Get outside and take a hike, but wondering where to start? In the Tempe/Phoenix area, there are many choices of hiking trails. Here’s a quick guide to some of our favorite Tempe and Phoenix hiking trails.
Papago Park offers several easy hikes to choose from and, it’s easy to get to from any part of the Valley. The trailhead, just west of the parking lot at College and Curry, is an easy hike that provides views of Downtown Tempe and Tempe Town Lake from the summits. This trail is also home to Loma del Rio, a Hohokam ruin. To get to the ruin, continue along the path towards the freeway and then veer right. Once you pass the summit of the next hill, you’ll see the ruin next to a ramada.
There’s another popular trailhead on the west side of Papago Park. You can access it by turning west into the parking lot just across Galvin Parkway from the entrance to The Phoenix Zoo, located just north of Van Buren. Here you can access the Double Butte Loop, a trail that is great for mountain bikers and hikers, leading north towards the picturesque red buttes.
And, perhaps the most well-traveled path in Papago Park leads to Hole in the Rock, a very appropriately named butte. You can get to this trail by entering The Phoenix Zoo parking lot. Turn left once you enter the zoo and continue until you see an additional parking lot near the butte, next to the lagoon. The trail to Hole in the Rock is a quick hike, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. This is a really popular spot, especially around the time that the sun is setting, but the view from the top is just lovely.
Papago Park is great for hiking, biking and bringing your dog. View an overview of the park with more information on all the trails.
South Mountain Park
The trails on the east side of South Mountain Park and Preserve, the country’s largest municipal park can be accessed from 48th Street, just north of Guadalupe Rd. You can also enter the Arizona Grand Resort off of Baseline and the I-10, and go south past the resort and golf course, turn right on Guadalupe and right on 48th Street. There are multiple trail options here, from flat paths to challenging climbs that are popular for hikers and bikers.
One of my favorites is the Marcos De Niza Trail. Just a few ways southwest of Tempe, this trail is rated as moderate and is a 1.7 mile loop trail. It has an amazing view of the Phoenix desert landscape. This trail is a great workout and perfect for a quick getaway from the city.
The trails vary from quick trips to longer hikes. Some trails are relatively flat and others are more steep. Check the City of Phoenix website for more detailed information about South Mountain trails.
Perhaps one of the most accessible hikes is “A” Mountain (aka Hayden Butte), located in Downtown Tempe. There are trailheads located behind Tempe Mission Palms Hotel off of Third and Fourth Street and Mill Avenue, behind the Hayden Flour Mill at Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway and behind the Tempe Transportation Center on Veterans Way and College Avenue. Like most trails in the area, this is a preserve, so just look for the trailhead signs and stay on the marked paths. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for petroglyphs that were left by Tempe’s first settlers, the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People. The last part of the hike is steep, but the view from the top is a great reward for work well done. And, when you’re finished, the restaurants and taverns along Mill Avenue are ultra-convenient.
Although not a trail for biking, this is definitely the one to hike for amazing views of Tempe and the surrounding desert. Bring your dog on a leash and enjoy the short and sweet hike that provides a great workout.
Another great spot for a hike is Piestewa Peak. It is basically StairMaster heaven! It is a great leg workout for sure, but the views of the valley from the top is amazing. Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area and Dreamy Draw Recreation Area surround the base of Piestewa Peak. There are numerous trailheads in this area, but visit their website for updates on their Trailhead Improvement Project to see the best entrance to your trail of choice. It’s not an easy hike, but it is a rewarding climb. This trail continues for quite a ways but of course you can choose the best stopping point for you. Be on the lookout for the sparkling white boulders along the path.
As one of more difficult hikes, Piestewa Peak is fairly steep and a great workout with views of Phoenix. View this map to see what others said about the trail and to learn more about Piestewa Peak.
This iconic landmark in Phoenix is said to look like a camel’s back (hence the name). There are two trailheads for Camelback Mountain, each with its own challenges. This is not an easy climb, so come prepared – flip flops will not serve you well. The Echo Canyon trailhead is located off of McDonald Drive, just east of Tatum Boulevard. There are a few very steep climbs on this trail. It’s definitely not for a beginning hiker. Going north on 44th Street past Camelback Road, the road will curve. Stay to the right and at the light at McDonald, continue east (right) and turn right on Echo Canyon Drive. There’s a parking lot at the end of the road. During peak hours, like weekend mornings, parking is at a premium so bring your patience along with your hiking boots! Hikers are no longer allowed to queue in a line and wait for a spot. The trail is open from sunrise to sunset for hikers to enjoy beautiful views of the city. Dogs are no longer permitted on either trail, but you are sure to see your fair share of desert critters.
- NOTE: The Cholla Trailhead is currently being renovated with a new trail route. Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department began construction for this popular trail east side of Camelback Mountain on November 2021, which will include a new small restroom and a drinking fountain. The trail is expected to be completed by summer 2022.