text by Gary Webster

Get on your feet: it’s time to hit the ground! The Valley boasts three world-class hiking mountains in Phoenix proper, dozens of lesser known trails in the surrounding metro areas and hundreds of wilderness hikes within a two-hour drive. From the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park to the amazing views from atop Shaw Butte, here are some of our suggestions.  


Shaw Butte is a clear favorite for those wanting a serious workout. Well marked and easy to follow, the first mile of the trail is relatively flat. After that, it’s a straight incline to the top. Some spots on the trail have been paved, but most is loose rock and dirt. Once you reach the apex, you’ll see that the climb was worth it. Relax, sit atop the rocks and take in the spectacular views of Phoenix.  


Between 700-1100 A.D., the Hohokam people etched intricate images on a slick rock chute at the base of of Superstition Mountain. Today the 1.4-mile Hieroglyphic Trail leads hikers 600 feet up an ironwood-shaded canyon to  the petroglyph gallery of animals, human figures, spiral motifs and geometric patterns that decorate the walls above a spring-fed sheet of water flowing into the desert below. For an easier option, the 6-mile Lost Goldmine Trail debarks from the same trailhead.


Pinnacle Peak Trail is an outdoor treadmill frequented by those in the know. Although the impeccably groomed,1.75-mile moderate trail around the eponymous rock spire does attract chic-garbed athletic types, its clean route and gentle grade make it an ideal choice for anyone with the tenacity to take it slow and easy while stepping aside for the svelte and stylish.


The McDowell Mountain Regional Park’s 40 miles of trails straddle a strip of Sonoran Desert between the eponymous mountain range and the hills above the emerald-flounced confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers. Rock Knob Trail, on the park’s western edge, is a good trek to try if you’re up for a challenge that rewards with amazing views. Grab a free map at the gate and make a 12.3 mile circuit using Pemberton and Tonto Tank, or navigate at will among majestic boulders and saguaros.


Attracting over 750,000 visitors each year, summiting Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon is arguably the most popular city hike in the country. The 2.5-mile up-and-back is easy to navigate. The trail that snakes up the mountain between two sheer-rock formations is big and wide. Packed with crowds on Saturdays and Sundays, if possible plan your visit on a weekday. If you’re hard-core, continue your descent from the summit as it merges with Cholla Trail.


Just minutes from downtown Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport, the trails in Papago Park are smooth with little elevation gain, providing easy access for walking, hiking, mountain biking or running. The paths include an interpretive nature trail to learn about desert flora and fauna, as well as a short hike inside Hole-in-the-Rock, the park’s most popular scenic viewpoint especially at sunset.


The west side of Deem Hills Park, a 1,000-acre wilderness parcel, is home to Circumference and Ridgeline Loop. The moderate trail is perfect for all fitness levels with just a slight ascent over the first mile topped by one major push to the ridge line. The remainder is just an easy descent overlooking the neighboring developments and the Central Arizona Project canal stretching across the northern horizon.


Within the geologically diverse terrain of North Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, “mushroom rocks” are the main attraction. Balance Rock, so named for a top-heavy, huge cone of granite perched atop a jumble of mica-imbued volcanic boulders – is the crown jewel of the bunch. Granite Mountain Trailhead offers trails with excellent signage making short work of getting to the stony toadstool.


Also known as Squaw Peak, Piestewa Peak Summit Trail on the southeast side of the Phoenix Mountains has been likened to an outdoor Stairmaster. At 2.4 round-trip miles, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, the well-groomed trail attracts 400,000 hikers per year. Be prepared for the superstars to pass you as well as the families with kiddos wearing flip-flops. The path is narrow, so its best to follow the standard traffic rules: stay to the right, hike single file.