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Jesse Weber | 12.15.2018

Ask a dozen random people, "What comes to mind about Phoenix, Arizona?" and you'll almost certainly hear things like: heat, sun, cactus, sand, backyard pools, or pro sports teams. Such characterizations are not wholly false, but they fail to paint the whole picture.

What you might not hear, unless you ask someone who's truly explored Phoenix: breathtaking sunsets, mountain vistas, desert flowers, refreshing lakes, summer rain showers, pleasant winters, and outdoor adventures. Indeed, there is more to Phoenix than you might have heard.

The Valley of the Sun is actually a great place to get outside. The city of Phoenix and Maricopa County boast several mountain parks, one of which—South Mountain—is the largest municipal park anywhere in the United States. All these parks have easy-access areas for casual visits as well as trails through more remote desert. What's more, the metro area ends at the bounds of expansive National Forest lands and wilderness areas, where endless exploration awaits.

The heat cannot be ignored, of course, but there are ways to beat it. The cooler months bring ideal weather for hiking, but early and late-day outings can be comfortable year round. There are also high-elevation areas that stay cooler than the city.

When in Arizona, we hope you'll step out of the AC for at least a little while and explore the underrated outdoors around you. Here are 15 hikes not to miss near Phoenix.

Easy

  • Scenic Trail: A loop in the McDowell Mountains that lives up to its name, with mountain vistas among proud saguaros over vivid desert.
  • Cat Peaks Trail: Short but sweet loop through a diversity of cacti and desert wildflowers, with the Superstition Mountains on the horizon.
  • Hieroglyphic Trail: Casual walk through the desert, past a seasonal waterfall to fascinating rock art from a pre-Columbian culture.
  • Quartz Loop Trail: Wind along a panoramic ridge among colorful cacti and glistening rocks in Cave Creek Regional Park.
  • Fat Man's Pass: Stroll through a giant saguaro forest on top of South Mountain to find a geological playground of little caves and a tight squeeze between boulders.
  • Yavapai Point: Hike to a viewpoint over the blue water of Lake Pleasant, with desert flowers, wildlife, and a swimming spot along the way.

Moderate

  • Camelback Mountain: Take on the steep ridge of Cholla Trail or the cliff-side staircase of Echo Canyon to the top of Scottsdale's local mountain.
  • Tom's Thumb: Hike rolling hills and switchbacks through a landscape of enormous boulders and elevated views over the McDowell Mountains.
  • Treasure Loop Trail: Climb to sweeping desert vistas at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, and ponder the location of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine.
  • Pass Mountain Loop: Circumnavigate Pass Mountain in a 7-mile loop with great views the whole way over Mesa, Apache Junction, and the Superstition Mountains.
  • Massacre Falls: Wander past mining ruins in a land with eerie history, and find a seasonal waterfall in the Superstition Wilderness.
  • Peralta Canyon Trail: Journey into the rugged Superstition Wilderness area, beneath the gaze of the mysterious Weaver's Needle mountain.

Difficult

  • Piestewa Peak Summit Trail: short but very steep scramble to an unbeatable panorama over Central Phoenix.
  • Pyramid Trail: Seekers of solitude should take this sustained climb up South Mountain's uncrowded south side and link with other trails on top of the mountain.
  • Siphon Draw to the Flatiron: Long hike and steep scramble to the top of the photo-famous cliffs above Lost Dutchman State Park.

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