The outdoor enthusiasts around here will tell you Phoenix is a mecca for urban hiking. “Urban” doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing views, or the sense of losing yourself in sublime wilderness: It just means no matter where you are in Greater Phoenix, you’re guaranteed to be a short drive from a great trail. Lace up your shoes and get moving with this guide to essential hikes around the city. You’ll also find a map of trailhead locations at the bottom of this post.
Before you go: Maximize the enjoyment of your hikes and keep yourself safe from the desert's unique hazards with these safety tips.
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Double Butte Loop and Hole-in-the-Rock Trail in Papago Park
Distance: 2.3-mile loop (Double Butte) and 825 feet out and back (Hole-in-the-Rock)
What better way to ogle the uncanny red sandstone formations of Papago Park than hiking around (and inside) them? The smaller two of these beautiful buttes can be explored on an easy dirt loop that starts in the West Park parking lot, accessible from Galvin Parkway. Then, drive across the street to the park’s east side for a quick climb up rocky stairs to peek out from the cave-like Hole-in-the-Rock, a popular landmark (and prehistoric solstice-tracking tool) with views of an oasis and distant city skyline.
Blevins Trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park
Distance: 3-mile loop
For an easygoing introduction to quintessential Sonoran Desert scenery, this trail is your pick. The flat, meandering path lets you take your eyes off your footing to scope out towering saguaros, tangled ocotillos, bristling bushes of cholla and the banded ridgeline of nearby Pass Mountain.
Waterfall Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Distance: 1.8 miles out and back
Saguaros, ancient petroglyph carvings, wide paths and rocky outcroppings along this easy trail provide a slice of Sonoran Desert beauty without tricky footing or much elevation gain. Sighting the namesake waterfall at the end of the trail is rare, but possible if you come after a rain. Park entrance is $6.
Judith Tunnell Accessible Trails in South Mountain Park/Preserve
Distance: .5-mile loop
This paved trail includes two half-mile loops that start near the South Mountain Environmental Education Center’s disabled accessible parking spots. While both feature water fountains, shade ramadas and benches for resting, the Interpretive Loop offers educational signage on the surrounding desert life, while the Challenge Loop is a slightly steeper grade.
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Hidden Valley via Mormon Trail in South Mountain Park/Preserve
Distance: 4 miles out and back
This steep trail leans toward the more difficult side of a moderate hike, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s a must-see for views, desert flora and fun rock formations. Start at the Mormon Trailhead and connect with the National Trail to head south. That was the hard part: The remainder of the hike is for peeking at petroglyphs, playing around a natural tunnel and tight squeeze through “Fat Man’s Pass.” The lollipop-shaped loop brings you back to Mormon Trail for your descent.
Pinnacle Peak Trail in Pinnacle Peak Park
Distance: 3.5 miles out and back
A groomed pathway provides easy footing for soaking up the scenic views, spotting wildlife and greeting passerby—it’s a popular trail, and not without reason. The incline to 2,750 feet is gradual and well-maintained, and while you won’t be able to clamber on the true “pinnacle” of granite at the top, the trail still offers raw panoramic views of the desert unfolding below.
Lookout Mountain Summit Trail in Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Distance: 1.2 miles out and back
In just under a mile on this short trail, you’ll climb more than 450 feet, but the burst of breathlessness is worth the views up top. The summit looks out south over the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, and is a less crowded and more moderate hike than popular summits of Camelback and Piestewa (see the “hard” section for details on these). The trailhead is accessible from 16th street. If you’d like to continue your hike, join up with the Circumference Trail that runs a 2.6-mile route through the rocky desert at the mountain’s feet.
Dixie Mountain Loop in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Distance: 3.82-mile loop
The newest area in Phoenix’s desert preserve system offers this rolling loop trail through wild and undeveloped desert, notable for its diversity of plant life and spring wildflowers. If you want to add some elevation, there are two summits accessible from the loop: Dixie Mountain Summit is .22 miles to the top and rated difficult, and the Western Vista Trail is .34 miles to the top and rated moderate.
Dragonfly Loop via Spur Cross Trail in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
Distance: 3.5-mile loop
Start out through thick hills of saguaros, end in a lush riparian area. It's possible on this one short hike, which begins on the Maricopa Trail and angles across a plateau into Jewel of the Creek Preserve. The refreshing riparian habitat is filled with colorful creek-side cottonwoods and willows. Head back up Spur Cross Road to reconnect with the starting point.
Difficulty Rating: Hard
Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain
Distance: 2.4 miles out and back
The summit of Camelback is one of the highest hikes in Phoenix and arguably the best view you can achieve here on two feet. That means this trail stays very busy, but don’t let it deter you from tackling the Phoenix landmark. Echo Canyon Trail climbs from the north side parking lot to a height of 2,704 feet (and we mean climbs – you’ll need your hands free for 1,200 feet of elevation gain, some scrambling up a steep slope at the beginning and hopping boulders near the peak). Save some time to relax and enjoy the 360-degree beauty at the top.
Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Distance: 4.6 miles out and back
Yes, there is an opportunity to take a thumbs-up photo with this trail’s signature formation. To get there and enjoy the views, otherworldly upland boulder fields and desert flora along the way, you’re going to need to gain some elevation. The trailhead’s north side starts you out with a series of strenuous switchbacks. Once you’re up in the land of boulders, keep an eye out for rock climbers and enjoy the trail until you reach the Thumb itself.
Piestewa Summit Trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Distance: 2.4 miles out and back
A close second in popularity to Camelback Mountain, the summit of this trail is beloved with hikers seeking a challenging trek with a big scenic payoff. If you consider yourself in this category, come ready for a busy and breathless ascent from 1,400 to 2,608 feet. Don’t miss the views along the way – the peak’s schist rock composes most of the stair-like trail, and is dotted with cacti, ocotillo and wildflowers in the spring.
Siphon Draw Trail to Flatiron in Lost Dutchman State Park
Distance: 6 miles out and back
If other trails seem like a walk in the park, you’re probably ready to tackle this exhilarating climb in the Superstition Mountains. Start on the Siphon Draw Trail through the airy open desert until you hike up inside a basin of smooth, polished rock. You’ll have some time to admire its beauty before it’s evident you’re going to need to clamber up it on all fours. Once at the top, additional obstacles include another hand-over-hand rock face and a rugged, unmarked trail. A flat clearing awaits you at the end with staggering views out to the west. Pack a lunch for energy before making your way back down.