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The 5 Best Hikes in Phoenix

Published January 23, 2024 by Matt Fendon Law Group | Local

Its combination of warm, dry weather and magnificent local scenery makes the Phoenix area attractive for trail hiking enthusiasts from everywhere in America. Phoenix has dedicated more than 40,000 acres for parks and preserves. These, in turn, have more than 200 miles of trails. Some of them are easy. Some are challenging even to veteran hikers. Some are a few hundred yards in length, others stretch for miles.

Indeed, so many kinds of trail experiences await you that it would be easy to list the top-five or even top-ten trails in several preference categories.

Our selections below are based mostly on how popular the hiking location is with local Phoenix residents. We have also included at least one trail in areas including difficulty (easy and hard), length (short and long), and whether they are good to take the family to and are pet-friendly. 

No matter what you are looking for on your next trail hike, at least one of these choices will be a good one for you.

Papago Park

Papago Park has a varied history, including its use as a Native American reservation and a camp for prisoners of war in World War II. Today, in addition to its trail network the park also hosts the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, and recreational facilities for golf, fishing, and baseball.

Papago Park has two halves, divided by the Galvin Parkway. It also has two of the most popular easy trails in Phoenix, the Double Butte Loop and the Hole-in-the-Rock Trails. These smooth trails are safe for children and dog-friendly. They also have facilities including restrooms, drinking fountains, and picnic areas. 

Papago Park trails are open until 11:00 pm. There are no fees required for parking or to enter the park. The closing time for the park’s parking area is at sunset or 7:00 pm, whichever is earlier (other parking is available outside the park for those who want to stay past sunset). 

The Double Butte Loop Trail

This trail is on the park’s western side and forms a two-and-a-quarter mile circuit around two buttes and the surrounding desert and sandstone environment. The elevation gain is only a little more than 100 feet, making the trail easy to manage for hikers of any ability.

The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail

This trail is an easy and short trail off of the park’s eastern trail loop. The total distance is a little more than a quarter-mile in total distance, with an elevation gain of 200 feet in the last tenth of a mile that requires some stair climbing. 

The trail leads to its namesake, a natural chamber in the rock face that also has excellent views of the Phoenix and Tempe skylines, lagoons, sandstone formations, and other scenery. The Hole-in-the-Rock is especially popular at sunset. 

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

At 30,000 acres, this park is the largest regional park in Maricopa County and has more than 30 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty. One of the more popular is the Waterfall Trail, which winds through a desert canyon and features ancient petroglyphs. The waterfall for which the trail is named is not always active; the best time to see it is after recent rains.

The Waterfall Trail is an easy, paved, pedestrian-only trail well-suited for children. It is wheelchair accessible for its first half-mile. It has places for barbeque grilling and picnicking, making it a good option for a day hike. This trail is a little less than a two-mile walk and has little elevation gain.

Park hours vary:

  • From May 1 to October 31, from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm daily.
  • From November 1 to April 30, from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm daily.

There is a $2 per person or $7 per-vehicle entry fee to enter the park. 

South Mountain Park

For a more challenging hike that features more breathtaking views as its reward, a good choice is Mormon Trail to Hidden Valley Loop in South Mountain Park, part of its nearly 60 miles of trails. 

This trail length is a loop of about six-and-a-half miles. Half of the trail, beginning at the Mormon Trailhead, is fairly steep with about a 900-foot elevation increase. The other half is more level and offers a panorama of wildflowers, rock formations, and petroglyphs.

Hikers generally rate the difficulty of this trail as moderate. Anyone in good physical condition should be able to complete it. It does require some climbing. Children and dogs are welcome.

The park hours are the same as for White Tank Mountain Regional Park. No fees are required to use the park or to park. No facilities are available. If you go, make sure to bring plenty of water with you.

Pinnacle Peak Park

Pinnacle Peak Park has an out-and-back two-mile trail that comes close to the summit of the granite rock it ascends but does not actually go to the top. Still, the vistas at the end of the trail make it a popular destination for hikers.

This is a moderately difficult trail that, although it is well-maintained, can be steep in a few places. The gradual elevation gain of 1300 feet is manageable for most adults and older children. 

Similar to the Echo Canyon Trail below, hiking the trail at Pinnacle Peak can be an experience that is hot during the day and requires having enough water with you to avoid dehydration. Hikers are advised to remain on the trail to avoid rattlesnakes that inhabit the surrounding terrain.

Pinnacle Peak Park hours vary considerably throughout the year. Parking, drinking fountains, and restrooms are available along with a few picnic tables and a shade ramada at the park.

Camelback Mountain

The Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain is one of the more difficult hikes you can do in the Phoenix area. It is an out-and-back trail of two-and-a-half miles, with an elevation gain of more than 1200 feet. The trail is steep enough in places that you will need to use your hands as well as your feet to climb.

Despite its difficulty, the Echo Canyon Trail is a highly popular destination for hikers of all ability levels and can be crowded. This is because seeing the Phoenix area in all directions from the summit of Camelback Mountain is one of the highest and most spectacular views of Maricopa County you can have while still standing on the ground.

The Echo Canyon Trail is rated as expert-level by hikers. You should only hike this trail if you are an experienced trail hiker in good physical condition. The Camelback Mountain area can become very hot in the summer, so hiking this trail is not recommended during the summer months. Every year Echo Canyon Trail hikers require emergency rescues––often because they do not bring enough water with them.

The Echo Canyon Trail hike can take about 3 hours. Park hours are from dawn to dusk. Hikers should start early in the day to beat the heat. Unfortunately, no dogs are permitted on the Echo Canyon Trail.

Be Safe When Hiking

We hope that you found at least one of the trail hiking possibilities mentioned here appealing enough to try it out. We also ask you to remember that the rules for safe trail hiking are the same everywhere: 

  • Dress appropriately, especially concerning good footwear for hiking. 
  • Plan your trip so you can complete it in a timely way. 
  • Do not hike a trail that is beyond your physical abilities.
  • Stay on the marked trails. And most importantly, bring plenty of water with you.

For more information on hiking in the Phoenix area, including many more trail possibilities, see the Maricopa County Parks & Recreation page for hikers.

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