I love to hike and spend time outdoors. Over the last few years, I've gradually been building up a list of my favorite hikes in the Phoenix area.
During our debt free journey, I was constantly looking for free activities. Hiking quickly became my number one free activity. All it takes is a pair of hiking shoes, a backpack with some basic supplies and you are ready to go. You can see my hiking list at the bottom of this post.
Since it is the summer, the first few routes are all water related hikes that I love doing this time of year. I also included a list of classic hikes that are easily accessible to those living in Phoenix.
I've tried to break down this list based on appropriate ages as well. Please keep in mind that every child is different and the age ranges are general guides. If your child hasn't been hiking don't start out with the upper-level hiking.
If you are hiking with a baby or a toddler, you may want to check out my post: How to Hike With Your Baby and Enjoy the Experience.
Water Holes and Stream Hikes Near Phoenix
Christopher Creek /Box Canyon - Payson
Christopher Creek is a ¼- ½ miles easy hike to a beautiful gorge with a few water holes. Follow the directions below to reach the main creek. From there you can work your way down as far as you feel safe.
Technically you can traverse the entire route without ropes, but I would not recommend it unless you are familiar with the area and comfortable with class 3 rock scrambling. For the more adventurous this route can also be done as a technical canyoneering route.
From Phoenix drive northeast on State Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) to Payson. In downtown Payson turn right (east) on Highway 260 for about 19 miles. Just past mile marker 271 park at a pull out on the right side of the road. ADOT has been doing extensive construction in this area and the last time I was there the parking was very limited. Go early or you will most likely be hiking along the highway to the trail head.
Age Range: 8+
Fossil Springs - Strawberry/Payson Area
Fossil Springs is a beautiful oasis with awesome swimming holes, rope swings and cliff jumping. The hike in and out is four miles each way on an old dirt road. The hike isn’t particularly hard, but coming out gets pretty tiring.
Take Highway 87 towards Payson. You'll pass Payson, Pine, and then you'll come to Strawberry. At Strawberry take a left on Fossil Creek Road. Stay on it for about 5 miles. The first 2 miles or so is paved, the next 3 miles will be on a well-maintained dirt road that any car can drive on. After about 5 miles on Fossil Creek Road, you'll see a turnoff that leads to a parking lot on the right side.
Editors Note: Since this article was posted the Forest Service has begun a lottery system for Fossil Creek. Please make sure and apply for the lottery here. You will get caught if you try and poach, this is a very popular area and the ranger check permits.
Age Range: 12+
Water Wheel - Payson Area
Wagon Wheel is named after the local campground in the area. It is a series of water holes along the creek bed just north of Payson. This is a very easy area to reach and some of the first waterholes are right next to the road and are easily reachable by small kids.
You’ll find a couple of really fun water holes ¼- ½ mile upstream for the older kids including a couple of really fun cliff diving spots.
There is a campground right next to the stream, but I wasn’t able to locate any information on costs or who it is managed by.
From Phoenix, take Arizona 87 (the Beeline Highway) north to Payson. About 2 miles north of Arizona 260, turn east (right) onto Houston Mesa Road and continue 7.6 miles to a large camping/picnic site on the right. Park here and walk up the creek.
Age Range: Any Age
West Oak Creek Canyon - Sedona Area
West Oak Creek Canyon is my favorite hike in the Sedona Area. It can be done as an up and back day hike or a 14 mile through hike. The first three miles of the trail very easy and worth the views. I’ve seen very young kids 1-2 miles in on this hike. You will cross the stream a few times, but can easily stay dry.
After the three mile mark, you'll hit a narrow section that is usually at least thigh high and very cold. From there you will be in and out of the water and the scenery just gets more and more amazing. Most people hike up around 3-6 miles and then turn around.
Editors Note: Since this post was written a huge flash flood came in and cleared out the narrow section at the three-mile mark. This means you can easily go further back into the canyon.
From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Sedona (exit for 179). Turn left on 179 and follow it through the town of Oak Creek to Sedona. At the 'T' intersection turn right onto Highway 89A and follow it up Oak Creek Canyon just past mile marker 385 to the Oak Creek Trailhead which is on the left (west). Parking is currently $7 per car, be aware that a Red Rock pass is not valid. Also, note that the gate to the parking area is locked at 8 pm.
Age Range: Any age for the first part, but the trail gets harder as you go.
Slide Rock State Park - Sedona Area
Slide Rock State Park is a natural slide and waterhole slightly north of Sedona. I think the area is absolutely gorgeous and love going, but it can get really crowded. I highly recommend going during the week if possible.
The access hike is less than ½ mile and very easy except the last part which drops you into the canyon. Taking small children would not be an issue.
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to Exit 298 (the Sedona exit), then follow Arizona 179 west and north about 15 miles into Sedona. Now take Arizona 89A north about 7 miles to the park.
Age Range: Any age, but you’ll most likely need to carry younger children at the end.
Favorite Hikes in the Phoenix Area
***Hiking in Phoenix during the summer can be very dangerous. Take plenty of water, start early and watch for rattlesnakes and other animals. Do not underestimate the summer heat!!!!***
South Mountain - South Phoenix
There is an extensive trail system throughout South Mountain. The main trails are accessible from Elliot/48th street or from Central South of Baseline. There is way too many trails to mention, but some of my favorites are The Desert Classic Trail, The Mormon Trail, The Atlas Trail, Telegraph Trail & National Trail.
The area is well maintained and the trails are all marked. This is an area that you can choose simple easy 1 mile trails or if you are legging up do a 20-mile loop. South Mountain is also a huge Mountain bike and bouldering area.
Camelback Mountain is a strenuous steep climb in downtown Phoenix. I love this hike, but it can be very, very busy during the winter. If you are hiking for peace and tranquility this is not the hike for you.
There are two routes for hiking Camelback Mountain – Echo Canyon and Cholla Lane. I think most people in Phoenix know how to get here, but check out Todd’s Desert Hiking Guide for additional directions.
Age Range: 8+
Piestewa Peak - North Phoenix
Piestewa Peak is another intercity hike similar to Camelback Mountain in the Phoenix Metro area. There are three hiking routes in lengths of 2.4, 3.7 & 4.7 miles. Additional information can be found here.
The trailhead is located in the parking lot at the first driveway on the left in the Phoenix Mountains Park. To reach the trail to Piestewa's Summit, turn east on Squaw Peak Drive from Lincoln Drive between 22nd and 24th streets.
Age Range: 8+
Pinnacle Peak - North Scottsdale
Pinnacle Peak is a 3 ½ Mile round trip moderate hike in Northern Scottsdale. The trail is well maintained and can be very busy at times.
There is also great rock climbing in the area. I've never actually done the entire route since I've always been there to climb.
Flat Iron is one of my all time favorite hikes in the Superstition Mountains. This is not a hike for beginners. The hike can get very rugged and steep in spots. It is a five-mile round trip and typically takes 4-7 hours to complete.
From Mesa follow Highway 60 East to Idaho Road. Turn North onto Idaho Road which is SR88 and follow North 2.2 miles. SR88 bends right just past Scenic St. and Idaho continues North. Be sure to go right and stay on SR88. Follow SR88 4.9 miles to the Lost Dutchman State Park. Turn right into the park. Pay the fee then follow the signs to the trailhead.
Age: 12+; This is not a hike for beginners
San Tan Mountains
Extensive trail system just south of us similar to South Mountain. If you use the main entrance you have to pay, but there are a ton of trails you can access on the north side of the mountain. I personally love doing the Dynamite - San Tan Loop.
From the Phoenix area go east on Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway) through Mesa and past the new 202 overpass to Ellsworth. Go south on Ellsworth about 12 miles to Hunt Highway (Ellsworth basically ends at Hunt Highway). Turn left (east) on Hunt Highway and go to Thompson Road (clearly marked) and turn south. Go to Phillips Road and turn west (right) to the park entrance. From Hunt Highway signs clearly, mark the way to San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
This website is horrible and doesn’t do justice to the area. If you want to camp or canoe at one of the lakes this is my personal favorite.
Phoenix area hiking is amazing, but it is desert hiking which means you need to be prepared. If you are new to hiking you may want to check out my list below.
What I carry in my pack:
Camelback backpack or some other similar hydration pack - always take 2-3 liters of water even on short hikes in Arizona. Even if you are prepared you will inevitably run into people who aren't prepared. I count on giving away half of my water virtually anytime I hike in South Moutain, Camelback or Pinnacle Peak.
If possible I also recommend a good pair of hiking shoes. I personally love using approach shoes when hiking in Phoenix. They have a type of rock climbing rubber and grip rocks significantly better than most hiking boots. However, the rubber is a lot softer and you'll wear them out quicker than traditional hiking boots.