The Valley of the Sun, by virtue of being a valley, is naturally surrounded by some of the country’s most majestic mountain-scapes. Tourists and residents alike flock to Phoenix and Scottsdale trails to tackle the challenge these mountains present. The chance to commune with nature is a strong lure: indigenous desert critters, breathtaking scenery and the blanket of spring wildflowers beckon hikers to explore Arizona’s trails. While most people are familiar with Camelback Mountain, that hike is only suggested if you’ve hiked before and are prepared for the short, but steep, climb. Never fear though—there are plenty of opportunities no matter your fitness level.
One of the most popular trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Gateway Loop covers 4.3 up-and-down miles with an elevation gain of 650 feet. The Preserve itself encompasses 30,500 acres and is the largest urban park in the United States. Given its residential location, Gateway attracts many hikers who add this trail to their regular routine. Parking is plentiful, and the hike can be completed in roughly two hours—making it the perfect start to your day. As an added bonus, Gateway Loop Trailhead features some of the nicest trail restrooms in the Valley, helpful volunteers and free Wi-Fi. 18333 N. Thompson Peak Road, Scottsdale
If you’ve wanted to walk into the clouds, Tom’s Thumb is for you. A steep hike with numerous switchbacks, this out-and-back trail offers an amazing payoff at the top: a captivating view of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale and beyond. Given the vastness of the Preserve, you can connect to other trails and even approach Tom’s Thumb from the south at Gateway Trailhead. Also at this location, you’ll have access to Marcus Landslide, which offers a geologic wonderland of amazing boulders. Tom’s Thumb is four miles with a 1,236-foot elevation gain; Marcus Landslide is a 4.1-mile lollipop with 518 feet in elevation change. 23015 N. 128th St., Scottsdale
Although in the vicinity of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Pinnacle Peak is a separate park managed by the City of Scottsdale. A quick trip out and back, this trail is popular with guests at the Four Seasons Resort, located nearby. At just 3.5 miles total, you might label this an easy hike, but your legs will be feeling the 1,300-foot cumulative elevation gain, which you’ll definitely feel on your return trip. However, the views of multimillion-dollar homes are stupendous, and the lookouts clearly illustrate which peaks you’re seeing—perfect for newbies and out-of-towners. 26802 N. 102nd Way, Scottsdale
North Mountain National Trail
A hidden gem in plain sight that is accessible from many entrance points, North Mountain is nestled in the heart of North Phoenix. A full-service visitor center is located across the street from Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, attracting many visitors for a quick jaunt. You can see the highlights with this short 2.3-mile loop on the National Trail that climbs 780 feet to deliver perfect views of downtown Phoenix, including the famed Camelback Mountain. This is a popular area for fitness hikes, with runners sharing the trails with hikers and mountain bikers. 10600 N. 7th St., Phoenix
If you have to do “the hike” in Phoenix, prepare for Camelback Mountain. Choose either Echo Trail (2.5 miles and 1,280 feet) or Cholla Trail (2.84 miles and 1,250 feet), or for the real go-getters, you can do both, either as a shuttle hike or out and back. Be sure to pack gloves since you’ll encounter handrails that can be slippery and hard to grip without some assistance. Camelback offers a true challenge for even the toughest athletes, and you may want to give yourself extra time not only to ascend but to enjoy the panoramic views at the peak. This is the hike you’ll boast about to your friends and family for years to come. Echo Trailhead: 4925 E. McDonald Drive, Phoenix; Cholla Trailhead: 6131 E. Cholla Lane, Paradise Valley