Challenging Phoenix-Area Hikes With Spectacular Views

These hikes aren’t for the weary, but the scenic rewards are worth the workout.

Valley-wide temperatures are ideal for daytime hikes year-round. The metropolitan area of Phoenix may be vast, but scenic hiking trails are within close proximity and offer spectacular views of the desert surroundings and city skylines. 

Popular mountains to summit include Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. Trails on both mountains lead to different vantage points of the Phoenix-metro area. Pinnacle Peak, Tom’s Thumb Trail and South Mountain’s Holbert Trail are located at the edges of the Valley and include a balance of nature and city sights. And an adventure deeper into the desert along the Peralta Trail exposes stunning natural rock formations in an atmosphere that feels far from civilization. 

Choose your distance and destination, fill up the water bottles, throw on your hiking attire and lather the sunscreen (yes, even in the winter). For those who venture out during warmer months, begin with the sunrise, hike with a buddy and take more water than you think you will need. These hikes aren’t for the weary, but the scenic rewards are worth the workout.


Camelback Mountain

Situated near the center of the Valley, the “camel’s back” is a strenuous summit to hike that rewards climbers with 360-degree views. Hikers have two trails to choose from, both begin from opposite sides of the mountain and gain about 1,200 feet to meet at the 2,704-foot summit. The Cholla Trail is accessed from a neighborhood side street called Cholla Lane (park on Invergordon Road) and climbs above private mansions and The Phoenician’s golf courses. Though the trail to the top is longer, it is a more gradual climb. The Echo Canyon Trail begins from a parking lot off of Paradise Valley’s McDonald Drive on the rockier, northwest side of the mountain and is so remarkably steep at some points that handrails and fences were permanently installed for climbing assistance. Both trails see floods of hikers during the cooler months, so weekdays are recommended. 

Camelback Mountain


Piestewa Peak Summit Trail

Nearly 90 trails map through the 41,000 acres of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, including those winding up and around Camelback Mountain, North Mountain, South Mountain and Piestewa Peak. The Piestewa Peak Summit Trail is located in the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area just off of Highway 51 on Northern Avenue in Phoenix. Though there are plenty of easy and moderate trails that meander throughout Dreamy Draw, the 1.2-mile, one-way trek to the top of the 2,608-foot peak is the most traveled route. Take your time and enjoy spectacular views of the Phoenix skyline along the way up (photo ops are also a perfect excuse for a rest and water break). Though your legs won’t burn quite as much as they do on Camelback Mountain’s Echo Trail, the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail is still classified as “extremely strenuous and difficult” by the City of Phoenix.

Piestewa Peak


Pinnacle Peak Trail

The Pinnacle Peak Trail does not lead to the summit of this precariously balanced mountain of boulders, but hikers still reach an elevation of 2,889 feet and gaze upon the north Valley’s golf course greens, mansions and desert landscapes. The well-traveled, out-and-back path is 1.75 miles one-way and the highest point is reached about a third of the way in. The Pinnacle Peak Trail is rated as moderately difficult, so it is often a favorite for families and beginner hikers looking for a challenge. The trailhead begins from a 90-space, paved parking lot just west of Alma School Road, north of Happy Valley Road in Scottsdale.  Pinnacle Peak


Holbert Trail to Dobbins Lookout

Dobbins Lookout is the highest accessible viewpoint within South Mountain’s 16,000-acre park. The lookout is situated at 2,330 feet in elevation and overlooks downtown Phoenix and the surrounding Valley. The path to get there is called Holbert Trail and begins at the base of the mountain on the east end of the activity complex, accessed from Central Avenue in Phoenix. The 5-mile out-and-back Holbert Trail is fairly steep with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet, and Dobbins Lookout is a short extension from the main trail. Yes, one can drive to Dobbins Lookout, but the reward is always better when a workout is involved. 

South Mountain


Tom’s Thumb Trail

Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve in the northeast Valley offers a handful of major trailheads with paths leading into 30,500 acres of desert. One of which features a moderate climb to the iconic rock formation of Tom’s Thumb. The new trailhead with access to Tom’s Thumb was opened by the City of Scottsdale in 2012 (Happy Valley Road to Ranch Gate Road to the trailhead) and offers plenty of parking spaces. The trail begins at en elevation of 2,805 feet and reaches 3,830 feet along the 4.3-mile round trip. For day hikers, the Tom’s Thumb East End Loop incorporates the East End and Windgate Pass trails for a total of 11 miles and a 2,500-foot elevation gain. 

Tom’s Thumb


Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle

East of the Valley, the Superstition Wilderness Area contains more than 160,000 acres, dozens of trails and rumors of lost gold mines. Among the more scenic routes is the 4.8-mile, out-and-back Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle. The moderate hike sees both steep and gradual climbs mixed in with areas of flat terrain. The turn-around area, called Fremont Saddle, is at 3,760 feet in elevation and is the ideal spot to rest and gaze upon Weaver’s Needle and other spiring rock formations. The trail can be extended to a 12.4-mile trek by descending the other side of Fremont Saddle and continuing on to the Dutchman Trail junction. The trailhead is the farthest drive from Phoenix—it is about 70 minutes east of Phoenix on Highway 60 to Peralta Road (eight miles of which is dirt)—but it is an easily accessible, peaceful escape from the city. 

Peralta Trail

 

Kimberly Gunning
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