The Phoenix area is blessed with many great wilderness preserves nearby, including some located right inside the incorporated cities within Maricopa County. All feature hiking trails to suit all fitness levels - from relatively flat strolls for casual hikes to trails guaranteed to give even the strongest a good workout.

Visitors from out of town, and even some locals, frequently ask our store staff about a few good places to go hiking, so we've put together our top 10 suggestions for good hikes that are all a short drive from central Phoenix. Some of our favorites are the trails you can hike in and around the Camelback Mountain area:

5701 N Echo Canyon Pkwy
Phoenix, AZ 85073
Ranger Office: (602) 261-8318
Administrative Office (regular business hours): (602) 495-5458
Note - parking is usually a pain except when it's midday during the summer

Camelback is the iconic hiking must-do for any serious hiker. The top of Camelback Mountain is about 2,704 feet above sea level. There are two summit trails up to it, each gaining more than 1,200 feet in elevation. There are a couple of short trails near the base on the Echo Canyon side which make for pleasant desert strolls, but the summit trails are the real deal. To quote one online reviewer:

Uhm, I'm not from Phoenix so when our friend suggested a hike, I was just expecting your normal hike with a little uphill action. We took the Echo Canyon Trail and it was the most intense uphill hike I have ever been on. We brought a water bottle without a sack - and that was a huge rookie mistake because you absolutely need both hands to climb up this mountain. The view from the top is breathtaking and you can see the entire city from there. I feel like I conquered the world coming up and then coming down this insane mountain.

You'll share the trails with smaller animals typical of the Sonoran Desert including cottontail rabbits, snakes, lizards, Harris antelope squirrels as well as a variety of birds. Rattlesnakes are common on the trail. Plant species are typical of those found in the lower Sonoran Desert and include saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, christmas, staghorn, cholla and prickly pear cacti. Tree species include palo verde, mesquite and ironwood, along with the ocotillo plant. You'll also share the trails - and parking lot - with half of Phoenix it seems sometimes.

There is a parking lot at the head for the Echo Canyon Trail to the summit, with a porta potty and water fountain. This strenuous 1.2 mile trail winds its way up the west side of the mountain to the top. The east side trail is named the Cholla Trail, at 1.6 miles a little less steep, but more scrambling at the very top. Park on Invergordon Road (64th St) and walk north up to Cholla Lane - the trail head is at the end of that street, about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from your car.

Buy supplies for your next hike up Camelback Mountain

Do consider the extreme weather potential before heading out on a hike here around Camelback Mountain or anywhere in the Phoenix area, especially if you are a first-time visitor. The best time to hike is October through April when temperatures are moderate or even cool in places. Between May and September though, it can be brutally hot, so head out at sunrise before things really get cooking!

Either way, make sure you're properly outfitted with the right shoes, hiking socks, snacks, day packs and other hiking gear before your next outdoor adventure. Just stop by LowerGear - your local retail camping store in Tempe, easily reached near the intersection of 101 and 202 east of the ASU campus.

Camelback Mountain is just one of our top 10 favorite hiking spots in the Phoenix area. We have trail and hiking information on the other 9 at the links below (with their general location vicinity). Click on the listing for more information on that hiking area.

South Mountain (south Phoenix / Ahwatukee)
Usery Mountain (east Mesa)
Estrella Mountains (west Phoenix / Goodyear)
Cave Creek Regional Park (north Phoenix / Cave Creek)
Piestawa Peak (north-central Phoenix)
Dreamy Draw (north-central Phoenix)
Lost Dog Wash (north-east Scottsdale)
McDowell Mountain Regional Park (north-east Scottsdale)
Papago Park (east Phoenix / southwest Scottsdale)