I like to think that anyone who lives in Arizona is an avid hiker. When you have as much sunshine as we do — almost every day of the year — and have as many mountains as we do, what else is there to do but hike them? Being a native of this state, I do my fair share of hiking and am listing a few of my favorite hikes for you. By the way, I narrowed it down to the Valley, which is divided into the East Valley, West Valley, North and South Phoenix. As always, when hiking anywhere, make sure you have applied your sunscreen, are wearing sturdy shoes and have plenty of water.
one of the vertical climbs – flickr photo by threelfbybike
Probably the most popular mountain in the Valley because it is so close to the city, and also due to its uncanny resemblance to a camel’s face and humps.. So many people hike it and so many people get rescued by helicopter — and quite a few deaths have occurred on it. Locals and tourists swarm this mountain during the weekend because it offers and incredible workout and is challenging. There is the easy side or the difficult side. If you’re an experienced hiker, you’re going to want to do the difficult side, because it is more fun and receives the heaviest foot traffic.
The Echo Canyon parking lot is horrendously small. Literally. Only a handful of cars can fit into it, leaving people squeezing into spots along the roads and circling the parking lot stalking hikers as they come off the mountain for their spot. There are personnel people at the entrance making sure the traffic keeps moving but more than likely, you’ll be parking far away in one of the neighborhoods and walking to the trailhead. Do not park in a restricted area, you will get towed.
The trail begins as stairs embedded in the dirt, and you’re breathing will already grow heavy as your reach the top of that hill. You’ll turn the corner, walking alongside a fence until you reach the vertical climb with the assistance of the metal railing. Use it!! Unless you have a running start, you’ll get to an area where you can’t get enough grip and footing, so you’ll be clinging to the face of the ground to get over to the railing.
Rest after this, because it’s another vertical climb with railings over large boulders. This one kind of resembles a street, with hikers descending on the left side and hikers ascending on the right. After you get up this climb, you can take another rest and decide whether you’ll want to work your calves by walking or running up the face of a large sandstone rock, or boulder hop you’re way up through the crevice.
Eventually you’ll make it to another rest area, climbing and walking along the desert landscape until you get to another straight vertical, boulder-hopping valley and make your way up, up, up to the top of Camelback, which offers a great view of the Valley.
There aren’t that many people to fight over parking spaces for at this mountain since it’s so close to the more popular Camelback. However, it offers an excellent hike up to a summit, which is the second highest in Phoenix after Camelback, with gorgeous views of nearby mountains and some in the distance.
Despite it’s appearance, it is rather difficult, due to the curving, jagged trail, especially when nearing the top and the confusing switchbacks leave you deciding your own best route to the top. That is, if you even want to reach the top. Surprisingly, not that many decide to, but it’s worth it!
Your legs will burn from the steep, vertical parts and there are no guard rails to assist you, but the views along the way are spectacular and when you reach the summit, find yourself a rock to rest on and enjoy the view. Another fifteen miles of trails ranging in difficulty are located within the preserve if you want to make a day out of it.
This trail is easy to find, but difficult to hike. It is one long walk on the Siphon Draw Trail all the way up to the Flat Iron. Constant climbs but really great terrain that varies from a dirt path, to the Saddle basin, to boulder hopping, tree climbing and once at the top, a nice leisurely stroll to the Iron where you’ll have one of the best views in the Valley, in my opinion.
The beginning is almost a tease to what you’ll be experiencing and once you start the vertical ascent, it will not stop. You’ll turn the corner after walking through a meadow and see the canyon, which most hikers call the Canyon. It’s fun trying to run up it this area because it’s a smooth surface, but then it burns, and you realize you still have heck of a way to go AND the descent to consider.
If you’ve already had enough, this is your turn around point. Otherwise, keep going. Keep an eye out for the spray-painted dots, because those are the trail markers you’ll follow up the boulder-hopping wash, that has few and far between opportunities for shade to rest beneath. During these vertical climbs, you may wind up pulling yourself up with the assistance of some nearby tree branches. Eventually you’ll reach the top, and the trail to the Flatiron is on your right. There is rarely anyone on this trail, or maybe since it’s so long and challenging, that it’s just not frequented as much, and that makes it all the more enjoyable.
Enjoy a snack – or meal, which I recommend – and rehydrate yourself, catch your breath after you look off the edge of the cliff before you start the descent.
A frequented trail for its beauty and especially for the site at the ending point (you can continue on if you like) at the Fremont Saddle. The parking lot at the trailhead is large enough that you won’t get stuck going in circles like you would at Camelback and there is an overload lot as well. Make sure you’re going in the right direction because this starting point is actually the take-off point for many other nearby trails.
The trail itself weaves through a canyon, with mountains on both sides of you. You’ll be under trees, walking across washes and scooting along the cliff ledge as it leads you up to the saddle where you’ll have a magnificent view of Weaver’s Needle.
over 50 miles of trails for you to hike – flickr photo by andy jou
This is the “largest municipal park in the world“, meaning it is massive. I don’t even know where to begin to tell you how vast this land is out here in this part of the valley. I couldn’t even tell you what hikes to specifically enjoy over here because they all intersect each other and go on, and on, and on for miles – approximately 51 marked trails. I will just provide the map.
All I can say is find yourself a parking lot, and head out. Just make sure you know how to get back to your car. Once you reach the top of one mountain and look all around you, you’ll know what I mean. You can see the dirt paths criss-crossing each other, people over there on a trail, and others over yonder on that trail. It’s breath-taking and confusing all at the same time. Here is a good starting point to decide what trail you’d like to hike.
I grew up in the White Tanks. Not kidding. Some of my fondest memories have been scrambling and crawling all over the recreational jungle gyms in this park, as well as the bench that was in memory of the hiker who fell here with his dog along the Waterfall Trail, which is by far the most popular trail I believe in this park, especially after rain fall.
My trail suggestion is to hike the Ford Trail, which will take you deep into the heart of the park where you’ll get to actually see the white granite that gives the White Tanks their name. This can be turned into a full loop if you wander onto the Willow Canyon Trail and then the Mesquite Trail, ending on the road, where you’ll walk the short distance back to Parking Area 10 to get back to your car.
The full loop trail is gorgeous and starts off along the canyon, and then into a meadow before taking you in the mountains filled with boulders where you’ll hike up and down giving your legs a good work out, past the tanks, into sandy washes with over-hanging ledges, and along another mountain route that passes a dam and spring area, hugs the side of another mountain before turning into descending switchbacks before leading back to the road.
Here is themap to help give you a visual of your hike.
I’ve combined these two areas because they are both great places for beginning hikers and although Thunderbird is more well-known (because it’s older), West Wing is a nice little locally-known place I’m willing to share with you all to check out.
The West Wing mountain parking lot is located in the elementary school and if it’s closed, you can park in the nearby neighborhood and walk to the trailhead, which is the fence with the white sign. The trail winds up the small mountain, which provides a good warm-up, and takes you to the bigger mountain where you can go either left or right, but it essentially loops. It provides steep climbs, slopes, up and down segments, a side option with another loop trail, a saddle area for a rest stop and is overall a decent trail.
The Thunderbird Mountain has three different mountains, each for varying level of difficulty. They are linked to each other so it is easy to combine them all into one day, or afternoon if you’re like me and hike fast! These trails are highly-frequented by hikers, mountain bikers and horses.
The small mountain has roughly three different starting points and can easily be looped together from the “stairs” area, the smaller mountain on the other side by Mountain Ridge high school, or the reverse-end that starts off with switch-backs along the slope. The “big” mountain is an easy flat hike, it just happens to be the longest as it loops around the entire mountain. Since it is so long, you have fewer hikers clumped together and may also have some peaceful time by yourself. The other mountain across the new bridge that was constructed is a combination of both these mountains in my opinion. You start with a nice vertical climb, switch-backs to the top, hike across the length of the mountaintop, until you get a somewhat steep descent, which can be a bit dangerous because it is all loose rock.
Overall, both these parks provide great hikes for those wanting to get a quick afternoon hike in, or sunrise and sunset hike.
I hope this list gives you some inspiration to get outside and enjoy just a handful of the mountains that accent our landscape! Do you have a favorite mountain? Hiking trail?
Bio: Allison Carlton is The Traveling Bard. She describes herself as “a word warrior who is pursuing a search, a mission, an adventure, a quest, a voyage, a journey -- anything that will get the dirt of vast lands caked to the bottom of my shoes.”
Carlton is an Arizona native and a journalism graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is the assistant editor at True West magazine. Her life as a travel writer exists during weekends when she’s exploring “this wonderful state of Arizona.” She gives a shout-out to her friends because “I would not have any stories or videos to share with you if it were not for my friends -- most of whom you can spot in my videos and pictures.”
Carlton chooses her destinations and accepts no free lodging or other gifts in connection with the blog.