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10 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in the Phoenix Area

You don't even need to leave the city limits to enjoy beautiful hikes around Phoenix. Looking out over the city from some of the high ridges, you can see the entire metropolitan area, including many of the well-known rock formations, like those in Papago Park, as well as Camelback Mountain and Pinnacle Peak. The high points are definitely some of the most popular hiking destinations, but you can also find easy trails that meander through the beautiful landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Walking among the saguaros or blooming wildflowers brings its own type of serenity and awe. Whether you are looking for an easy walking trail or a heart-pumping hike up a mountain, you'll find it here on our list of the top hikes in Phoenix.

1 Tom's Thumb Trail

Tom's Thumb Trail
Tom's Thumb Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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From the trailhead and surrounding area, this hike looks intimidating. Tom's Thumb can be seen projecting from the ridge far above, and the rubbly hillside of the mountain looks harsh. Once you start traversing the switchbacks and reach a point high enough to see off into the distance, it's easy to be distracted by the views rather than your exertion level. And the reward is worth the effort for the incredible vista from the top and a close-up look at Tom's Thumb. You'll also find small caves to explore up here.

Done as an out-and-back hike, this trail is 4.2 miles in total, with an elevation of approximately 1,000 feet. If you want to seriously challenge yourself, you can combine this with the East End Loop for a more than 11-mile hike, and at least twice the overall elevation gain. Set out early in the day before the heat sets in. At the trailhead is a completely overbuilt facility, with restrooms, a large covered outdoor area, and information.

2 Pinnacle Peak

Pinnacle Peak
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This hike is one of the most popular and busy hikes in Scottsdale, known for its spectacular setting and relative ease. A gradual ascent up a boulder-covered peak dotted with Sonoran Desert flora, identified by small signposts, leads to a spectacular view out over the surrounding area. You can look out to Tom's Thumb and over the Troon North Golf Club and the Four Seasons Resort directly below. The green fairways are a stark contrast to the brown desert. At the base is a fully staffed visitor center complete with washrooms and information. This is a 3.5-mile, out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. All manner of hikers frequent this trail, from fully outfitted trail runners to those just out for a slow walk in their flip flops, and even those stopping to do yoga poses along the way. Depending on the time of year, you may also see some rock climbers making their way to the top. Shade is essentially non-existent on this hike, so it's best to start early in the day to avoid the heat and the crowds. The parking lot has room for only 90 cars, but street parking is available.

If you are staying at the Four Seasons Troon North Resort, you can access Pinnacle Peak from a trail at the resort, or even join a group at the resort for a morning Zen hike.

3 Papago Park Trails

Papago Park Trails
Papago Park Trails | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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This park, located right in the city, offers a convenient and interesting place for hiking and exploration. The Eliot Ramada and Double Butte Loop Trail is a 2.3-mile hike that leads around the base of some of the signature sandstone buttes that make this park so scenic and unique. Using this trail as your base, you can opt for shorter or longer hikes. You don't need to do the entire loop, you can easily walk in as far as Papago Buttes and return without circumnavigating the butte. All along the trail are opportunities to take short side spurs up into the rocks for closer looks at small caves and holes in the buttes, or to reach saddles for views on the back side. This is a particularly fun area for families, with all kinds of opportunities for kids or teens to climb up boulders and explore on their own. At the base of Papago Buttes is a large ramada with picnic tables, offering a welcome break from the sun.

4 Lost Dog Wash Trailhead Trails

Lost Dog Wash Trail
Lost Dog Wash Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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The Lost Dog Wash Trailhead, part of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, offers a number of relatively easy but scenic trails that can be combined to make loops of varying lengths. The landscape of each of the trails is arguably similar, although some of the hikes farther up the hillside offer different views. The desert here is lush by Phoenix standards, with saguaros, chollas, ocotillos, and various other plants of the Sonoran Desert. You can also expect to see all kinds of birds, and possibly some animals. For a short hike, try linking Lost Dog Trail, Sunrise Trail, Anasazi Trail, and back to Lost Dog Trail. This is a nice 2.4-mile, clockwise, loop trail with only 250 feet of elevation gain. A lovely longer hike is the Sunrise Trail East, which is four miles in length and has 1,150 feet of elevation. And for a longer hike without much elevation, the Taliesin Overlook Trail is a four-mile hike up 350 feet to a low ridge overlooking Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. All of these leave from the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead.

5 Flatiron Summit via Siphon Draw

Flatiron Summit via Siphon Draw
Flatiron Summit via Siphon Draw | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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The Flatiron Summit via Siphon Draw is for experienced hikers in good physical shape, and those with a taste for adventure. This is a strenuous, five- to six-hour hike. You may be lulled into thinking this is an easy trail at the start but later on, the hike is quite steep and some scrambling is required near the top. If you consider doing this hike, bear in mind it is a 6.2-mile round-trip journey, with an elevation gain of close to 3,000 feet, and much of it is in full sun.

At the top, you'll find stunning 360-degree views and a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment. Trail finding can be tricky at times, so take your time to make sure you are on the right path. The main trail is marked with white and blue dots. The path is uneven with gravel in many areas, and climbing some boulders is required. Flat Iron Summit Trail is in Lost Dutchman State Park. A day fee is required. If you want to get an early start on this hike, camping in the park is a convenient option. For more information see our article on the best campgrounds around Phoenix.

6 Mormon Loop Trail

Mormon Loop Trail
Mormon Loop Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Another easy-to-reach city hike is the Mormon Trail or the more extended hike, the Mormon Loop Trail. The Mormon Trail is a 1.2-mile, in-and-out hike with a little over 700 feet of elevation. The trail climbs steadily from the parking lot as it makes its way up to a ridge. As you ascend, you can look out over Phoenix and see some of the cities signature natural features, including the rock buttes of Papago Park, the easy to recognize Camelback Mountain, and Piestewa Peak. Mormon Trail joins up with the Mormon Loop Trail. If you choose to do the loop, the total hike is 4.7 miles, and the elevation gain is over 1,150 feet. You can see some saguaro at the higher elevations, as well as ocotillo and other desert scrub, and of course, fabulous views out over the city and beyond to the Superstition Mountains.

7 Camelback Mountain, Echo Trail

Camelback Mountain, Echo Trail
Camelback Mountain, Echo Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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This short but scenic trail in Scottsdale is the most famous hike in the Phoenix area and absurdly popular. It's also much more difficult than it first sounds. It's only 1.2 miles to the summit but has an elevation gain of almost 1,300 feet, and is notorious for wreaking havoc on hikers. This is a trail for experienced hikers. It's steep and has sections where you will definitely be using your hands and feet. Handrails run up the steepest sections, but that doesn't make it any less challenging and often adds congestion to sections of the hike.

The first section is a reasonable hike up to a saddle. From the saddle are beautiful views in both directions out over the city and along the steep walls of Camelback Mountain. If you aren't up for the challenge of the full hike, this is a good place to turn around. The next section follows a wall up a set of stairs, and the last section is a steep climb up rocks. A handrail runs up through this section to help hikers. It's often congested, and many hikers simply climb up the rock using all fours.

Echo Trail is rated as extremely difficult and there are warning signs at the start about heat, exertion, and falling. This trail often has the most rescues per year of any hike in a metropolitan area in the United States, and sometimes the highest number of deaths. A park ranger is now always stationed at the bottom of the trail to warn hikers about the level of difficulty to expect, so people know what they're getting into.

8 Piestewa Peak

Piestewa Peak
Piestewa Peak
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Piestewa Peak is located almost in the center of Phoenix and can be seen from almost all areas of the city. As a result, the hiking trail to the summit is very popular, so be prepared for big crowds of walkers, hikers, and trail runners of all shapes and sizes. If you have the energy and strength to make the 1.9-mile trip to the top, gaining 1,200 feet of elevation on the way, you'll be rewarded with a 360-degree view. Sights include Camelback, Superstition, and White Tanks Mountains, along with the red hills of Papago Park. The trail is well developed with handrails in certain sections to help with the substantial number of stairs. You should be prepared for a series of knee-jarring steps down on your return trip. Parking for the trail is limited, so be sure to arrive early in the day.

9 Wind Cave Trail

Wind Cave Trail
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The Wind Cave trail, located in the southeastern edge of the Phoenix area, beyond the city of Mesa, provides fantastic views out over the surrounding countryside. At the end of the trail, a small cave is an added bonus. From the trailhead, you can see the trail snaking up the wall of rock in front of you. Don't be dissuaded by the workout ahead, this trail provides a good reward for moderate effort. It starts off relatively easily and then climbs steadily until you reach the cave at the end. The cave is about 12 feet high and is a welcome stop with shade after a sweaty hike up. This is an in-and-out, 2.6-mile trail with 770 feet of elevation. The trailhead is located in Usery Regional Park.

10 Brown's Ranch Trail System

Brown's Ranch Trail System
Brown's Ranch Trail System | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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The Brown's Ranch area has a little bit of everything; Sonoran Desert scenery, historical buildings, and in the spring, a wonderful display of wildflowers. The Brown's Ranch trail is an out-and-back trail and is 3.1 miles long with 100 feet of elevation gain. Ideal for large groups, the trail is wide and level with occasional patches of sand. At the former ranch site, you'll find remnants of old ranch equipment rusting quietly in the desert sun. The trailhead has excellent facilities, including washrooms and even a ground level water fountain for your four-legged friend.

Where to Stay in the Phoenix Area for Hiking

  • Luxury Hotels: If you are looking to combine the ultimate in luxury with the best in hiking, the Four Season Resort Scottsdale at Troon North offers a private access trail to Pinnacle Peak, as well as guided fitness hikes or a Zen hike, where you stop along the trail to enjoy a yoga pose here and there. At the base of Camelback Mountain, which includes both the Cholla Trail and the Echo Trail, is the The Phoenician, Scottsdale, where you can lie by the pool and catch a glimpse of hikers along the ridge of the mountain. Also in the vicinity is the famous Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, known for hosting celebrities of the highest calibre. For a unique stay, combining character, luxury, and a cool vibe, the mid-century modern Hotel Valley Ho is just around the corner from Papago Park and also conveniently located within walking distance of Old Town Scottsdale. Depending on your mood, you can find either a hip pool scene or choose a spot in a quiet lounger around one of the two main pools.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: An ideal choice is the Gainey Suites Hotel, which features a complimentary shuttle that will drop you off and pick you up at either of the trailheads for Camelback Mountain. The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Scottsdale - Old Town is in a great location in the heart of all the interesting shops and restaurants and also near some of the most popular trails. The Courtyard by Marriott Scottsdale Salt River is another lovely property with a pool, and is close to the main trails and handy to the 101 Loop highway.
  • Budget Hotels: Budget hotels tend to be near the airport, which is a convenient location as the roads to the hikes from this location are generally lightly traveled secondary streets. La Quinta Inn Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has large rooms, a pleasant shaded courtyard, and an outdoor pool. Farther south but handy to the trails at Estrella Mountain Regional Park is the Drury Inn & Suites Phoenix Tempe.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

  • Hiking in Arizona: For general inspiration and ideas on where to hike in the state, see our feature article on the Best Hiking Trails in Arizona. You may be surprised to find some of the top destinations for hiking are around towns and cities. For a more detailed look at hiking by area, see our articles on the Top-Rated Hikes in Tucson, as well as Sedona and Prescott.
  • Mountain Biking and Camping: You don't need to limit your trail experiences to just hiking. If you are interested in mountain biking, be sure to see our piece on the Best Mountain Biking Trails in Sedona. This is one of the top mountain biking areas in state. And, if you are a camper, we offer a complete series on where to camp in the Southwest. Start by taking a look at our article on the Best Places to Camp in Arizona to get you started.

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