Hikes in Phoenix
Phoenix is so much more than its dynamic urban center. Right within city limits, nature reserves and protected areas provide outdoor adventurers with a jaw-dropping selection of trails to explore. Put aside what you know about this desert center and re-imagine it as a mecca for hikers and mountain bikers. Flanked by the McDowell Mountains, White Tank Mountains, and the Superstition Mountains, there are peaks over 2,500 ft to climb without ever leaving city limits. The trails in Phoenix offer every bit of the one-of-a-kind Sonoran Desert scenery you’d desire, with mighty saguaros, prickly teddy bear cholla, caves, petroglyphs, barrel cactus, wildlife, and more to experience as you hike.
Whether you’re scaling Camelback Mountain, listening to a Taiko drum atop Piestewa Peak, or taking a sunset stroll through Papago Park, you’ll find that these rugged, edgy desert trails can become some of the most fascinating to explore. Read on to discover some of the most popular trails in Phoenix, Arizona.
20 Must-Do Hikes in Phoenix
Ready to start exploring? We’re making it easy to get going with 20 of our favorite hikes in Phoenix. Our list includes short, easy trails, challenging summits, and everything in between. Work your way through as many as you can on the weekends or make the most of your downtime while visiting the city–you’ll want to keep exploring once you first discover the draw of the desert.
Our top hikes in Phoenix are chosen to show off the highlights of Phoenix’s landscape. While starting with these 20 hikes is a great way to get acquainted with Phoenix’s hiking scene, remember that we’ve got plenty more route guides to keep you adventuring!
Camelback Mountain, named for its resemblance to a camel laying down, is the tallest mountain in the Phoenix area. Clearly visible from its dominating spot on the skyline, it beckons hikers with its sloping summit. Camelback Mountain offers excellent views of the city and the surrounding mountains since it’s the tallest mountain in the area. It’s a tough hike, but a rite of passage indeed!
These days, Papago Park is a recreational and hiking area, a golf course, and an access point for the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens. In years past, it was a Native reservation, a fish hatchery in the Depression, a POW camp, and a VA hospital. It’s not only a historical part of the city, but a beautiful one, with big red hills eroded like Swiss cheese. There are caves to explore and views of the city to enjoy. This trail loops the golf course–fore!!
North Mountain rises above the Phoenix area, offering a gorgeous summit with expansive views of the city and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve to the southwest. The views are really special at sunset when the mountains over the city are silhouetted in orange and yellow. This hike is fairly short, and most of the trail is actually paved, but it’s still steep enough to feel like a workout.
Piestewa Peak is one of the defining mountains of Phoenix’s skyline, rising 2,608 ft to claim the title of the second-tallest mountain in the city. Part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, the hiking trails on this mountain provide locals and visitors with the chance to challenge themselves in exchange for incredible views of the city and the mountains that surround it. This trail both reaches the summit and loops around the base of the mountain.
Lookout Mountain is an isolated peak in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The mountain offers an excellent view of the other peaks of the preserve, which are just south of it, and the city and its suburbs sprawling in all directions. The hike to the top of Lookout Mountain is a short one, but it’s no-nonsense, requiring a bit of light scrambling over rocky sections. It’s a good pick for beginners who want to try out a more adventurous trail that’s still forgiving.
The Hole in the Rock in Papago Park is one of the city’s most popular hiking trails. This short, simple trail leads you up a red sandstone butte with a hole in it large enough to sit in. This hole is one of several in this very unique landscape, where erosion in the sandstone creates a spongelike appearance on the rocks.
The hike to Dobbins Lookout is an awesome adventure. It’s just hard enough to challenge more experienced hikers, but it’s still accessible for strong beginners thanks to its non-rocky path (relative to the usual in Phoenix) and lack of technicality. The view from the lookout is a treat, and it won’t take too long to reach it. You can also check out petroglyphs on this trail.
Mormon Trail is one of the main routes in South Mountain Park. This busy trail can be used to reach Acer Summit, or it can be used to create loop hikes with the several intersecting routes along the way. The trail isn’t technical, but it offers unique rocky desert terrain flanked by saguaros. Look for petroglyphs on the sides of this trail.
The Deem Hills Recreation Area is a fabulous park serving residents of North Phoenix. The park boasts playgrounds, a dog park, ramadas, and picnic areas. It’s a perfect place to relax on a warm afternoon. The hiking trails in this park are great, especially the Circumference Trail to Ridgeline Loop. This route climbs to the highest point in the park. While it’s not that high in the mountain world, the views are excellent.
Aravaipa Canyon Trail is a unique route that travels along the floor of a gorgeous cliff-bound gorge southeast of Phoenix. This hike passes through a wide, wooded area into the gorge, the rocks changing from volcanic to conglomerate. There are cacti, trees, and wildlife to see along the way. This is a special trail that usually feels quite secluded.
The Brown’s Ranch Perimeter Loop is a fantastic adventure through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This loop makes use of several different trails over 14.0 mi. You can see Balanced Rock and the Amphitheater on this hike. The saguaros, the mountains, and the rock formations make for great scenery, and the trail’s packed sand/gravelly footing is easy to cruise over.
The Hieroglyphic Trail is a fascinating hike that leads you up towards the base of the mighty Superstition Mountains into a canyon where petroglyphs decorate the basalt boulders and walls. These images were left here over 1,500 years ago when the Hohokam tribe lived in this area. Along with the petroglyphs, this hike shows off the towering Superstition Mountains above you and the Gold Canyon and Gila River Plain below. In the spring, it’s lined by wildflowers.
The hike to Bluff Springs and Cave via Peralta Trail is a bit of an under-appreciated gem. This hike in the Superstition Wilderness doesn’t have the hype surrounding it that other trails do, but users consistently rate it high and appreciate it for its beautiful views. This route shows off a gorgeous slice of the desert mountains, dotted with saguaros and fascinating rock formations sculpted by erosion.
The hike to Canyon Lake Marina via Peralta Trail is an ideal adventure for backpackers seeking a two day and one night trip. Beginning from the Peralta Trailhead at the far southern border of the Tonto National Forest near Phoenix, this hike traverses the rugged, gorgeous desert mountains to the lake, tucked away in the hills.
This hike is a very easy adventure that anyone of any age can enjoy. The Papago Park Butte Loop wraps around two buttes, which look like something out of an aquarium with their Swiss cheese hotels and smooth exterior. The trail is clear, easy to follow, and lined with unique desert plants and cacti.
Pinnacle Peak Trail is a great hike that’s enjoyed by hikers, runners, and climbers bound for the climbing routes on Pinnacle Peak. This route might deceive you a bit with its name–it’s not as hard as it sounds. You won’t be climbing up a peak, but you will be enjoying Pinnacle Peak and the summit next to it as you hike. Being just south of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, you can see the mountains in the preserve from this trail.
Tom's Thumb Trail is a hard hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, one of the best natural areas near Scottsdale. This hike climbs up past East End Peak to a viewpoint over the McDowell Mountains and the city of Phoenix spread out below. The view is a treat and the hike is relatively short, so if you’re a fast hiker, the bang for your buck is definitely there.
Western Vista Trail via Dixie Mountain Loop is a moderate hike in the Union Hills area of Phoenix. This route is moderately difficult, and we’d consider it suitable for strong beginners and older children. The hike climbs up through the hills near the base of Dixie Mountain, ending atop the hill immediately to the west of Dixie. You’ll enjoy a great view of the low peaks and the city beside you.
Telegraph Pass Trail is a hike that’s easy to reach and very popular. This moderate trail is used by hikers, dog walkers, and joggers. It’s suitable for families, but with a great view of the city from the top, it’s rewarding for all levels. Some of the trail is on concrete footing, then you’ll hike over packed dirt, so you can check this one off your list in your sneakers.
Freedom Trail is the route that wraps around Piestewa Peak’s base in its entirety. It’s sometimes called the Circumference Trail in contrast to the trail to the summit, which is called Summit Trail. This trail is much easier than the trek to the summit, so it’s a good pick for hikers who don’t feel ready to climb the whole mountain but who still want to appreciate the scenery of this peak and this part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
Scroll down to see the full list of hiking trails in Phoenix.
When is the Best Time to Hike in Phoenix
To state the obvious, it gets extremely hot in Phoenix. The summer months (May through September) aren’t just unpleasant to hike in, they’re downright dangerous due to the risk of dehydration and heatstroke. Temperatures frequently exceed 110°F (41°C), making it generally unsafe to be wandering out on the trails.
Keep in mind that Arizona experiences summer monsoons, which are heavy, brief rainstorms that can bring lightning and flash flooding. Monsoons tend to come in the afternoons, so if you plan to hike in the summer despite the heat, getting an early start is even more important.
Spring and fall are somewhat milder, but you can still easily expect daytime temperatures to hover between 77°C to 86°F (25°C to 30°C) in March, April, October, and November. Should you be hiking in these months, make sure you bring lots of water, turn back when your water is halfway done, and wear sun protection. Begin your hike early in the morning or early in the evening to avoid the heat of the day.
Winter is the best time to hike in Phoenix. In January, February, and December, temperatures rise to a much more manageable 68°C to 71°F (20°C to 22°C) daytime high. While hotter days can still occur, you’re at a much lower risk of heat-related issues on the trail in the winter.
Other Outdoor Activities in Phoenix
While the trails are excellent, hiking is certainly not the only way to explore Phoenix! This region boasts plenty of space for other outdoor activities.
Adventurers on two wheels can take advantage of the many mountain bike trails. Those with four-legged friends can explore horse and dog-friendly trails. Campers can set up their tents in sites near the city, and birders and animal lovers will be spoiled with the fascinating variety of species that call the desert home.
How to Plan a Trip to Phoenix
Planning a trip to Phoenix is pleasantly less high-pressure than planning trips to some of Arizona’s other outdoor destinations. You won’t find long lines of cars vying for trailhead parking here, nor will you be strapped for places to stay.
Phoenix has a good selection of accommodation options, from hotels in each corner of the city to short and long-term vacation rentals. Renting a car will make getting around the city as easy as possible, especially since Phoenix lacks a well-developed transit system. Trailhead parking is normally easy to find, save for the busiest weekends.
Some of the parks and recreation areas near Phoenix charge modest day-use fees, but most of the routes are free to hike.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Phoenix
What is Phoenix known for?
The Desert Botanical Gardens, hot air balloons, Papago Park, Chase Field, sports games, golfing, and vacationers.
Why is Phoenix so popular?
Phoenix balances an affordable cost of living, job opportunities, and recreation in a way that makes it very attractive to many.
What is the population of Phoenix?
As of 2021, the population of Phoenix was approaching 1.7 million.
Does it get really hot in Phoenix?
Yes, extremely hot. The summers in Phoenix are some of the hottest in any major city in the United States.
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Best Hikes in Phoenix
Camelback Mountain via Echo Canyon and Cholla Trail
Camelback Mountain is Phoenix’s most dominant peak, begging to be climbed as it rises above the city, resembling a camel laying down. This approach to the mountain is a point-to-point route, but you can simply double the distance and climb it as an out and back if you don’t have a car shuttle. The beginning of your hike starts from the Echo Canyon Trailhead, following Echo Canyon Trail up the west side of the mountain, descending via Cholla Trail. You’ll have an incredible view of the city and the surrounding mountains since this is the tallest peak in the Phoenix area.
Camelback Mountain is not a beginner or kid-friendly hike. There are multiple rescues on this mountain every season and hikers have died from dehydration and accidents up here. If you’re a new hiker or you’re not used to hiking in desert conditions, save this one for the future.
Papago Park Golf Course Loop
Papago Park is a popular recreation area just minutes from downtown Phoenix, and the adjacent golf course is an equally popular spot for residents and snowbirds to get a round in. Papago Park was a reservation in past years, then a fish hatchery in the Great Depression, a prisoner of war camp in WWII, and a VA hospital. Talk about a storied past! Today, it offers hiking opportunities and access to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens.
The Papago Park Golf Course Loop circles the west end of the park and the golf course grounds. It’s a flat, relaxed route that makes for an ideal morning stroll or Sunday afternoon outing with family and friends, especially at sunrise.
North Mountain National Trail
North Mountain Trail leads you to the top of 2,060 ft North Mountain in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve north of Phoenix. With the preserve stretching east and southeast, the views on this hike perfectly combine the city and the mountains. It’s a fantastic in-between hike that can challenge strong beginners but still satisfy stronger hikers, too. This isn’t a great pick for young families because of the light scrambling required, but it’s great for hikers who want to ease into using their hands on a low-consequence trail.
If you can time your summit for sunset, you’ll be awash in a golden glow. It’s an amazing experience! Parts of this trail are paved, but the paving comes after a rocky section, so we can’t consider this trail stroller or wheelchair-friendly. Bring water with you and try to hike before or after the heat of the day.
Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop Hike
Piestewa Peak is the second-tallest mountain in Phoenix after Camelback. From the top of this peak, you’ll have a jaw-dropping, expansive view of the city below and the mountains that surround it. The Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop takes you to the top and then around the trail that encircles the mountain, which tends to be a bit less busy and quite scenic. You’ll do best on this hike if you embrace a sense of community, since this is a very popular hike.
There’s some interesting history behind the name of this mountain; read on to learn. To prepare for this hike, get an early start, stay out of the heat, bring water, and leave dogs and children at home. Expect a tough but beautiful adventure.
Lookout Mountain Summit Trail
Lookout Mountain is an isolated peak in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, located north of the city. The mountain offers an excellent view of the other peaks of the preserve, which are just south of it, and the city and its suburbs sprawling in all directions. The hike to the top of Lookout Mountain is a short one, but it’s no-nonsense, requiring a bit of light scrambling over rocky sections. It’s a good pick for beginners who want to try out a more adventurous trail that’s still forgiving.
This hike is dog-friendly, but it might be tough for pups to get all the way to the top on those rocky sections. Make sure you bring lots of water with you and plan your hike outside the heat of the day. Might we suggest sunrise or sunset?
Hole in the Rock Trail
The Hole in the Rock is one of the most popular hikes in Phoenix, especially for families. This route leads you up to a cave in a giant red rock, which looks like something out of an aquarium. The hole gives you a view of the beautiful golf course and botanical gardens below, but its uses by Native people were much more practical. The hike is easy and very short. If you can climb a few sets of stairs, you can likely make it up to the hole in the rock. Dogs on leash are welcome. Expect a busy trail.
This route is located in Papago Park, a popular recreation area just minutes from downtown Phoenix. Papago Park was a reservation in past years, then a fish hatchery in the Great Depression, a prisoner of war camp in WWII, and a VA hospital. Talk about a storied past! Today, it offers hiking opportunities and access to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens.
Piestewa Peak Summit Trail
Piestewa Peak is the second-tallest mountain in Phoenix after Camelback Mountain. From the top of this peak, you’ll have a jaw-dropping, panoramic view of the city below and the mountains that surround it. This route guide follows the trail to the summit and then returns, but you can also add on the Freedom Loop if you want a longer adventure, which encircles the base of the mountain. You’ll do best on this hike if you embrace a sense of community, since this is a very popular hike.
There’s some interesting history behind the name of this mountain, which used to go by two different names. To prepare for this hike, get an early start, stay out of the heat, bring water, and leave dogs and children at home. Expect a tough but beautiful adventure.
Dobbins Lookout via Holbert Trail
Dobbins Lookout via Holbert Trail is a 4.0 mi hike on South Mountain in the South Mountain Park in Phoenix. South Mountain is always a treat to hike in. While there are a bunch of different trails that start from the same area here, they all have unique, enjoyable views of their own. Dobbins Lookout gives you the perfect place to admire your birds-eye view of Phoenix from. There’s an old stone house up here that makes for an ideal shelter on a hot day and a neat place to pop into any time.
This hike is moderately difficult. It’s steep but not technical, and it’s a nice break from the many rocky trails in Phoenix. This route is a good pick for hikers who want to take on one of their first strenuous trails–it’s forgiving enough!
Acer Summit via Mormon Trail
Acer Summit via Mormon Trail is a 2.4 mi hike on South Mountain in the South Mountain Park in Phoenix. While there are several different trails that start from the same area here, they all have unique, enjoyable views of their own. Mormon Trail offers the chance to see petroglyphs, interesting rock slides, and a fairly easy trip up to Acer Summit, which has a wonderful view of the city sprawled below.
This hike is moderately difficult. It’s suitable for adventurous kids. While mountain bikes are technically allowed on the Mormon Trail, we don’t recommend attempting to bike this route because of how heavy the foot traffic is. This is a very busy hike!
Circumference Trail to Ridgeline Loop
The Circumference Trail to Ridgeline Loop is a 3.8 mi hike in the Deem Hills Recreation Area in North Phoenix. Before mentioning the hike, this entire recreation area is an excellent spot to spend a nice afternoon. There is a playground, dog park, picnic areas, ramadas, and hiking trails to enjoy here. This hike is one that you can’t judge by the cover. It doesn’t look like it’ll be that impressive with its minimal elevation, but the view from the top is wonderful, especially at sunset.
This hike is suitable for most skill levels and ages. Be prepared for the heat and try to time your hike outside of the heat of the day. Finally, consider bringing a picnic to enjoy in the park after your hike.
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