The Best Walking and Hiking Trails in Arizona
The state of Arizona features some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes on Earth. From deserts to mountains, from mesas to grasslands, Arizona offers some of the best locations for day hikes, mountain biking, and camping that will enthrall visitors of any outdoors experience level. When looking for the best walking trails in Arizona, residents of the Phoenix area have many options to choose from.
Below, you can find a list of just a few of the best walking trails in Arizona for casual hikers, more experienced hikers, and those looking for the ultimate outdoor challenge. Of course, the desert landscape offers unique challenges in addition to its unique views. So, when hiking in Arizona, always make sure to pack the right gear, bring plenty of water, and familiarize yourself with potential hazards before setting out on your trek.
Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area
Camelback Mountain offers arguably the best walking and hiking trails within the Phoenix Metropolitan Area itself. This mountain, located in the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area between Arcadia and Paradise Valley, was named for its distinctive resemblance to a camel lying on its stomach. Today, the mountain offers Phoenix residents two major hiking trails: Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail.
While both trails feature moderate to advanced levels of difficulty, Echo Canyon offers hikers steeper and more arduous climbs, while Cholla Trail offers longer hiking trips. Both trails, however, offer spectacular views of the mountain, the surrounding Sonoran Desert landscape, and many of Arizona’s unique flora and fauna, including: saguaro cactus, barrel cactuses, and creosote bushes.
Visitors to Camelback Mountain can also purchase a guided hike tour from an experienced hiking guide. These tours generally offer additional first aid and CPR expertise, water, digital pictures of the hike, and low-cost Camelback Mountain apparel. Finally, Camelback Mountain hiking trails also offer hikers the option of tracking their time to the summit, which they can then compare with those of other visitors to the mountain.
Difficulty rating: Moderate to expert
Lost Dutchman State Park
Located around 40 miles east of Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park offers numerous hiking trails and unparalleled views of the Superstition Mountains and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. The Superstition Mountains themselves are some of the most picturesque natural landmarks in the vicinity of the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale area. Lost Dutchman State Park offers off-road routes for visiting the mountains and the surrounding areas, with numerous trails designed specifically for hiking and mountain biking. Visitors to the park can access both the Superstition Mountains and the nearby Tonto National Forest.
In addition to its great views, Lost Dutchman State Park offers multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty. For example, beginner hikers, or those who simply want to enjoy the view with easy hikes, can take advantage of the park’s Native Plant Trail to get a great view of the park’s beautiful desert plant life. Visitors looking for more of a challenge can check out the more difficult Siphon Draw Trail, which rewards those who undertake the steep hike up the mountainside with a spectacular view at the summit!
Difficulty rating: Beginner to expert.
Bright Angel Trail: Grand Canyon National Park
No discussion of the best walking trails in Arizona would be complete without a mention of the crown jewel of the state’s natural landscape: the Grand Canyon. For as long as humans have inhabited the area, this national park and UNESCO World Heritage site has inspired awe and wonder in anyone lucky enough to see it.
Located near the city of Flagstaff in Northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a bit of a drive from Phoenix and its surrounding areas, with a one-day trip to the canyon spanning more than 200 miles and likely taking around two and a half hours. But, given the magnificence of the canyon itself and the quality of hikes you can find there, most Phoenix residents will find the trip more than worth it!
While the Grand Canyon National Park offers visitors numerous hiking and biking trails, most visitors capable of the hike will likely find that Bright Angel Trail offers the best, most immersive experience of the canyon. Bright Angel Trail follows a natural fault line that takes hikers down the canyon itself, through Indian Garden Springs, and the Colorado River, and ends at Bright Angel Campground at the bottom. The trail is over 9-miles with an elevation change of more than 4,000 feet. The majority of people will find that this is best undertaken in more than one day and plan to stay overnight at the bottom.
Today, the trail is well-maintained and clearly marked for the benefit of hikers of all skill levels. While on the trail, hikers can also see ancient pictographs etched into the surrounding rocks by Native Americans who inhabited the area hundreds of years ago.
Be aware that this is a difficult hike that requires a long, steep climb back to the top. If you are looking for beginner’s hikes at the Grand Canyon, check out the south rim’s Shoshone Point Trail, or the north rim’s Cape Royal Trail.
Difficulty rating: Expert.
Cathedral Rock Trail
Cathedral Rock Trail features exquisite views of Arizona’s Verde Valley and Coconino National Forest at only moderate degrees of difficulty, making this the perfect location for both casual and more advanced hikers looking to take in the state’s gorgeous scenery. Located near the city of Sedona, Cathedral Rock Trail is about 113 miles north of Phoenix, or about two hours by car.
Once there, hikers will find the trail itself relatively accessible. The entire hike is only a little over one mile in length and will take the average hiker about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. Still, the views speak for themselves, and visitors to the trail will experience the region’s breathtaking red sandstone formations and surrounding Northern Arizona wilderness.
Those looking for additional hikes in Sedona can also visit nearby Red Rock State Park, another collection of excellent walking trails that cut through beautiful red sandstone formations, and desert flora, and eventually to the banks of Oak Creek. From Red Rock’s visitors center, hikers can also schedule guided hikes and bird-watching tours.
Difficulty rating: Moderate.
Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument features numerous walking trails with some of the most unique views any visitor is likely to see during their lifetimes. Located in Southeastern Arizona near the city of Willcox, Chiricahua National Monument contains unique rock formations known as “balancing rocks” (so-named due to the presence of larger rocks “balanced” on smaller rocks or bedrock) and “hoodoos” (narrow spires of rock that form as the result of long-term wind erosion).
Chiricahua National Monument includes several walking and hiking trails of numerous degrees of difficulty, making it an excellent destination for hikers of all types of skill levels and comfort zones. Those looking for a simple, less strenuous hike can check out the Echo Canyon Grottos and Sugarloaf Mountain Trails, both only a little over a mile in length. More experienced hikers can visit the Echo Canyon Loop, Big Loop, and Chiricahua Natural Bridge Trails, which have more moderate difficulty requirements. Finally, those really looking for a challenge can try their hand at the 6.5-mile Heart of the Rocks Loop trail, or the even more difficult 15-mile Chiricahua Peak Trail. Regardless of difficulty level, all trails offer spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
Traveling from Phoenix, visitors will need to make a roughly 230-mile drive past Willcox, which will likely take about three hours. But with a landscape unlike any other in the world, most visitors will say that Chiricahua National Monument is a must-hike.
Difficulty rating: Beginner to expert.
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