National Geographic ranks Phoenix as one of the best cities for hiking in America. The greater Phoenix has three major mountain preserves where dozens of trailheads lead to over 180 miles of developed trails that appeal to the casual walker or the hardened trekker. South Mountain covers the entire southern border of Phoenix. Camelback Mountain stands alone and dominates the central Valley skyline. Piestewa Peak anchors a series of mountains on the northern side of the city. Within the Phoenix city limit there are countless parks, greenbelts and preserves that are available for enjoyable day hikes and casual strolls.
In no particular order here they are:
10 Best Hiking Trails In Phoenix Arizona
1. Camelback Mountain:
This is the best-known hiking destination in the Valley. It’s unique in the sense that you have an amazing mountain hike right in the middle of the city. Unfortunately due to its popularity Camelback Mountain is also one of the busiest and crowded trails in the area. There are 2 hiking trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla. Both trails are rated as moderately difficult; Echo Canyon is steeper and Cholla is a slightly longer trail. Towering 1,400 feet above its base, Camelback characterizes the shape of a gigantic camel that appears to be admiring the amazing views across the Valley below.
2. Tom’s Thumb, North Side:
This 4.2-mile trail is moderately difficult and weaves in and out of gorgeous vegetation providing breathtaking views of Phoenix Four Peaks and Camelback Mountain. The most interesting feature of this hiking trail is the iconic Tom’s Thumb, a large granite bump on the McDowell mountain range. Insure to check out Ogre’s Den, a natural cave-featuring rock art located off below and to the West of the Thumb. The summit offers the best viewpoint in the McDowell Mountains, with extensive views east and west.
3. Pinnacle Peak:
The 150–acre Pinnacle Peak Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Phoenix because of its expansive, spectacular views and ease of accessibility. Pinnacle Peak is a distinctive granite summit that rises 600 feet from the desert floor and can be seen from much of the Valley. This moderate hike has a very smooth tail and is accessible to hikers of all abilities. It has a number of ups and downs over the course of the 3.5-mile trail. You will hike through desert vegetation including: saguaros, cholla cactus, creosote plants and wildlife such as bobcats, gila monsters and western diamondback rattlesnakes. This trail, located in Scottsdale, also offers night hiking and astronomy talks where participants can enjoy a desert evening looking and learning about the stars.
4. Piestewa Peak Summit:
Many locals still refer to the Peak by its original name of “Squaw Peak” before its name changed to “Piestewa Peak” in honor of Lori Piestewa who died serving her country in the Iraq conflict. This 2.4 mile trail is considered easy in the lower portions of the trail and becomes much more difficult as the steepness increases in the upper portion. The 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak is not only one of the most prominent landmarks in the Valley; it is also one of the most popular hiking areas. Here over half a million hikers visit it’s summit annually and Piestewa is second only to the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail as the most visited hiking trail in Arizona.
5. Sunrise Peak:
This hike is located in the McDowell Mountain preserve area and features an easy to follow trail with clearly signed trail junctions through the Sonoran Desert. It is 6.2 miles round-trip and considered moderately difficult. From the peak you have unobstructed views of Scottsdale, Fountain hills, the four peaks, weavers needle, Camelback mountain, and the McDowell Mountain preserve range. Although this trail begins only a few miles out of the city of Scottsdale it has a nice wilderness feel to it. The trail is lined with many saguaro and cholla cactus as well as scrub grasses, palo verde and ocotillo.
6. Big Butte Loop Trail:
This is an easy multi-purpose path that is just over 2 miles in length. The Big Butte Loop Trail is easily accessed via nearby popular destinations like the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. Circumnavigating one of the larger sandstone buttes in the park, this trail begins at the Eliot Ramada and continues through the dry, red desert of Papago, passing the amphitheater on McDowell and gently curving back to the beginning. A level hike, the path is a geologist’s dream, surrounded by interesting rock formations, though also providing an easy hike with lovely views of the Valley and a nice desert escape in the middle of town.
7. Alta Trail:
Located in South Mountain Park, which is described as the largest municipal park in the Unites States and covers more than 16,000 acres with over 51 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking for all ability levels. The Alta Trail is considered one of the most challenging hiking trails within South Mountain Park, but the steep climb to the ridgeline from either end rewards hikers with a striking view of the desert landscape below. At just over 4.5 miles round trip this hike is considered difficult however is inviting to those that prefer to hike undisturbed as the majority of guests prefer the less challenging trails within this park.
8. Shaw Butte Trail:
Located in the northwestern corner of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Shaw Butte is the best all-around hike within the area. This 4.25-mile round-trip hike is considered moderate in difficulty. This scenic loop trail offers panoramic overlooks around every turn through the desert floor and a challenging 800-foot gain to the summit. From the top you will have great views of North Mountain and Piestewa Peak. On a clear day, in the distance you will also have views of South Mountain and the Sierra Estrellas.
9. Quartz Ridge Trail:
Sitting in the middle of the city of Phoenix this hiking trail offers a scenic stroll through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Although this easy 5-mile trail is readily accessible, it traverses many secluded desert basins where you get a sense of being deep within a wilderness area. Hiking through the open valley with mountain views ahead you will come across wonderful fields of wildflower including purple lupines and Mexican gold poppies. The trail gets its name from a giant quartz boulder that lies within a basin in the Preserve. This hiking trail offers plenty of variety with some moderately challenging options just off of the main trail. The Quartz Ridge Trail is surprisingly quite with foot traffic and is a great alternative to the more popular crowded trails nearby.
10. Hayden Butte Preserve and Tempe Town Lake:
This scenic hiking/walking route allows visitors to view the best hotspots in downtown Tempe near Arizona State University. This easy 4.5-mile loop is not entirely a hiking trail, however it visits a mountain preserve, a lakeside park and a trendy business district. On this hike you will pass Sun Devil Stadium and Hayden Butte Park as well as the city of Tempe’s municipal buildings. Tempe Town Lake is a manmade reservoir with a wonderful 2.5-mile path surrounding it. You will enjoy the many shade tress, grassy areas and park benches to rest during your hike. From the top of the butte you will have wonderful views of Tempe and Arizona State University.