The Terrain of the Phoenix Mountains
Arizona hiking is as varied as the wide variety of environments that the state features. Some of the best Arizona hiking trails are right here in the Valley of the Sun and should be included on your Phoenix hiking tour. There is also fantastic hiking in Scottsdale and the surrounding towns. All of the hiking near Phoenix takes place in the lower Sonoran desert, which is characterized by an abundance of cactus, rugged rock features, and hot summer temperatures. While hikes in Arizona with waterfalls get a lot of Instagram attention, water is not likely to be found while hiking on most trails near Phoenix.
Being adequately prepared is essential to having a safe and enjoyable experience while hiking in the desert. You need to have an understanding of the terrain, weather, route length and difficulty. Some trails in Phoenix are very popular and can become crowded so do your research on when to go and find a less-crowded trail to improve your experience. Some of the best challenging hikes in Phoenix, such as Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak, can be a bit too crowded to really enjoy during the peak winter visitor season.
Where to Go – Phoenix Hiking Trails
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is actually in Scottsdale, on the eastern edge of the Phoenix metro area. This area offers some of the best and most scenic hiking in the region. The trails here are well-marked and maintained making it easy for visitors and residents both to get out and enjoy the area safely. Don’t forget to bring water and a trail map to make the most of it.
Most locals and lots of visitors will at least have heard of the Camelback Mountain hike. The Camelback Mountain trails are limited to the eastern Cholla trail and the western Echo Canyon trail; both trails end at the summit with a sweeping view of the Valley of the Sun. Most hikers return on the same trail they hiked up, but the option of ascending one and descending the other is possible.
South Mountain Park
There are also some great trails at South Mountain Park, and the South Mountain hiking offers a wider variety of trail choices, from easy to challenging. This is because South Mountain is one of the largest municipal parks in the country, with around 17,000 acres of rocky desert habitat and ancient native petroglyphs to discover.
Those who are looking for a full day of hiking near Phoenix may be interested in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness. This mountainous area is great for day hiking and is also a favorite backpacking spot for Phoenix locals. It offers rugged landscapes, native petroglyph sites, and settler legends too!
More Areas to Hike near Phoenix
Phoenix is a great launching point for a bigger multi-day hiking trip as well. After you’ve tried out the Phoenix hiking trails, you may want to graduate to the Arizona Trail. The 800 mile long Arizona Trail traverses north to south from the Utah/Arizona border to the US border with Sonora, Mexico. Hikers usually attempt to hike the Arizona Trail in small sections at a time, over multiple short backpacking tours. And of course there is the World Heritage area of Grand Canyon National Park, but Grand Canyon hiking below the rim is considered quite challenging. The best hikes in Arizona really depend on what the hiker wants most, from the rugged and rolling desert to the sub-alpine forests, there is just about everything in between.