It's not always seasonally appropriate to bring a book to a Phoenix park, but when the weather cooperates, there's nothing lovelier than turning some pages under a gentle sun and a light breeze. And ever since the city's revitalization project gave the western edge of the Margaret T. Hance Park a heavy-duty makeover, the whole strip has come alive. The park connects opposite sides of Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix, features a beautiful array of trees and desert fauna, and provides space for families, skateboarders, joggers, and dog walkers. Most importantly, it also features ample spots to post up and read for a few hours during those beautiful days when we can bear to be outside.
Perfect for both veterans and first-time hikers, this guide by a lifelong Phoenician will have you jonesing for the perfect trail. And now you'll be able to find it, quickly and easily, among more than 75 great hikes in and around town. Take a Hike Phoenix, published by Moon Travel, allows readers to compare difficulty ratings and elevation gain with easy-to-read charts. Specifics like where to find the best wildlife and which trails are wheelchair-accessible are included here, too, as are detailed descriptions of what you'll find along each trail. Menconi offers maps for each trail as well as handy tips about desert safety and how to hydrate. Kid- and dog-friendly trails are reviewed, and lists of best views and driving directions make this the only hiking guide you'll need.
What's better than an in-town trail that gets you off the pavement but leaves you smack-dab in the heart of the city? On Murphy's Bridle Path, which was established more than 120 years ago by developer William J. Murphy, you'll find families on bikes, middle-aged athletes out for a power walk, and marathoners racing past. This is a city-approved path for both bikers and hikers, one that provides real live shade via dozens of mesquite trees strategically planted along Central Avenue. It runs from Dunlap Road down to just past Bethany Home Road and affords keen looky-loo views of some of our most gorgeous residential architecture.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale is more than 30 times the size of New York's Central Park. It's the largest urban preserve in the United States, and it certainly feels that way when hiking — whether you approach from Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, the Fountain Hills side, or from the far north. Within its roughly 120 miles of trails, there are so many unforgettable sights and experiences: the wind rushing and whistling at Windgate Pass, the dramatic stony face of Tom's Thumb, the way the rocks can abruptly change from slate-blue to Martian-red. Sometimes, you even see people on horseback. Always, it's a much-needed escape from the right angles and digital screens of life in the city.
This 2.5-mile out-and-back trail is perfect for anyone looking to fit in a short, but not exactly easy, day hike in South Mountain Park. You gain over 1,000 feet in elevation over the course of the hike and traverse a pretty diverse range of terrain while on the trail, including switchback sections, sandy washes, and minor rock scrambling. There's also a decent amount of shade along the trail for breaks and rocky outcrops to take in views of the Valley on your way up or down. At the trailhead, you'll find ample parking and public restrooms. You're rewarded at the top with abundant saguaros and more great views. The hike might leave you a bit fatigued afterward, but with the exertion comes the satisfaction of knowing you challenged yourself a bit on one of Phoenix's iconic mountains.
You probably don't want to take your relatives from Alberta or Connecticut on one of the Valley's double-black-diamond trails where they could risk their lives. Go easy on the old softies and take them to Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, which has several easy trails cutting through some of the most beautiful and lush Sonoran scenery in the state. We'd swear that a few hundred acres of Tucson's Saguaro National Monument must have been transferred here — there are so many of the desert's green giants at Spur Cross. Flat trails like Fairy Duster and Mariposa Hill are great for hikers of all ages. More intrepid non-Arizonans could try several intermediate trails that ascend low hills. Be sure to take lots of water, even for a short hike. Yes, there's even a double-diamond trail that goes up near the summit of the area's prominent Elephant Head formation, as long as you promise to keep your out-of-towners out of the news.
Is this the Valley's toughest hike? Get out there and try it! What's the worst that can happen? Quite a lot, actually. The Superstition Ridgeline is for advanced hikers only, and a mountain rescue or worse awaits anyone who doesn't take it very seriously. For starters, it's about 12 miles one way, with virtually no escape in between should things take a turn. You'll need a car or bicycle shuttle between trailheads. But let's focus on the fun: Prepare for full immersion in the Superstition Wilderness, with strenuous uphill sections, precarious boulder scrambling, navigation by cairns, world-class rock formations, Sonoran flora (albeit much of it torched from the 2020 Superstition Fire), and killer views of the southeast Valley. You'll climb and top out on several summits as you go, including the Superstitions' highest point. Take lots of water. It starts and ends at either Carney Springs trailhead near Peralta Trail or Siphon Draw Gully trailhead in Lost Dutchman Park — you decide which way to go. Either way, you've got a workout ahead of you.
If you're ready for lead-climbing, rock on. But it's not called the "sharp end" for nothing. With no rope fixed above to catch you in a fall, you take the rope up with you, tied to your harness, and clip into bolts or removable gear you place on the rock. If you fall, you fall twice as far as you are above your last piece of gear. So it's best to start on something with less catastrophic consequences if you screw up. Sassy is the one for you. Once you nail it, there are plenty of other climbs to tackle in the scenic Sonoran Conservancy. Sassy is technically easy, running up a low-angle slab about 70 feet to a tree, with a good crack on your left that takes all sorts of the above-mentioned protective gear. The low angle means you can stand for a while on the rocky slope at various phases of the climb, figuring out which piece of gear to use. Assuming you got some of the gear in right, a fall would mean lots of rock-rash, not death. That's a feature any climber new to the sport should appreciate.
For the avid climber or the beginner, and the old and young, PRG is a welcoming place. It's the kind of rock gym that makes both visitors and hardcore members feel good just for being there. Okay, sometimes it's that lung-bursting, forearm-burning, take-the-pain kind of good feeling, but you're not here just for the atmosphere of camaraderie or the Karabin Climbing Museum. You're here to test your skills, hopefully among friends, on challenging routes put up by people who know what they're doing. With climbing gyms, it's not just about the walls, but how the plastic holds on them are arranged, and this is where PRG excels, due to the enthusiasm its employees and owner Paul Diefenderfer have for climbing. The ratings are realistic, not soft. If you can climb a 5.12 or V5 at PRG, you can probably climb one at any gym. Spend some time at the PRG and you'll find friends — and muscles — you never knew you had.
One of the most underrated, and often underused, bike paths in town is the Rio Salado Pathway — which is why it's the best. A paved path along the Salt River shore, the 19-mile stretch runs from just south of downtown Phoenix to Mesa, nearish the Bass Pro Shops. What the path cuts through is pure urban Arizona. It runs parallel to Tempe Town Lake and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and courses through fields studded with creosote bushes, areas packed with wildlife and birds, and plenty of places to rest. While you're stopped, you may observe planes taking off and landing at Sky Harbor or watch ducks flapping around in a quarry down below, people popping around at Tempe Beach Park, or just wildflowers in general — during spring, of course. But the trek also dips through underpasses strewn with abandoned shopping carts (think of it like an obstacle course) and heads by Tempe Marketplace in case you need to stop by Target for a quick errand.