So many preserves, national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, recreation areas, trails – and so little time! It’s a hiker’s dream to have so many options, and so much variety, and truly we have it all here in the central Arizona / greater Phoenix area. These are the major trail systems in the greater Phoenix area – ranging from city, to county, to national parks.
Note that while the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Pinnacle Peak Park, both located in Scottsdale, are smaller, contiguous preserves, the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and the Maricopa County Regional Park System are a conglomeration of city and county run preserves with individual parks all over the city/county. Of course the Tonto National Forest is contiguous also, and holds enormous potential for exploration just a stone’s throw away.
I am possibly biased towards the McDowell Sonoran Preserve since it is my personal tramping ground, but I’m not alone in thinking that it is a jewel in the desert. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the largest urban preserve in the United States, and offers hikers everything from easy strolls with interpretive signing to significant and challenging hikes that can work to train the hiker in strength and endurance. See the McDowell Sonoran Preserve page for detailed information on hikes in this preserve, including distance, elevation gain, and GPS files available for download.
Pinnacle Peak Park
This small park warrants a mention because although it only has one trail, it’s a doozy of a hike! Pinnacle Peak Park is small in relative terms at 150 acres, with a trail that takes the hiker up and over Pinnacle Peak, with an accumulated elevation gain of 1,300 feet.
The Phoenix Mountains Preserve is an absolutely amazing system of mountain-centered trails on over 41,000 acres within the city of Phoenix. This system includes so many of the iconic hikes we’ve all heard of – even if we don’t live in the area: Camelback, Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak), and the Alta Trail in South Mountain. The city’s website on the trail system is a well put together source of information.
The Maricopa County Regional Park System is a real beauty – a well planned system of conservation areas comprising 10 parks encircling the Phoenix metropolitan area with more than 120,000 acres in all. The County’s Parks and Recreation web page is a great source of information on the parks including facilities, events, and locations. The parks offer a variety of recreation opportunities, including water recreation at the Lake Pleasant Regional Park. As you might imagine, there are also innumerable opportunities for hiking of all sorts, ranging from easy and interpretive trails to challenging hikes requiring some scrambling or climbing. Many lead to rewarding views of the valley.
Tonto National Forest
I’m blown away by this one. 3 million acres. The fifth largest forest in the United States. And, according to the US Forest Service, “one of the most visited ‘urban’ forests in the U.S.”
There are seven wilderness areas here, six with significant hiking opportunities:
- Four Peaks Wilderness
- Hell’s Gate Wilderness
- Mazatzal Wilderness
- Salome Wilderness
- Salt River canyon Wilderness
- Sierra Ancha Wilderness
- Superstition Wilderness