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Plan out your next Arizona walkabout.
The reluctant metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, offers great hiking opportunities for anyone with a few hours to spare. For fitness fanatics—and those who don’t mind the crowds—there is always the scramble up popular Echo Canyon on iconic Camelback Mountain, or the 360-degree view at the top of Piestewa Peak. But for those who want something farther off the beaten path, the region has plenty of trails with just as much scenery and far fewer people. Here are five to try.
Distance: 11 milesDifficulty: ModerateThis well-maintained dirt trail is one of the closest legs to Phoenix of the 800-mile, multi-use Arizona Trail. The trail begins just under an hour east of Phoenix, just off Route 60 near the town of Superior—at the Picketpost trailhead, head south to meander uphill toward a forest of giant saguaros (expect Gila monster encounters). Five miles in, look for a sighting of the rare smoke tree, sometimes referred to as a “mutant shrub.” Ten miles in, the Gila River. Mexico in 300.
Distance: 10 milesDifficulty: ModerateThis hike begins north of Carefree at Seven Springs and heads west to Spur Cross. The length makes it challenging, as do several creek crossings. But a swimming hole and cottonwood trees provide uncommon cool in this lush, high desert environment. No high-clearance vehicle? Hire a guide at Arizona Outback Adventures (aoa-adventures.com).
Distance: You choose—there are over 50 miles of trailsDifficulty: It’s pavedFamilies, strollers and dogs follow this low-lying desert wash trail through the newest development of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation department. Follow Cave Creek Road to Sonoran Desert Drive to access this North Phoenix preserve, where you’ll find a trail that crosses creosote and cacti before a gentle 1.5-mile climb to Ridgeback Summit.
Distance: 4.5 milesDifficulty: You can take a strollerLocated within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve (take the Thompson Peak Parkway north from Bell Road), this meandering loop climbs a moderate 500 feet before flattening out on the other side. Aside from seeing picturesque desert views, hikers may also cross paths with volunteer stewards at the trailhead—and reptiles, desert tortoises, javelinas, bobcats or mule deer on the trail.
Distance: 2 milesDifficulty: EasySteep toward the end, this favourite at one of the largest municipal parks in the country—where more than 300 species of desert plants grow—snakes through a rock-studded canyon and involves some mild cardio. Watch for spotted skunks, jumping cholla cacti and petroglyphs. Nearby is the wheelchair-accessible Judith Tunnell one-mile loop.
When hiking in the desert, bring at least a half-litre of water for each hour on the trail per person. It’s not just a recommendation; it’s a necessity.