As average daily highs dip south of 100 degrees, consider dusting off your hiking boots for an early morning hike at one of these great Valley destinations.
South Mountain: National Geographic recently featured the trails of South Mountain in making its case that Phoenix is one of America’s top 10 hiking cities. To anyone who has visited the largest municipal park in the world, it’s no surprise. With more nearly 17,000 acres and 58 miles of trail, South Mountain offers trails of varying lengths and difficulties as well as incredible views of downtown Phoenix.
Before you go, print out a map (http://0.tqn.com/d/phoenix/1/0/a/I/southmtnmap.jpg) so you’ll have a rough idea of the park’s layout while on the trails. I recommend parking at the Pima Canyon lot since it gives you access to several trailheads, including the Desert Classic and National trails. Access to the park and hiking trails is free.
Camelback Mountain: Two trails—Echo Canyon and Cholla—wind their way up 2,704 feet to the top of Camelback Mountain, and neither is for the faint of heart. Echo Canyon Trail, the steeper of the two, can be overcrowded, but the 2.2-mile route is one of the most popular trails in the metropolitan Phoenix area. Cholla Trail, on the other hand, is longer (3.8 miles) but not quite as steep.
Parking can be difficult, especially during peak times like early in the morning. Be prepared to park on the street and walk through the neighborhood to the trailhead. Like South Mountain, there is no fee to park or hike either trail.
Piestewa Peak: Formerly Squaw Peak, Piestewa Peak is named in memory of Lori Piestew, a Tuba City soldier who lost her life during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It has two major trails: the rocky, stair-like Summit Trail (1.2 miles) and the less-crowded and less challenging Freedom Trail (3.7 miles). Both offer great views, but the Summit Trail is definitely a workout while the Freedom Trail, formerly the Circumference Trail, allows you to experience more of the Sonoran Desert flora and fauna.
Paved parking, drinking water, and restrooms are available here. Again, access to the trails is free.
Superstition Mountain: Entire books have been written about hiking the Superstition Mountain area. Before you go, I recommend visiting the Lost Dutchman State Park website to decide whether you want to hike within the park or not. The park has several hiking options ranging from the very easy, ¼-mile Native Plant Trail to the extremely challenging hike up the Siphon Draw Trail all the way to the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip). Parking and facilities are available, but there is a $7/vehicle fee to visit.
You can hike area trails outside the park. For this, I suggest finding a good online resource or purchasing a book like 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, which will give you detailed trail information. Of the trails located outside of the state park, the 4.6-mile, out-and-back Peralta Trail is one of the more popular options. Depending on the hike you chose, there will be parking and maybe even restrooms at the trailhead. No fee is charged.
Papago Park: Several multi-use trails crisscross Papago Park, which includes the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, Governor Hunt’s tomb, and the Papago Buttes. You can make a 2-mile loop around the buttes, or take a more informal approach by parking and meander the trails. Be sure, though, to make it up to Hole-in-the-Rock, a short but moderately steep climb to a “hole” in the red sandstone overlooking the city, the park, and the zoo. There’s plenty of parking here, and there’s no charge to hike the trails.