Current residents, visitors, snowbirds and future residents enjoy the temperate weather and beautiful surroundings here in the Valley of the Sun. Exploring the beautiful Sonoran Desert by way of hiking its many trails is a fantastic way to enjoy Arizona’s weather, maintain physical fitness and reduce stress. There are hundreds of hiking trails in the Valley of the Sun, but there are a few that are more popular for good reasons.
First, located in northeast Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve features many different trails for all skill levels. One popular option for beginner and intermediate hikers is the Gateway Loop Trail which is about 4.4 miles and offers breathtaking scenery. More advanced hikers can join the Windgate Pass Trail from the Gateway Loop, to link up to the Tom’s Thumb Trail, a challenging hike with a reward of a phenomenal viewpoint at Tom’s Thumb, a 114-foot granite spire. Children would enjoy the Bajada Trail, a short nature loop.
Nearby Pinnacle Peak Park features a 3.5-mile round-trip trail that is popular with everyone, from families to trail runners, thanks to its meticulously maintained wide trails and gorgeous vistas. Because the trail is an out-and-back hike (1.5 miles each way), be sure to take note of the mile markers along the way if you don’t intend to hike the entire trail. A little past the ½ mile mark is the Grandview rest stop which offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the Valley of the Sun, with McDowell Mountain in the distance. Go one mile further and you’ll reach Owls Rest, where you can see Camelback Mountain to the south. While there are no facilities or water fountains on the trail, much of the trail is shaded due to how it winds between the mountain.
Camelback Mountain is quintessential Phoenix, with its iconic shape. Bobby’s Rock Trail is one of the easiest routes on this otherwise-challenging mountain, with an elevation change of 200 feet. This quarter-mile trail follows the Echo Canyon summit trail out of the parking lot, and is perfect for families and younger kids. For those who desire more of a challenge, and amazing views, the Echo Canyon Trail is a very difficult 1.23-mile hike to the summit, ascending 1,280 feet to 2,704 feet above sea level. The trail can be very crowded and parking is very limited on the weekends, but the payoff is worth it with vistas that demand to be photographed. The Cholla Trail is on the back side of Camelback Mountain (accessible via 64th Street) and, while challenging, is easier to navigate because it’s not as crowded as Echo Canyon. With gains of 1,300 feet over 1.42 miles, the first 1.1 miles are standard trail hiking with the last third of a mile a scramble over rocks in the “saddle” of the mountain.
A final option to consider is the Thunderbird Conservation Park, west of Phoenix in Glendale. About 20 minutes from Scottsdale and North Phoenix, this gem of a park is not as well-known as other hiking spots, but it offers equally beautiful vistas with fewer crowds. With over 20 miles of trails (labelled H-1 to H-5), the longest hike in this park is the H-1 hike. An approximately 5-mile hike at the ridgeline (with a 400-foot elevation) with switchbacks to the summit, results in a beginning to intermediate level hike that can be completed in about 2 hours. All ages and fitness levels will find a hike to enjoy in this beautiful little park.