One of the best things about the Valley of the Sun is the balance. We can enjoy all the luxuries and conveniences of being a major metropolitan area, but we also have amazing access to the outdoors, creating many opportunities for exploring on both easy and challenging hikes. Located in the ecologically impressive Sonoran Desert, we have the McDowell mountains to the north, the Superstitions to the east, and wide open desert expanses everywhere else. For those interested in exploring these areas, traveling by foot will definitely take you highest and furthest. Below are my top favorite challenging hikes near Scottsdale, abridged and in no particular order.
Near Apache Junction and the Lost Dutchman State Park
5.5 miles RT, 3097 feet elevation gain, out and back trail.
Flatiron, in the East Valley is the gateway to the Superstitions. The best thing about this trail is its diversity. You start on a flowy, gravelly hill, which brings you to a slide-like expanse of slippery red rock, which brings you to a few miles of steep, staircase-like boulders, and finally to the peak. The peak is a nice open expanse with plenty of room for sitting and socializing with some amazing photo opportunities. My favorite hike in the Valley, this hike is grueling but rewarding, with good variation on the way up. You are walking, then hiking, then almost climbing. The views at the top are worth all the hardship, just make sure you come ready for a good workout and you have plenty of water!
Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve (pictured at top)
4 miles, 1351 feet elevation gain, out and back trail.
Tom’s Thumb is a beautiful trail, providing both steep inclines and flatter sections of trail. On this hike you will see lots of gorgeous cacti, incredible giant granite boulders, and sweeping views of North Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. For Bonus points, head out onto Overlook Trail, from where you can see Four Peaks!
Central Phoenix/Downtown Scottsdale
2.5 miles, 1253 feet elevation, out and back recommended
Camelback is a staple of Valley hiking, and for good reason. Right in the center of town, you can see Camelback from almost anywhere and it is easy to get to. The downside of that, of course, being the crowds, Camelback can become quite congested, especially in the springtime at the height of tourist season. But it is a popular hike for a reason and one you should definitely cross off your list while in Scottsdale.
There are two ways to summit Camelback, the Cholla Trail or the Echo Canyon trail. Both are about 2.5 miles, but the Echo Canyon side includes a about 600 feet more of elevation. You can’t really go wrong with either.
South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Arizona
4.1 miles, 1135 feet elevation, out and back trail.
Holbert trail is one of my favorites along South Mountain. Equal parts challenging and rewarding, Holbert takes you up 1200 feet over five miles and is very well-marked. I recommend hiking Holbert during a full moon and ending the hike with a picnic and a rest at Dobbins Lookout for sweeping views of the Valley.
Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Central Phoenix
2.3 miles, 1167 feet elevation, out and back trail.
Formerly known as Squaw peak, Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve is similar to Camelback in length and intensity, but with slightly less elevation. It is also extremely well-marked and features more stairs and a few more plateaus. The views are equally breathtaking from the top and there are plenty of ledges at the top to find your own spot to enjoy the 360 degree panorama.
Every one of these hikes will give you a nice workout and excellent views of Scottsdale and Phoenix from different vantage points. These hikes will take you to various areas in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, giving you a true taste of the demographic and geologic diversity. As always, be sure to carry plenty of water, have comfortable shoes with plenty of ankle support, and be ready for a good challenge!