• Morgan B Willis

Seven best hikes around Phoenix, AZ

Updated: May 18


I spent nearly four years in downtown Phoenix going to college at Arizona State University. While I was there, I rediscovered my love for the outdoors while exploring the mountain trails around the Phoenix area.


This list describes seven of my favorite trails around the city. The difficulties range from easy hikes that anyone can do, to mountain ascents that only experienced hikers should attempt.


The difficulty rating for each hike is based on how long the trail is, how steep it is, and how often you'll have to use your hands to assist you in climbing up rocks.


For all of these hikes, make sure to bring the proper footwear and lots of water (at least 2 liters). Phoenix's summer heat is no joke, and every year people die from dehydration while on these trails.


Best hikes within an hour of downtown Phoenix

These hikes are great for those wanting to get outdoors without a long drive. The trails range from beginner level hikes to tougher ones such as Piestewa and Camelback that require a higher level of fitness.


Papago Park

Difficulty: Easy

Best beginner hike

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 15 mins


If you live in Tempe or anywhere in central Phoenix, Papago Park will probably be your closest option for hiking. I would often take the 10 minute drive here for a quick trail run in between school and internships. There are lots of different trails around the park, and if you're feeling adventurous, you can even climb up some of the buttes.


Tom's Thumb

Difficulty: Moderate

Best spring hike

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 40 mins


Located in the McDowell Mountains, Tom's Thumb is a fun and scenic trail. During the spring, you can see wildflowers in bloom along the trail. At the top, you'll find a rock formation that looks like a thumb. This trail is rated moderate because it is longer than Papago and a bit steeper.


Piestewa Peak

Difficulty: Hard

Best summer night hike

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 20 mins


Piestewa peak is located in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, and is a fun climb if you want views of Phoenix. The preserve surrounding the mountain is home to miles and miles of trails, and if hiking up mountains isn't your thing you can always pick another trail to run or hike on. With Phoenix's famously hot summer temperatures, day hiking anywhere from May to October can be pretty uncomfortable. Unlike most other hikes on this list, Piestewa is open at night year round, and was my go to night hike when the daytime temperatures started getting into the triple digits. Hiking here at night is also a great way to see Phoenix's Arizona Bark Scorpions. Be careful not to get too close to these tiny white scorpions though, they are poisonous.


Camelback

Difficulty: Hard

Most iconic peak

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 20 mins


Arguably the most iconic hike in Phoenix, Camelback really does live up to the hype. The views from the top are astonishing and the trail even requires a bit of scrambling. This hike is, however, extremely crowded, especially on weekends. There are two trails that you can take to the top: Cholla and Echo Canyon. While both trails are great, I would recommend taking Cholla Trail, as the parking lot in Echo Canyon fills up very fast. You may even see Chuckwallas sunbathing on the rocks if you hike here in spring.


Flat Iron

Difficulty: Hard

Toughest hike within an hour drive of Phoenix

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 40 mins


The Superstition Mountains which Flat Iron is a part of are absolutely beautiful to look at, and you'll have a scenic view from the top. This is easily the toughest hike I've listed so far, and I would recommend doing Camelback and Piestewa before you do this one. This trail usually isn't too crowded on weekdays, but on weekends it can get fairly busy by mid-day. It can be somewhat tricky to find the trail on this one, I've taken the wrong turn twice while on this hike.


Best trails for experienced hikers

Looking to get off the beaten path and challenge yourself? These next two hikes are tougher to get to, more remote, and overall harder than the other three difficult hikes on this list. I would only recommend that you take these hikes if you're experienced and have a high clearance off road vehicle. The roads to both of these trailheads are very sketchy and there is a real possibility that you could get stranded out there if your car gets busted (trust me on this one, I've been in a car that broke down on the road to Brown's peak). All of that being said, these hikes are incredibly rewarding and you'll have truly amazing views once you get to the top.


Quartz Peak

Difficulty: Hard

Best views of Phoenix

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 1 hour and 30 minutes


The Sierra Estrella mountain range towers over Phoenix, but most of its peaks are off limits to hikers due to them being on Indian Land. Quartz Peak is really the only official hike in the mountain range, and as a result is pretty remote. Upon reaching the top of this trail, you will face a short climb up a huge quartz boulder. From there you'll be able to see the entirety of Phoenix down below you. The quartz at the top is incredible, and you may even run into geologists surveying the area.


Brown's Peak

Difficulty: Hard

Tallest mountain you can climb in Maricopa County

Distance from downtown Phoenix: 2 hours

Rising up to 7,657 feet, Brown's peak is the tallest mountain in Maricopa County. If you do have a vehicle that can get you to the trailhead, this is my favorite hike around Phoenix. The views are incredible and it's a good place to escape the summer heat. While the first part of this hike is fairly easy, the last half mile or so requires you to scramble up a scree chute. The scrambling is fun and safe if you know what you're doing, but I wouldn't recommend this hike to anyone who is just starting out.


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About Morgan B Willis

My name is Morgan Willis. I'm a recent college grad traveling in my Eurovan. While driving across the country, I'll be sharing the adventures I go on, the hikes I take and doing freelance work online.

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