For either those not quite ready for the butt-kicking that some mountains around the Valley provide or others who simply want to try a new thing, there are plenty of easy hikes in Phoenix for the novice hiker. With proper hiking shoes, a good amount of water, and comfortable clothes, these five hikes (listed from easiest to most challenging) are feasible for any beginner looking to explore the desert trails in metro Phoenix.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park: Wagner Short Loop Trail A 1.6-mile flat trail through the north campground of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, this path is crisscrossed with many others that start around here. Despite the slight confusion at various forks in the road, it is a straightforward trail through washes and luscious desert. The path is particularly special in the spring, when the land is covered by huge patches of colorful wildflowers. Take in the views on this desert walk, as the McDowell Mountain range will provide a lovely back drop to this meandering desert trail.
Papago Park: Big Butte Loop Trail A multi-purpose path that is just over a mile, the Big Butte Loop Trail is easily accessed via nearby popular destinations like the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. Circumnavigating one of the larger sandstone buttes in the park, this trail begins at the Eliot Ramada and continues through the dry, red desert of Papago, passing the amphitheater on McDowell and gently curving back to the beginning. A level hike, the path is a geologist's dream, surrounded by interesting rock formations, though also providing us normal people with lovely views of the Valley and
a nice desert escape in the middle of town.
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Usery Mountain: Merkle Memorial Trail Just under a mile, this trail is a pleasantly flat hike that takes you through the beautiful mountain park surrounding Usery Mountain. A simple loop around Headquarters Hill, this nature walk is a great starting point for the desert explorer with informational placards of flora and fauna, as well as beautiful views of the Superstitions and benches on which to enjoy them. There is also the extra challenge of taking the brief half mile hike to the top of Headquarters Hill, a quick and steep ascent promising even more views, followed by a quick descent right back to where you started on the Merkle trail.
Piestewa Peak Park: Nature Trail A hike of 1.5 miles, this nature trail takes you through the east side of the popular Piestewa Peak park in Phoenix Mountains Reserve. This is no walk in the park, but it's suited to beginners who want a bit of a challenge. Though well-defined, the rocky trail can be tricky at times and may require bit of focused foot work, but the scenery will be worth it. For those new to the desert, informational signs about plant and animal life dot this trail, providing the perfect excuse for a break and learning more about your surroundings. This trail doesn't take you to a peak, but it guides the hiker around the circumference of an unnamed mountain, providing views of the city and park at various saddles and benched areas.
Pinnacle Peak Trail: An out-and-back trail of 1.75 miles (3.5 round trip), this is the hardest and longest hike of the list, but it's worth it for those beginners looking to start out strong. A rather flat hike, though there are a few steeper stretches, the well-defined trail is always monitored by the granite sentinel that is Pinnacle Peak. Mixing switchbacks and rolling hills, the trail is a wonderful way to explore the lush desert teeming with wildlife and plant life any time of year. With beautiful views of the North Valley and a unique desert-scape, the trail is worth doing twice — as you will have to when you get to the end and turn right back around to return to your car.