Ranked as one of the best hiking cities in America by National Geographic, the Phoenix area offers plenty of sloped ground to cover. That’s great for the experienced hiker, but it leaves a novice hikers in need of a compass just to find a starting point.
If you’re ready to walk the walk, but not quite ready to rise to the challenge of some of the Valley’s tougher climbs, here are five easy-to-moderate hikes for beginners looking to explore Phoenix’s natural landscape.
Warning: No matter what time of the year you head outdoors in Phoenix, you run the risk of heat exhaustion if you aren’t careful. Make sure you know the signs and what to do to stay safe. Also, as of May 2017, dogs are not allowed on trails when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees.
1. McDowell Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park, in the Northeast Valley, offers more than 40 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders ranging from half-mile to 15.3-mile markers. Those just testing their legs on the hiking trail may want to try McDowell Mountain’s North Trail, which covers about 3 miles of fairly flat terrain and offers an up-close look at some of the desert landscape’s natural vegetation and wildlife. Don’t be surprised to see a deer or two, javelinas, coyotes and other critters along the trail — including the occasional rattlesnakes, so know these rattlesnake facts.
Good to know:
- Location: 16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr., MMRP, AZ 85268
- Admission to McDowell Mountain Regional Park costs $6 per vehicle
- There are 34 markers along the North Trail and hikers can take a self-guided tour with maps available at the park’s info kiosk
2. Papago Park
Papago Park’s hiking trails are known to be relatively easy and smooth. A walk through this 1,200-acre park will give also give beginner hikers access to popular Phoenix landmarks such as the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden along Papago’s Big Butte Loop Trail, which is among the easier trails in the park. Discover unique rock formations and desert vegetation along Papago’s various trails. The park also includes several picnic ramadas, fishing lagoons and attractions such Hole-in-the-Rock and as Hunt’s Tomb, the final resting place of late Arizona Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.
Good to know:
- Location: 625 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, AZ 85008
- Parking is available west of Galvin Parkway from sunrise to sunset
- A metal station exercise course lines 1.7 miles of the park for those looking for a little extra challenge; the course is located near the Parks Department Central District—East Office
3. North Mountain Park
North Mountain, located in North Phoenix, boasts several trails rated from easy — like the Penny Howe Barrier-Free Nature Trail — to difficult — like North Moutain National Trail. Hikers who venture to the top of the mountain will find breathtaking views of the city. The park contains a number of ramadas and picnic tables to sit back and enjoy lunch after a fun day of hiking. North Mountain’s Visitor Center also gives guests an up-close-and-personal tour of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the plants and animals in the area.
Good to know:
- Location: 12950 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, AZ 85022
- North Mountain’s National Trail travels north up an incline and set of steps that lead to a paved road up to the top of the mountain
- Paved parking, restrooms and water stations are available at most of the park’s entry points
4. South Mountain Park
Cutting across the lower edge of Phoenix, the South Mountains offer rugged, untamed wilderness, a spectacular view of the city and desert, and more than a dozen trails to explore. The trails range from easy hikes like the Judith Tunnell Accessible Trail — which includes informative markers, benches and plenty of shade — to the highly demanding Alta Trail that takes you to the South Mountain ridgeline.
Good to know:
- Location: 10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85042 (main entrance). You can enter the park a number of entrances, both from residential areas and dedicated trail heads that include paved parking lots and restrooms. See the full list of entrances.
- Most of the easy trails are primarily for equestrian use, so if you use them keep en eye out.
- The longest and most adventurous trail in the South Mountain Park, the National Trail, covers a huge distance of 14.5 miles, one way.
5. Lake Pleasant Regional Park
For those in the West Valley, Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers great scenery, nice camping spots, water activities from swimming to boating, and hiking trails around the lake that range from easy to moderate. Take a 2 mile jaunt out to Honeymoon Cover, or test your legs and lungs a bit more with the Yavapai Point hike, which starts easy and ends with a moderate climb. You can also walk the Discovery Center Trails, which feature interpretive markers that give you information about the desert landscape and wildlife.
Good to know:
- Location: Take I-17 north to Carefree Highway (SR 74). Travel 15 miles west on Carefree Highway and then turn at Castle Hot Spring Road. Travel north to Lake Pleasant Regional Park entrance.
- The park entry fee costs $6 per vehicle.
- Lake Pleasant makes a great place for water fun, but there are several more man-made lakes and reservoirs around the Valley as well. Click here to find out where they are and what activities they offer.
Note: In a previous version of this article, we included Piestawa Peak and Cambelback Mountain. While both of those peaks do contain shorter, easy-to-moderate trails at the base, the summit trails are some of the most difficult hikes in the area. To avoid confusion, and to keep beginning hikers safe, we removed those peaks from the list.
– Suzanne Wilson, Phoenix.org