Whether you’re in search of lost gold or the perfect trailside selfie, the Phoenix Metro Area has hundreds of hikes to choose from. Hiking enthusiasts flock to the Valley of the Sun for its sprawling desert landscape and urban mountain treks. The views won’t disappoint and neither will the names, so have your hashtags handy. Options abound both minutes from the metropolitan area and along scenic desert drives. These epic views often come with extreme temps and safety hazards, so keep your wits—and plenty of water—about you! Avoid the overwhelming urge to wander and stick to marked trails, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife like rattlesnakes, javelinas, and coyotes. With so many options, it’s important to do your research ahead of time, so here are 10 of the best hikes to take in Phoenix.
Located at Papago Park, in the heart of the city, this 2.3-mile trail lets you get up close and personal to the red sandstone buttes that can be seen for miles. It’s an easy, wide trail and a popular option for locals and visitors alike. Be sure to take a short detour to check out Hole-in-the-Rock, a natural geological formation that perfectly frames a gorgeous skyline scene. This short out-and-back trail is just 0.3 miles long. After your hike, a celebratory cocktail is just 10 minutes away in Tempe’s Mill Avenue District.
This strenuous, 6.2-mile trail is located in the notorious Lost Dutchman State Park, so named after a legendary lost gold mine. If other area hikes have seemed like—pardon the pun—a walk in the park, then you’re likely ready to tackle the Superstition Mountains via this difficult out-and-back track. The Flatiron, with sweeping views and spring wild flowers, is your finale. Some of the more challenging portions may involve climbing, so be sure to pack plenty of water.
Located in the South Mountain Preserve, this 3.8-mile, out-and-back hike is moderately difficult, with plenty of scenic, Insta-worthy spots. The first half will get your heart pumping, but then the trail evolves into a lovely, level landscape. If your group includes both expert and inexperienced hikers, this option will be a real crowd-pleaser. Fat Man’s Pass at the end of the trail is a satisfying payoff, so enjoy the shade and have (what else?) a snack.
Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon Trail is centrally located in Phoenix and very popular. This trail is as much about the scene as the scenery, but if you want to hike the heavy hitters, this one has Kardashian-level notoriety. It tends to be overly crowded, so try to avoid peak times and the inconvenience of fighting for a parking spot. Keep in mind that just because it’s popular, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it’s a solid workout and not a smart option for beginners. Even local, die-hard hikers avoid Camelback at all costs.
This 4.9-mile hike is perfect for beginners who want water views—a rarity in the desert. Butcher Jones is located within Tonto National Forest, so before you head over, pick up a day pass at your nearest gas station. You’ll begin at Butcher Jones Beach on the banks of Saguaro Lake, and the water will stay within view for the majority of the hike. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like bighorn sheep and wild horses on this moderately shaded trail. Even though the trailhead is located 45 minutes east of downtown Phoenix, it will feel like pure wilderness.
Located in Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak Park, this trail is popular and well maintained. Despite what the name implies, this isn’t actually a peak hike, but there are multiple lookout points that are well worth the effort. You’ll meander 3.5 miles on this out-and-back trail, waving to the crowds on Camelback Mountain in the distance. This is a popular option for trail runners, so be sure to stay aware of your surroundings.
This 5.3-mile, out-and-back trail in Lost Dutchman State Park is located near the Superstition Mountains, a 50-minute drive east of Phoenix proper. Massacre Grounds brings the drama, but is surprisingly not heavily trafficked. Locals love this trail because, with enough rainfall and at the right time of year, it ends in an impressive waterfall. It’s moderately difficult and offers very little shade, so be sure to wear a hat and carry plenty of water. Rattlesnake sightings are somewhat frequent and trail markers can be tough to spot, so watch your way and keep your ears perked.
The longest of our trek suggestions, Skull Mesa Trail is an out-and-back hike that spans 11.3 miles in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. Located in Cave Creek, an hour's drive north, it’s well worth a day trip. A visit in the spring will grant you swaths of wild flowers, blooming cacti, and small streams (rain permitting). There’s a small fee to enter the conservation area, so be sure to bring cash. A car with higher clearance is preferable, as the dirt roads can get rough. This hike should be classified as strenuous, but due to the length rather than dramatic elevation change.
This 3.8-mile out-and-back trail is also located in the South Mountain Preserve, 20 minutes south of downtown Phoenix. It’s conveniently located and moderately difficult. While it’s located in the popular South Mountain Park, this trail is less well known and thus less crowded. Challenging portions of the hike are scattered along the trail, with a final climb to a peak and Dobbins Lookout. While the last stretch is quite steep, the payoff is sweeping views and a shaded spot to rest before heading back.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is an easy, one-hour drive east of downtown Phoenix. If you're a budding botanist or lover of flora and fauna, this park won’t disappoint. Encompassing 392 acres, Arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona. A rugged, 0.45 mile-trek along the High Trail is less trafficked than the other trails, taking you across a suspended bridge, through switchbacks, and eventually to a high point with views over the entire Arboretum. The park includes several trails featuring desert plants from around the world.