Hiking in Phoenix, Arizona

Camelback from Piestewa Peak Summit

Phoenix is unique for having so many hikes within its city perimeters. The city of Phoenix stretches across a desert plain which is part of the Sonoran Desert. It is centered on the Salt River and a series of ancient Hopi canals which provided water to the parched area.

The city has North Mountain and South Mountain as it city edges along that axis and inside the city limits there is Piestewa Peak and Mount Camelback. There are smaller buttes around the city such as Papago Butte. To the North-East of Scottsdale is the McDowell Ranges and further east is the Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks.

Consequently Phoenix is a very outdoor city with the city hikes being heavily walked and populated at all times - even Christmas Day. The most popular hike is Echo Canyon on Camelback which which is also one of the most strenuous hikes. Echo Canyon always has parking issues as the hiking trail is constantly busy.

Echo Canyon Summit Hike on Camelback

Echo Canyon hike on Camelback Mountain

Echo Canyon's trailhead is Echo Canyon Parkway which is off MacDonald near the intersection of Tatum St. Parking at Echo Canyon has always been a problem. For a time it was possible to park south down Tatum but that has been removed for some bizarre reason. The parking area on Echo Canyon Parkway is being expanded but I seriously doubt it will be enough for what is the most popular hike in Phoenix.

The trail is about 1.4 miles with an ascent of 1,300 ft. For experienced hikers this can be done in about thirty minutes but most hikers will need close to an hour to get to the summit. The end of the hike gives beautiful views of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe and the surrounding mountains and buttes.

Cholla Route Summit Hike on Camelback

Cholla Route hike on Camelback Mountain

The trailhead for Cholla Route is on Cholla Lane off Invergordon. There is no Parking on Cholla Lane and you have to park down Invergordon and walk to the trail head. Unlike Echo Canyon there is plenty of parking which makes this a more pleasant regular hike. The Cholla rail ends to the same summit as Echo Canyon and is a bit easier on the knees.

The trail is about 1.5 miles with an ascent of 1,300 feet. Experienced hikers can do this in under 30 minutes but less experienced hikers will take an hour. There is a nice halfway point known as the saddle. This is a good turn around point for less experienced hikers. The hike is not as strenuous as Echo Canyon and probably the best city summit hike for casual hikers.

Piestewa Peak Summit Hike

Piestewa Peak Summit

This is the second most strenuous city hike after Echo Canyon. Like Echo Canyon the national parks and local neighborhoods have been making parking difficult to do this hike which is a shame. There used to be more parking around the summit but it has been closed off, so it is best to go early.

The trail head to Piestewa Peak is off Lincoln Drive. The summit hike is 1.2 miles and the ascent is around 1,200 feet. Unlike Echo Canyon the summit hike here has steps cut into the rocks which makes it slightly easier than Echo Canyon but not by much. There are also rails for areas where there is poor footing. Experienced hikers will do this in about thirty minutes, less experienced hikers will take longer.

North Mountain Summit Hike

North Mountain summit hike

The North Mountain hike has ample parking and half the summit hike is paved which makes this one of the easier, though still challenging, summit hikes. The trail head is at 7th Street and Peoria Rd. The loop in the national park goes round to a northern car park which is right next to the trail head.

The hike is approximately 1.6 miles to the summit and the hiking time is around 45 minutes to go over the summit and walk back around to the parking area. The elevation of the summit is 21,00 feet. The hike is moderately hard and gives a nice view of downtown and Central Avenue if you go beyond the cell towers.

South Mountain Summit Hike

South Mountain summit hike

South Mountain has several trail heads with good accessibility and parking. The main trail head is off Central Avenue and Dobbins Rd which is a good place to start for the Dobbins Lookout trail hike.

The summit hike is about 2.9 miles which makes for a two hour round trip. The ascent from the trail head to the summit at Dobbins Lookout is about 1,00 feet. This is a relatively easier hike than most summit hikes in the city. Because this is an easier hike than Camelback or Piestewa Peak there are generally people doing more than hiking such as trail running, walking dogs, mountain biking and even uni-cycling.

Lookout Mountain, North Phoenix

Lookout Mountain, North Phoenix

Lookout Mountain is north-east of North Mountain and nice less strenuous summit hike. There are two trail heads for Lookout Mountain, a northern trail head and a southern trail head. The northern trail head is on 16th St and Waltann Lane. This has a small circular parking area near a water tower. The southern trail head is the main trail head where the 150 and 308 hikes start from. This is the best trail head to start from for the summit hike.

The summit trail is about half a mile and the perimeter trail is about two and a half miles. The summit trail can be done in about half an hour while the perimeter is about an hour. The ascent is about 500 feet, it is not a strenuous hike and probably best for middling hikers to practice on before they hit Echo Canyon. From the summit of Lookout Mountain you can see the McDowell's, Squaw Peak, Camelback, Stoney Mountain and North Mountain.

Pinnacle Peak, North Scottsdale

Pinnacle Peak, North Scottsdale, AZ

The Pinnacle Peak hike is more a trail that runs through the two buttes that make up the park. It is a popular hike in North Scottsdale. There is a small dirt parking area near the trail head but it fills up pretty quickly and the overflow parks down the paved road leading to the trail head. The area around the trail head has water and bathrooms which is unusual.

The trail head is located at 102nd Way in North Scottsdale but to get to it you have to come via Pima Rd and Happy Valley Rd before turning north on Alma School Rd to 102nd Way. There is about one a half miles from the northern trail head to the southern trail head, most people do the trail and then turn back which makes it about a three mile hike. The ascent is about 300 feet as the trail head is at 2,570 feet.

This is an easy hike, so good if you want to trail run or do something more strenuous than just hiking. The trail does not go to the peaks but instead passes them by in a series of slow switch backs. There are no strenuous sections, you will need to go to Camelback for those, but this is a good hike for less experience hikers or experienced hikers that are not in as good a shape as they used to be.

Bell Pass, McDowell Mountains

Bell Pass, McDowell Mountains, North Scottsdale, AZ

This hike is in the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale. The hike is about three and a half miles to the pass which makes it about seven miles in total. The pass is at 3,500 feet and the last mile of the hike is a pretty steep ascent. Experienced hikers can get to the pass in about an hour or so, while less experienced will take longer.

The main trail head is on Thompson Peak Parkway and Foothills Drive and has water and bathrooms. A smaller trail head is at Bell Rd and 104th Street which drops you always immediately on the levee. Mountain bikers are occasionally on the trail but it is mainly experienced hikers, the less experienced hikers, or hikers with dogs tend to stick to the trail that don't go to a summit or pass.

Because the hike is so long in comparison to others, make sure to bring water. This can be a brutal hike in summer as well, again water is important. The trail itself is stunning, with the McDowell's as the back drop and century old Saguaro's and fishhooks dotting the landscape.

Tom's Thumb, McDowell Mountains

The main trailhead for this hike is on Thompson Peak Parkway and Foothills Drive. There is a secondary trail head on the north side of the McDowell's which is a gated development. Apparently you need to park outside of the gated community and then walk through it to the trail head. The Tom Thumb hike is best for the unusual rocks that are at the summit. They are different to the formations on the other McDowell summits and passes.

Hiking from the main trail head is a long hike, taking about four miles one way and making near to an eight mile round trip. For experienced hikers this is probably a four to five hour hike. This hike is moderate but the length of the hike can pose issues for less experienced or fit hikers. The elevation of Tom's Thumb is about 3,000 feet which is lower than Bell Pass. The Tom's Thumb hike also has periods of pretty steep switchbacks which can add complexity to the hike.

Windgate Pass, McDowell Mountains

This is another longish hike in the McDowell Mountains. Whereas Bell Pass is the most southern pass hike, Windgate pass is to the north. Like Bell Pass and Tom's Thumb the main trail head is on Thompson Peak Parkway and Foothills Drive. The hiking distance from the trail head to Windgate Pass is about four miles, which makes for an eight mile return trip. This can be done in five hours for experienced hikers. This hike does not have any difficult ascents or switchbacks but is mainly hard for its length.

Humphrey's Peak, Flagstaff Arizona

Humphrey's Peak, Flagstaff, AZ

Humphrey's Peak is in the northern, mountainous part of Arizona and is snowed in during winter. Consequently this can only be done in summer and even then there is usually some snow above the tree line. The trail head is off Snow Bowl Road and has a large parking area which has port-a-potties but no water.

The ascent is about four and a half miles for a nine mile round trip. Be wary of getting caught on the summit late in the day, Plan accordingly. The ascent is 3,333 feet with the summit at 12,633 feet. It is pretty cold up at the summit with storms often moving in quickly.

This is a difficult hike. It is long and strenuous with the added difficulty of their being a lack of oxygen at this height. Due to the height of the peak it can snow even in summer so be sure to bring warm clothes and be well prepared with water, power bars, etc.

The first three quarters of the hike is through fir trees until you break out over the tree line. There is a saddle there which people often use as the turn around point if they don't want to go to the summit. The landscape from that point on is rocks, pebbles and the some lichen, however the views are beautiful.

Humphrey's Peak has about five fake peaks. You will think you are almost there and when you get to the fake peak you will see another peak about five hundred yards ahead. This happens about five or six times until finally you are at the summit.

A Mountain Summit Hike, Tempe

A Mountain in Tempe, Arizona

“A” Mountain is the small mountain on Mill Avenue which is situated next to the Sun Devil's Stadium. Since it is part of downtown Tempe it is a popular summit hike. Most of the trail is paved except for the last bit which winds its way around to the telecommunications towers at the top. The summit gives a nice view of Tempe Town Lake, Mill Avenue and the ASU Stadium.

The hike gets its name from the large A, emblazoned in yellow, that is on the southern mountain face. This is not a strenuous hike for experienced hikers. There is also ample parking around Mill Avenue and near the trail head.