7 Best Trails For Night Hiking in Metro Phoenix

It’s an extraordinary feeling, being out of the city and surrounded by wilderness as the sun begins to set. The desert comes alive in a whole new way. The beautiful colors of the sun begin to fade while the moon rises to help light the way. The birds suddenly quiet as the crickets make their presence known. The breezes hold a sense of mystery while shadows position themselves in the landscape. Night hiking is a great way to see the desert in a whole new light – or, well, darkness – and to help in forging your next evening trek, here are seven great trails for night hiking in the Phoenix metro area.

Note: The desert is quite different at night and certain precautions should be taken; for a few safety measures, see our tips for night hiking.

Sunset view from Apache Trail.
Sunset view from Apache Trail.

Apache Vista Loop Trail
Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Park Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Distance: 2.9 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Average Time: 1 to 1.5 hours

This is a great hike for catching one of Arizona’s breathtaking sunsets. At just under three miles, the Apache Vista Loop Trail offers an easy nature walk through the park. With slow ascending stretches for the first mile, you'll get far-reaching views of the desert. From there, the final half-mile jaunt to the peak opens up to amazing 360-degree views of this northern region of the Valley. Be sure to bring a camera, as these sunset views tend to be nothing less than outstanding.

View of the north Valley from Piestewa Peak.
View of the north Valley from Piestewa Peak.

Piestewa Peak
Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreational Area
Park Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. (trails open until 11 p.m.)
Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Average Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Piestewa is the second-highest peak in Phoenix with an elevation of 2,608 feet – a mere 100 feet shy of Camelback Mountain. This hike will have you working for the views – but they are well worth it. With a total elevation gain of just under 1,200 feet, this trek is a stair-stepping, switchback effort to the top. Once you get there, the views of the Valley are awe-inspiring. Add a sunset or the night lights of the city, and you’ve got a whole new experience. 

Sunset from the top of the Alta Trail on South Mountain.
Sunset from the top of the Alta Trail on South Mountain.

Alta Trail
South Mountain Regional Park
Park Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. (trails open until 11 p.m.)
Distance: 9 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Average Time: 5 hours

If you are looking to spend a little time under the night/evening sky, this may be the trail for you. At 9 miles out and back, this trail elevates you about 1,100 feet within the first mile to mile and a half. The views on the way up are incredible (and might have you thinking less about heart rate). The trail roams the north ridgeline, showing off dusky views of the west side of the Valley and the Estrella Mountains. It’s pretty nice to find this much solitude this close to the city.

 

Night sky over the city from North Mountain Park.EXPAND
Night sky over the city from North Mountain Park.

North Mountain National Trail
North Mountain Park
Park Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. (trails open until 11 p.m.)
Distance: 1.65 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Average Time: 1 hour

This is a short hike that will test your endurance with an estimated elevation gain of 600 feet in a short .82-mile trek to the summit. Yet, once you reach the towers at the top of the mountain be prepared for great views including Piestewa Peak to the East, the Estrella Mountains to the West, Lookout Mountain to the North and South Mountain to, well yes … to the south. For those a little skittish about being on the trails at night, a majority of this hike is on a paved road. 

McDowell Mountains at dusk.
McDowell Mountains at dusk.

Sonoran Trail
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Park Hours: Sunday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Distance: 5.4 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Average Time: 2.5 to 3 hours

If you are looking for a nice, charming little escape into nature, this out-and-back hike is for you. With elevation gain peaking at around 600 feet, this trail will gradually take you up, then gently down and through a couple of drainages, slightly ascending and descending throughout. The trails in this area are clean and well maintained and provide a great opportunity to see the desert lit by the moonlight.

A view of downtown Phoenix from South Mountain.
A view of downtown Phoenix from South Mountain.

Holbert Trail
South Mountain Regional Park
Park Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. (trails open until 11 p.m.)
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Average Time: 2.5 to 3 hours

This lookout point is widely considered one of the best places to watch the sunset. With an estimated elevation gain of around 1,100 feet, this hike will no doubt get your heart pumping. Yet, switchbacks the whole way up help in lessening the exhaustive blow that kind of elevation can carry. All of this will be forgotten once the views from the top come into play – they are spectacular. Not only will you see silhouettes of the Estrella Mountains and Four Peaks in the background, the entire downtown Phoenix will be buzzing with light, right before your eyes.  

Sun setting over Black Top Mesa in the Superstition Wilderness AreaEXPAND
Sun setting over Black Top Mesa in the Superstition Wilderness Area
Sara Palmer

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Black Top Mesa
Superstition Wilderness Area
Distance: 11.5 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Advanced
Average Time: 6 to 7 hours

While this hike offers a bit more of a challenge due to its length and elevation gain, it magnificently shows off the unique desert landscape as the sun begins to fall and the desert begins to turn under the night sky. At about the five-mile marker is where the hike begins ascending a little over 1,000 feet altogether, with almost 600 feet of it ascending to the black top mesa alone. It is nothing short of magical up at the top with the moon casting shadows on the Western Superstitions.

A Couple of Safety Reminders:
It is extremely important to know the trail you are about to hike well, having hiked it many times during the day, before attempting it in the evening.

As the sun sets, the desert begins to change and wildlife become much more active. It is imperative that you stay on the trails and are acutely aware of your surroundings.

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
South Mountain Park and Preserve
miles
North Mountain Park
miles
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Access Area

Thompson Peak Parkway between Bell Road and Legacy Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85259

www.mcdowellsonoran.org

miles
McDowell Mountain Regional Park

16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr.
Scottsdale, AZ 85255

480-471-0173

www.maricopa.gov/parks/mcdowell

miles
Lost Dutchman State Park

6109 N. Apache Trail
Apache Junction, AZ 85219

480-982-4485

www.pr.state.az.us/parks/lodu


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