Blessed with dozens of scalable summits and tempting trails within a half-hour drive from Downtown, Phoenix is rightly regarded as America’s premier hiking metropolis. Dedicated elevation junkies can take our “7 Summit Challenge” by conquering seven of the city’s highest peaks during hiking season… or over a single weekend. Camelback Mountain Piestewa Peak Shaw Butte Lookout Mountain South Mountain North Mountain Dixie Mountain Union Peak
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
The mountain’s most popular trail – Echo Canyon – is also its most technical, with two vertical railings and a boulder scramble on the final third. The surrounding red sandstone cliffs are home to a variety of small animals (rabbits, squirrels, rattlesnakes) and plants (saguaro, cholla, prickly pear). Bring plenty of water, as there’s no water source at the trailhead. Prepare for a jaw-dropping spectacle.
Distance: 1.2 miles to summit
Elevation: 2,707 feet
Location: 4925 E. McDonald Dr.; 6131 E. Cholla Ln.
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Hardy hikers earn their blisters on the Summit Trail, a heavily trafficked old horse trail with a dozen-plus switchbacks. The reward is a postcard-perfect view of Phoenix, and nicely worked-out quadricep muscles. For less physical stress and thinner crowds, embark on the Circumference Trail, accessible from the Hopi Trailhead (the first left after the Ranger Station).
Distance: 2.4 miles round trip (Summit); 3.6 miles round trip (Circumference)
Elevation: 2,612 feet
Location: 7200 N. Squaw Peak Dr.
The road that leads to the antennae-cluttered summit is a mash-up of steep dirt tread and crumbling pavement. While an up-and-back trek is the most common way to attack the hike, it may also be done as a loop by descending via sketchy switchbacks on the mountain’s south face and pivoting north back to the trailhead. Either way, the trip is about the same length.
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Elevation: 2,149 feet
Location: 12898 N. Central Ave.
Lookout Mountain Preserve
It’s just over a half-mile to the top of craggy and compact Lookout Mountain. But the rough-cut route – which climbs 474 feet – is steep, slippery and exposed, which might surprise hikers who assume an easy check-off on the summit list. Although it’s last on the list in terms of height, this mini but mighty pinnacle delivers some of the best North Valley vistas of the bunch.
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 2,054 feet
Location: Lookout Mountain Trailhead, 15600 N. 16th St.
South Mountain Park & Preserve
Truth be told, it’s not possible to hike to the actual summit of South Mountain – at 2,690 feet, Mount Suppoa is the highest point of the three parallel ranges that make up South Mountain Park & Preserve, but it’s not open to the public. Still, getting close is not a problem, and can be experienced by hiking up the Holbert Trail. The sinuous single-track that wends up the north face of the park’s Guadalupe range tops out at the Dobbins Lookout (2,330 feet), the loftiest walk-up point in the park.
Distance: 5.8 miles round trip
Elevation: 2,330 feet
Location: 10919 S. Central Ave.
North Mountain Park
Another favorite of the spandex-clad cardio workout crowd, the hike up this heavily traveled mountain follows a straight-up, no-frills paved road to a crown of communication towers. With a respectable 614 feet of elevation gain and a constant uphill grade, this one keeps the quads lubricated all the way up.
DISTANCE: 3.2 miles round trip
ELEVATION: 2,104 feet
LOCATION: Maricopa Trailhead, 10600 N. Seventh St.
Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
This one isn’t a straight shot. Located in the south sector of Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, the circuit begins on Hawk’s Nest trail with a mild, 0.4-mile uphill trudge to the Dixie Mountain Loop, where it veers right and continues on a moderate grade to the summit spur trail, a 0.2-mile workout that accounts for 90 percent of the sweat required to bag this one. Mitigated by switchbacks, the climb is a steady grind to the top, where views of North Valley suburbs extend from base to horizon.
DISTANCE: 4.26-mile loop
ELEVATION: 2,277 feet
LOCATION: Desert Vista Trailhead, 1900 W. Desert Vista Trail
Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
If you’re tackling the Dixie Mountain summit hike, it’s easy to bag a two-fer by looping in a hike up nearby Union Peak. The solitary knob overlooking acres of desert preserve with distant glimpses of Downtown Phoenix rounds up the summit challenge count to an even eight. Distance stats are measured from the trailhead, but other circuit options may be used by consulting the park map.
DISTANCE: 7.97 miles round trip
ELEVATION: 2,200 feet
LOCATION: Desert Vista Ttrailhead, 1900 W. Desert Vista Trail
This article first appeared in the 2023 City Guide, published by PHOENIX magazine in November 2022.
Blessed with dozens of scalable summits and tempting trails within a half-hour drive from Downtown, Phoenix is rightly regarded as America’s premier hiking metropolis. Dedicated elevation junkies can take our “7 Summit Challenge” by conquering seven of the city’s highest peaks during hiking season… or over a single weekend.