BACKPACKING BASICS

Best Hikes in Phoenix: Rise and Hike the Capitol of Arizona

Best Hikes in Phoenix
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

If plotting and executing various hikes around the state of Arizona is too much of a chore to endure, maybe planning to walk the best hikes in Phoenix would more suit your speed and localized need to travel. All the best trails can be found in the southwestern capital, be it you are looking for scenery, a chance to test yourself, or just for a weekend of fun.

Phoenix, Arizona, is a city drenched in a wealth of diversity, education, and heat – year round, relentless heat. All of these things and more, drive people from around the country to the area – though people are especially drawn to the never ending opportunities for a quick hiking adventure.

Adventurous inhabitants of the city, and those people who come to visit the southern states’ capital, make great use of the surrounding area’s stunning hiking trails and beautiful scenery to quell their wanderlust.

Hikes in Phoenix

Finding a spot perfect enough for you and your hiking friends’ needs is a tough find without a little help, so relax your search after reading about the best hiking trails in all of Phoenix.

Many Mountains and Many Ways to Climb Them

Tom’s Thumb

A trail that is better for the intermediate level hiker as there are some steep elevations to maneuver yourself up in order to reach the summit. The north-side loop trail takes 3.9 miles to complete, and is moderately trafficked so if you do find yourself in too steep as it where, you will never be too far from help.

All year round, this trail can be found in bloom, with wildflowers sprouting anywhere they can along the close to four miles you get to walk through them. Tom’s Thumb is quite a famous landmark, a giant shard of granite found in the McDowell Mountain range.

Toms Thumb

Making your way to the top of Tom’s Thumb guarantees you an all round view of the McDowell Mountains, not to mention a clear view of Weavers Needle and the Four Peaks mountainous region.

Superstition Ridgeline

The Superstition Mountains and the area of wilderness that surrounds it, are bountiful for any hiker out to enjoy a long day on the trails, enjoying what nature has to offer them. The Ridgeline has become less of a trail belonging to that of the hiker, and more to the runner. Runners from all across Arizona see this trail as a rigorous and gruelling test of their skills and endurance.

It is by no means an easy summit to reach, but when you have finished your run, the summit of Superstition Peak is exactly where you end up. Staring out over the Superstition Wilderness, Phoenix, and a little beyond. Our recommendation is that you scale the trail sometime between fall and spring, bringing plenty of water to hydrate you along the way.

Superstition Ridgeline hiking

In the summer months, obviously more water will be needed, so the suggestive rule of thumb would up to a gallon per person. The 11.2 mile trek is an arduous one, all the way is on a single track (so running groups must go single file). As the terrain is basically late volcanic rubble, a reliable pair of running shoes or hiking boots are required to attempt the trail.

Remember to be cautious on this route as there are many dips and rises, and lose ground to maneuver. This is a real runners’ test to physically prove themselves to the Valley of the Sun; it will not play games with you. So do not play games with it, take trail seriously.

Sunrise Peak Trail

A trail located within the McDowell Mountain preserve area, the Sunrise Peak offers you stretched out views of surrounding sights and hiking trails. Such as Four Peaks, Weavers Needle, Camelback Mountain, and of course the remainder of the McDowell preserves. Just a few miles out of Phoenix makes this less of a tourist hikers’ trail, which offers more of the path open to you.

Sunrise Peak Trail

This trail is a 6.2-mile round trip that, when veered can lead to some other interesting places (i.e. the Sonoran Desert). Difficulty levels of the hike come in at a moderate level, so it best to stick to the trail and be a little cautious as you go.

Make sure to take in the wilderness the trail is surrounded by. Scrub grass, Palo Verde, Saguaro and Cholla cacti, and Ocotillo, are but some of the plant life to be found on your way to the peak.

National Trail

Located just outside of Phoenix, you can find the National Trail. A 15.2-mile hike that is rich in wild flowers of all kinds from the region, and dips and rises in trail that change with every step. The trail is considered as moderate difficulty, which does not stop the path being easily accessible to dog walkers, trail runners, hikers of all abilities, and mountain bikers on a daily basis, all year round.

National Trail

The trail runs across the ridges of the South Mountain and, due to its sheer length, is a lightly trafficked excursion. This is more an enjoyable hiking retreat than it is a source of vast scenery shots. So for the fact that this trail is sparse of fellow hikers from time to time, and takes a very long time to complete, bringing slow energy foods and plenty of water is heavily advised.

Papago Park

When you speak about a park with your hiking buddies, it feels less like you are starting on a hike adventure and more a leisurely stroll. The same cannot be said about the many trails and sites to be seen within the boundaries of the Papago Park. As well as hiking trails ready to be hiked, the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden can be found amongst the wilderness.

These attractions are there for families and botany enthusiasts, and really for anyone who finds interest in such things, but the reason you are visiting is truly for the hike. Throughout the park lies a giant hike trail network that runs through the Sonoran Desert habitat.

Sonoran Desert habitat

The trails are usually moderately trafficked and offer little to no elevation in its paths. Perfect for hikers of all abilities, runners, bikers, and dog friendly. All of this is found just ten minutes out of downtown Phoenix.

Camelback Mountain

A mountain peak that boasts two main hiking trails to reach the summit of Camelback; the Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail. Both are prime hiking destinations in the United States, and both are deemed extremely difficult to climb… you have been forewarned. Only bring your A game, or go home.

Thanks to the difficulty of these two trails, Camelback Mountain has never been short of tourists and hiking boots. The trail is found practically in the middle of the city, so it is very easy to get to for everyone wanting to take a shot at climbing the camel’s back.

Camelback Mountain

Standing at 1,400-feet above its base, it seems a moderately easy climb, but rest assured the trails make for the difficulty. The Echo Canyon trail is steep and a hard place to find one’s footing; whereas Cholla trail is a slightly longer way to go with pitfalls along the way.

The name Camelback originates exactly how you would have thought that it did. From a distance, the great bump of the earth that makes up the mountain looks not all that dissimilar to a camel’s back.

Bright Angel Trail

The most sought after hiking trail in all the state of Arizona – possibly even in all of the United States – Bright Angel takes you into the very heart of the Grand Canyon – wonder of the world. It is also the trail -when coupled with the South Kaibab Trail – to begin your journey into the Grand Canyon on, as it is well kept, rich in scenery, and a value strategic point to commence all other trails from.

Bright Angel Trail

Regardless of where you chose to go hiking, you simply must make a stop at the Bright Angel trail on your journey through Phoenix. A right of hikers passage and an area rife with beauty and prehistoric depth, the Grand Canyon is a 277-mile long scar in the earth of Arizona, dipping a mile or more down through the ground.

Geologically aged at 5-6 million years old, the canyon exposes layer after layer of different time periods, venturing down the Bright Angel trail is like diving into an enormous natural time machine.  Taking on all that the Grand Canyon has to offer sounds like something that should exist in everyone’s bucket list, but just remember that it is a land of the extreme.

Bright Angel Trail

The trail is relatively easy to hike, but it still exists within the canyon and takes you high and low through it. Make sure to check weather reports before your excursion to know the heat you will be greeted with that day, bring plenty of water to accommodate you/or your group’s needs, and remember to wear hiking boots with a good tread on them, to have a better purchase on your terrain.

Quartz Peak

Another mountain that takes on a different name from time to time, but only because of its positioning to another peak. Quartz Peak serves as a satellite peak to the summit of Butterfly Mountain, which is only a short hike from the summit of Quartz. To get to the summit of Butterfly, it is advised to take the Quartz trail, as it is the only guided trail along this range.

Though, thanks to its unkempt looks and loose rock formations, Butterfly is rarely summited. If you and your group have the skill, bravery, and charming foolishness, it could make for a very intriguing bar story. The summit trail-head can be found due south of Phoenix’s downtown area, a little south of South Mountain, near the dried out Gila River.

Quartz Peak

This range of mountains, has many differents summits and peaks to explore, such as the Sierra Estrella and Montezuma Peak’s, but none tower as highly as Butterfly Mountain, standing at 4,119-feet. A round trip through Quartz Peak takes the average hiker 3-4 hours to complete and offers incredible views of the south end of the city of Phoenix. Well worth the time you put in.

Piestewa Park – Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

Depending on who you ask in the capital, the main peak trail that is found in the above park can go by one of two names. The original name of the peak was ‘Squaw Peak’, though now it is known now by ‘Piestewa Peak’. Named in honor of Lori Ann Piestewa, the first known Native American woman to serve in the United States Military, and unfortunately, the first woman to be killed in action during the Iraq War in 2003.

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

Amongst the many names that this mountain has seen; Phoenix Mountain, Squaw Tit Mountain, and Vainom Do’ag (the mountain’s Pima name); Piestewa Peak is probably one of its most deserving. History of the name aside, this trail has always been an enjoyable feat to tackle.

It is a 2.4 mile hike all the way up to the 2,608-foot summit. The lower half of the trail is a lot easier to hike as the higher part definitely needs a healthy bit of caution to attempt. It becomes very steep, very quickly. This loop trail peak is one of the heaviest trafficked hikes in the entire state of Arizona.

Piestewa Peak Trail Running

Second only to the Bright Angel Trail found in the Grand Canyon, which is a pretty miraculous feat.

A Note to all those off to Hike

Many of the areas that we have discussed above are large mountains, with rather large peaks. As you enter into Phoenix, Arizona, looking for your next hiking trail, please be cautious and aware of yours and your hiking partners skills and abilities. Know who to contact and how to contact them in the event of an emergency, and you will be A-OK.

Most importantly, go take a hike. Take in the sites and the sounds of this beautiful city, and then venture out into the wilderness just beyond the city limits. You will not regret taking the time to visit each and every one of these hiking trails and the unique scenery each one has to offer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell McCarty
Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.

  • Jean Antos

    I traveled in from out of state to run the Superstition Mountains just because I’d heard about how beautiful that trail is and also how challenging it is, as well. It was definitely not an easy summit to reach (one of the most challenging I’ve ever run) but I loved it and will be back!

    • Russell McCarty

      That’s awesome Jean and I hope you did enjoy it! There are a lot more places to go to in the US and we’re lucky to have some wonderful places to visit. Thanks for sharing and don’t hesitate to tell us where you’re off to next.

  • Sean Campbell

    My family and I were on vacation out in Phoenix last year and we were looking around for a relatively easy hike to do as a family and settled on the area around Papago Park. We had a lot of fun and the flatness of the trails made it easy for our kids.

  • Russell McCarty

    I know that the kids enjoyed it! I remembered all the details, sights, smells and sounds of my first hike with my parents. It’s a memory I have all my life. Your kids are sure lucky to be able to build that kind of memory with you. Keep it up! Expose them to a lot more easy trails and slowly teach them basic compass reading. They’ll love it.

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