The parks and peaks that make up the Phoenix Mountains Preserve are surrounded by civilization, but feel as remote as the Sonoran Desert outside the city. Located in the heart of Central Phoenix and just 20 minutes from downtown, the preserve offers hiking, biking, and views from prominent summits such as Piestewa Peak and Camelback Mountain. The area encompasses some of the largest city parks in the world.
Check out some of the most popular spots in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve below.
Trailhead hours: All gated trailheads and parking areas are open 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Trails remain open until 11 p.m.
The preserve's second highest point (after Camelback) is Piestewa Peak at 2,608 feet. If you want to enjoy the panoramic views, there's only one way up: The extremely strenuous Summit Trail (#300), challenging hikers with a 1,200-ft elevation gain and rocky, unrelenting climb. It's one of Phoenix's best hikes, but it's a challenge.
Piestewa Peak was originally called "Vianom Do'ag" by the Tohono O'odham tribe, which meant "Iron Mountain." By the 1900s, white settlers called the mountain "Squaw Peak," a derogatory term for Native women. It wasn't until 2003 when the Arizona government officially changed the name to Piestewa Peak in honor of Lori Ann Piestewa, an Arizona woman who was killed in action in Iraq that same year. Piestewa was the first Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military.
Distance: 1.2 miles out-and-back
Time: 25 to 60 minutes, depending on experience
Trailhead: 2701 E Squaw Peak Dr, Phoenix, the first driveway on the left in the Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area. Water and restrooms are available.
What to expect: Crowds, exposed schist rock and a difficult climb give way to jaw-dropping views from the top. Bring more water than you think you need, protect yourself from heat and enjoy the challenge — check out some other safety tips here. Dogs are not allowed on Summit Trail.
If you'd rather avoid the climb, the area around Piestewa Peak provides plenty of recreation and hiking opportunities. The 3.74-mile Freedom Trail (#302) encircles the base of the peak, while the Quartz Ridge Trail (#8A) climbs to connect with additional trails for views of the surrounding desert. For full descriptions of all hiking options, visit the Phoenix Parks and Recreation page for Piestewa/Dreamy Draw.
This area gets its name from the long walk miners would take home in the early twentieth century. While miners initially went looking for copper in the region, they instead found cinnabar, a mineral used to extract mercury. The neurotoxins from the mineral left miners in an inebriated — or "dreamy" — state, hence the name. Nowadays, the area is used for hiking and biking, and the original Dreamy Draw path is now Arizona State Route 51, which runs through central Phoenix.
Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area (Main Entrance): 2701 E. Squaw Peak Drive
Dreamy Draw Recreation Area: 2421 E Northern Ave
32nd Street Trailhead entrance: NE Corner of Lincoln Ave and 32nd St
North Mountain and Shaw Butte sit at 2,104 feet and 2,149 feet, respectively, and this part of the preserve gives you access to hike up (and around) both. Trail difficulties range from a barrier-free nature trail to the moderately difficult, steady climb up Shaw Butte. Find trail descriptions here. These trails can take as much as two hours to hike roundtrip.
North Mountain Park: 10608 N 7th St
North Mountain Visitor Center (direct access to Shaw Butte): 12950 N. 7th Street
Although slightly smaller than the popular peaks of North Mountain Park, the region provides excellent views and less crowded trails. Take a 1.6-mile loop around Shadow Mountain, or hike a short but sweet .6 mile summit trail onto Lookout Mountain. Visit here for trail maps and descriptions.