s rich variety of wildlife, Sprawled across a massive swath of pristine desert land, this preserve is a sanctuary for those seeking peace, adventure, and the vibrant spectacle of desert blooms.

Among its numerous trails, the Gateway Loop Trail offers a moderately challenging hike that rewards adventurers with stunning vistas, while the Desert Tortoise Trail presents a gentler path, perfect for families and casual hikers.

Here are two popular trails in the area:

Gateway Loop Trail

Gateway Loop Trail - McDowell Sonoran Preserve

  • Location: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ
  • Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Gateway Loop Trail Map

Nestled in the heart of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the Gateway Loop Trail offers a captivating exploration of Arizona’s desert beauty, presenting a well-maintained route for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians alike. This loop is particularly favored for its scenic vistas that beautifully illustrate the rugged contours and striking formations of the McDowell Mountains. The trail is accentuated by many desert flora, ranging from the iconic saguaro cacti to vibrant wildflowers, enhancing the visual experience of the trek.

The trailhead, easily accessible from its dedicated parking lot, serves as the gateway to an adventure that captures the essence of the Sonoran Desert. Early risers often find the Gateway Loop Trail an ideal setting for witnessing the sunrise, while the expansive views of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area below offer a stunning panorama, especially in the golden hours of dawn and dusk.

Tom’s Thumb Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Tom's Thumb Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park

  • Location: McDowell Mountain Regional Park, North Scottsdale, AZ
  • Distance: 8.3 miles/13 km (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and back
  • Toms Thumb Map

Tom’s Thumb Trail presents a challenging but rewarding hike. This strenuous trail is well-known for its loose gravel terrain and steep climbs, offering adventurers an exhilarating experience amidst the desert’s beauty

The trailhead is the gateway to several unique natural landmarks, including the magnificent Tom’s Thumb (location), the Windgate Overlook, the impressive Gardener’s Wall, the climbing paradise of Sven Slab, the serene Mesquite Canyon, and the connecting Morrell’s Boulder (location)

Navigating through this rugged landscape, hikers are treated to stunning views of dramatic rock formations and a variety of desert flora. The pinnacle of the hike is reaching Tom’s Thumb, a prominent granite spire that dominates the skyline and provides a spectacular vantage point over the surrounding desert.

Dixie Mountain Loop in Sonoran Desert Preserve

Four Peaks east of Phoenix from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 4 miles/6.4 km  (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Loop

The Dixie Mountain Loop, part of the expansive Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve, offers a scenic loop perfect for hikers looking for a moderately challenging trek with rewarding views of the Arizona desert. This trail is known for its gradual elevation gain, providing hikers with picturesque vistas of the surrounding desert landscape.

Along the path, adventurers are treated to several desert flora and fauna, making it a vibrant encounter with nature. The trail, while offering an engaging hiking experience, also serves as a stunning backdrop for wildlife spotting and photography.

Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park

  • Location: Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, AZ
  • Distance: 4.28 miles round-trip (6.05 miles round-trip to the Flatiron)
  • Hiking Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate (strenuous to the Flatiron)
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Siphon Draw Trail is heralded for its challenging yet rewarding terrain. It commences at the park entrance (location), where hikers are recommended to prepare for a rigorous adventure.

The trail notably features a rocky canyon path that showcases the raw and untamed beauty of the area, guiding hikers through a steep climb to an awe-inspiring plateau.

Upon reaching the plateau, adventurers who continue towards Flat Iron Peak are met with an even more strenuous hike. This section challenges experienced hikers with its steep and rocky ascent.

Phoenix Mountains Preserve Trails

South Mountain in Phoenix Arizona

The Phoenix Mountain Preserve offers a network of trails snaking through a natural desert landscape within Phoenix. Amidst its rugged beauty, hikers can explore notable trails such as the challenging Piestewa Peak Summit Trail or the serene Quartz Ridge Trail, both of which offer unique desert vistas and flora.

The preserve is also home to the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, which serves as a gateway to numerous paths, making it a beloved spot for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels.

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

  • Location: Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 1.5 miles (trail direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and back

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail, nestled in the heart of Central Phoenix, presents a relatively short yet demanding hike. Formerly recognized as Squaw Peak, this trail is a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike, marking itself as a central rendezvous for those seeking an outdoor escape within the city limits.

The path to the summit is known for its steep, rocky terrain that challenges even seasoned hikers, culminating in breathtaking panoramic vistas of Phoenix and the surrounding areas at an elevation surpassing 2,600 feet (792 meters).

Reaching the summit of Piestewa Peak at dawn or dusk rewards adventurers with serene views of the sunrise or sunset, making it an exceptional vantage point for nature photography and contemplation.

The trail, while concise, does not shy away from providing a rigorous workout intended to bolster leg strength and prepare enthusiasts for more arduous mountain trials.

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Pinnacle Peak Trail

Pinnacle Peak Trail

  • Location: Pinnacle Peak Park, North Scottsdale, AZ
  • Distance: 1.8 miles/2.9 km (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out and back

Pinnacle Peak Trail stands as a revered destination for hikers seeking breathtaking scenery. This popular trail, marked by its out-and-back format, promises sights unique to the Arizona desert. The inviting path caters to various skill levels, offering a balanced challenge with rewarding views.

The trail’s highlight, Pinnacle Peak Lookout Point, provides an unparalleled vantage point of the vast natural landscape. Hikers can feast their eyes on the sprawling desert, punctuated by the stark beauty of jagged mountain peaks and lush, green valleys. Visitors venturing to this trail can expect an enriching experience, where the splendor of nature unfolds with every step.

Waterfall Canyon Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park

natural waterfall on Fossil Creek, Arizona

  • Location: White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Waddell, AZ
  • Distance: Under 1 mile (1.6 km) round-trip (direction)
  • Hiking Duration: Approx. 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Waterfall Canyon Trail is a captivating escape offering a mix of natural beauty and historical significance. Stretching just under a mile, with half of its path paved, this trail is accessible for visitors of all ages and skill levels.

The trail’s primary allure is the seasonal waterfall, a serene spot that transforms into a lively cascade after rainfall. This easy walk, mostly flat, is complemented by an entrance fee of $7 per vehicle.

Linking the past to the present, the trail unveils the rich heritage of the Hohokam people through the Petroglyph Plaza. This remarkable site is adorned with numerous petroglyphs, showcasing the art and stories of those who inhabited the valley from around 1 AD to 1450 AD.

The plaza is reached via a short, easy walk on a nicely paved lot, ensuring a hassle-free approach to this enchanting historical treasure.

South Mountain Park and Preserve Trails

South Mountain Park and Preserve

For those seeking a more expansive playground to explore, South Mountain Park and Preserve offers an unparalleled hiking experience in Phoenix. As the largest municipal park in the United States and one of the largest urban parks in the world, it sprawls over 16,000 acres (64.75 sq. km.), featuring more than 50 miles (80 km) of trails catering to all levels of hikers.

These trails range from sandy washes to challenging peak trails, offering breathtaking bird’s-eye views of the city. Key hiking spots worth exploring include the Mormon Loop, Hidden Valley, and the famous National Trail, each presenting a unique aspect of the park’s vast desert beauty and grandeur.

Mormon Trail via National Trail

National Trail, Arizona

  • Location: South Mountain Park and Preserve, Phoenix, AZ
  • Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2 km)
  • Hiking Duration: Approximately 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and back

The Mormon Trail via the National Trail (trail direction) is known for its steep inclines and unique natural features, making it a must-visit for avid hikers seeking a challenging adventure in the Phoenix area. This trail offers a blend of rigorous paths that lead adventurers through some of the park’s most captivating terrain.

One of the trail’s highlights is the iconic Fat Man’s Pass (location), a natural tunnel that requires a tight squeeze to pass through, offering a memorable and slightly claustrophobic experience. Further along, hikers encounter Hidden Valley (location), a secluded area featuring another natural tunnel that showcases the unique geological formations and the region’s biodiversity.

This steep trail pushes physical limits with its challenging paths and provides an immersive outdoor adventure, highlighting the rugged beauty and distinctive natural wonders of Phoenix’s desert landscape.

Holbert Trail

Dobbins Lookout, Phoenix, Arizona

The Holbert Trail is a notable path that culminates in some of the most spectacular views of the Phoenix Valley. Starting from the base, hikers steadily climb towards the upper reaches of the park, weaving through rugged desert landscapes and native vegetation.

This trail is particularly famous for leading to Dobbins Lookout, where adventurers can enjoy panoramic views of the sprawling cityscape below. The lookout point, accessible via an extension off the main trail, is a must-visit for photographers and nature lovers alike.

Additionally, the trail serves as a vital connector within South Mountain’s extensive network of trails, linking hikers to the National Trail near the T.V. Towers and Buena Vista Lookout, located just east and west, respectively. This strategic connection allows for extended exploration of the park, offering a broader experience of its natural beauty and diverse environments.

Conclusion

Phoenix is more than just a pastime if you love hiking in Arizona. It’s an opportunity to connect with nature, push your physical limits, and experience the tranquility of the Southwest desert. Each trail highlights the unique features of the region, from its geology to its plants and animals.

With multiple options, there’s always a new adventure around the corner for those willing to lace up their boots and hit the trail.

If you enjoyed this post, you can find other exciting destinations in our city hiking guides.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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