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 Piestawa Peak area:
Phoenix Mountains Recreation Area
(main Piestewa Peak access, near Freeway 51 and Lincoln Drive)
2701 E. Squaw Peak Drive
Long used for mining and grazing, the 2,608' Piestewa Peak did not become a city of Phoenix possession until 1959, when the area was annexed and a long-term lease agreement was signed with the state of Arizona. It later became one of the major rallying points for mountain preservation efforts.
The Phoenix Mountains are, geologically speaking, quite young. They were formed about 14 million years ago as the crust of the earth was gradually stretched from northeast to southwest, elevating mountain ranges and down-dropping the basins between them. Much of the area's rock is a metamorphic type of granite known as schist. Mercury mines were worked in the area of today's Dreamy Draw Recreation Area.
Flora in this area is typical of the lower Sonoran Desert and includes almost all varieties of Arizona cactus such as saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla and prickly pear. Trees and colorful shrubbery include palo verde, mesquite, ironwood trees, creosote (dominate), ocotillo, brittle bush, desert lavender and giant sage shrubs.
Reptiles and wildlife that thrive in the preserve are gila monster, horned lizard and chuckwalla. Hikers also can encounter rattlesnakes - frequently if you find yourself off trail. The mammal population includes coyote, jackrabbit, cottontail rabbit, ground squirrel and kit fox. There are more than 54 species of birds from the turkey vulture to mockingbirds, cactus wrens, gamble's quail and several species of owls and hawks.
There are approximately fifteen miles of interconnecting trails in the Preserve, ranging from easy to difficult. The Piestewa Peak Summit Trail gains 1,190 feet in 1.2 miles and is climbed thousands of times per week by locals and visitors seeking a cardio-vascular workout, great views, or a family outing. No water is available on the trail and the hike takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on each hiker's capabilities. The path is mostly well marked, and you won't be alone most days; this trail is in the middle of several millions folks.
If you feel the need to escape from the throngs, you can always extend your return journey along the much less travelled Circumference Trail which traces a flanking route around the mountain. The trip around the mountain measures around 3.1 miles from the peak trail and back to the trailhead.
Do consider the extreme weather potential before heading out on a hike here around Piestawa Peak 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 camping supply store in Tempe, easily reached near the intersection of 101 and 202 east of the ASU campus.
Piestawa Peak 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.
Usery Mountain (east Mesa)
Estrella Mountains (west Phoenix / Goodyear)
Cave Creek Regional Park (north Phoenix / Cave Creek)
Camelback Mountain (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)
South Mountain (south Phoenix / Ahwatukee)