The weather has FINALLY cooled down and hiking season is now here in Phoenix! But where should you hike? I cannot count how many times someone from out of town tells me they are hiking Camelback Mountain – a 1,280 ft gain in elevation over 1.14 miles via the Echo Canyon Trail – in the East Valley of the Metro Phoenix Metro Area. Which is forgivable since they don’t live here so what do they know? But then they tell me they were told to hike Camelback by a friend/family member/concierge or whatever local who should know there is a TON of hiking available in Phoenix. We have a “Hiking Forecast” on the local news every morning, cuz that is what we do from October through April in Phoenix – hike! Anyway, here are 5 butt kicking trails in the Phoenix area that are a good challenge, have killer views (not literally) and a real sense that you are hiking in a very unique desert environment, one that only the Sonoran Desert can offer.

Tom’s Thumb East End Loop-McDowell Sonoran Preserve: This hike is a challenging, 11-mile loop that includes East End, Windgate Pass, and Tom’s Thumb trails found within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in the Northeast Valley of the Phoenix Metro Area. This trail features amazing views as far as the west Valley on a good day, the Superstition Wilderness and Fountain Hills (hang out on top of the East End Trail long enough and you will see the world’s 4th tallest fountain reaching 560 ft). Once you get away from the busier Tom’s Thumb Trail, the East End trail is a seldom-used section of the hike that offers great solitude, and the route crosses one of the few springs in the Preserve. You will hike about a 2,500 foot elevation gain in this northern area of the McDowell Mountains. Did I mention the parking is oh so ample?!!

Black Top Mesa-Superstition Wilderness: The Superstition Wilderness is home to 100s of miles of trails of which you really cannot go wrong with anything you pick. Black Top Mesa has amazing views, stream crossings, mountain ascents (over 2,300ft gain), wildflowers, panorama galore, grasslands, challenge and seclusion. There are a couple ways to venture into the area but I like taking Dutchman’s Trail #104 (ample parking BTW at First Water Trail head) to Bull Pass Trail #129 where you will climb about 1,100 ft in just over 1 mile. The last 1/2 mile climb to the mesa (an unmarked leading up the mesa) is so worth the rather rocky and less trodden path with a completely changed landscape of grasslands, prickly pear cacti and breath taking views for Weaver’s Needle and 360 degree panorama of awesomeness.

Siphon Draw Trail to Flat Iron-Superstition Wilderness: This hike is the sh@*! You get it all – views, steepness, serious challenge, elevation gain and some areas that are not for the faint of heart. Afraid of heights? Do not ascend all the way up to the Flat Iron. Like to continue hiking in the future? Do not ascend this trail in the rain or if rain is in the forecast – it gets slippery, scary and dangerous. Starting at the Lost Dutchman State Park (good parking but does get busy), the Siphon Draw Trail provides an extremely strenuous climb up the Superstition Mountain. Don’t let this hike fool you. It starts on a well-trodden trail with little elevation gain. And then BLAMMO – you are climbing up an unofficial trail – 1,500 ft up to the top of the Flat Iron (it is called Flat Iron because, well, it looks like an iron – clever I know). The views extend 100 miles all around (on a clear day). You will be so glad you did it!

Alta Trail-South Mountain Regional ParkThis trail is considered one of the most challenging trails within South Mountain Park, but the steep climb to the ridge line rewards the hiker with a striking view of the desert landscape below. The 4.5 mile Alta Trail begins directly across the road from the parking area, located at the 2.5 mile marker of San Juan Road. The Alta Trail also may be accessed from the west end of San Juan Road (approximately 6.0 mile marker), where the Alta Trail meets the ending of the National Trail. While not as scenic as the other trails on this list, the 1,100 ft elevation gain is guaranteed to give you some 360 degree views of the entire surrounding Phoenix Metro area. Plus, South Mountain is more centrally located that the other hikes listed here.

Lookout Mountain – Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Another regional park surrounded by the City of Phoenix in the north of the Valley, Lookout Mountain is a hike that offers views, more seclusion without the serious butt workout the first 4 hikes will offer (not saying your butt won’t still appreciate the warm up). This is also a good hike if you need a quick workout without all the people. This 1 mile trail carries with it a 500 ft climb with some trails in the vicinity to add for a longer hike.

Disclaimer: Please take a map, compass and research these trails BEFORE hiking them. We are so not responsible for giving some minimal and not very specific advice and then you go out and get eaten by a squirrel or whatever impending danger you may encounter out in the wilderness. But we do have lots of other information on our website to help you succeed as a hiker (like not get lost or die) – so check it out!