Since I am back in Arizona for a quick minute before heading to New Jersey, New York, and finally, China(!!!) I figured its only fitting to write about my absolute favorite hikes in Arizona. Now, I am an avid hiker; I hike once a week at the very minimum and sometimes (weather permitting) upwards of 4 times in a week. I absolutely love being active, particularly if its outdoors. Because of my intense love of discovering new trails, I have hiked nearly every single mountain in Arizona; including all the popular trails, and many hidden paths.
So, in this post I will rate my absolute favorites.
Quick disclaimer, I do not like big crowds of hikers, especially loud ones and those that stop often to take selfies. That being said, Camelback is my least favorite trail. I have completed both sides (Echo Canyon and Cholla trailhead) and while its an amazing workout, there are too many people, and in my opinion its not a scenic and pretty hike. So many other mountains have more to offer. I will go over those!
My favorite trail (Difficulty 3-5/5)
Sunrise Peak, Mcdowell Mountain Range, Scottsdale (FREE)
In the summer when the temperature is ridiculously high, I would go to Sunrise Peak at around 4 am, hike to the top and watch the sunrise. This was my Sunday tradition before I moved to Korea. I find it to be such a beautiful trail. It starts off in Lost Dog Wash which is full of greenery, then you hike up a partly shaded mountain (unless its 5am, then its all shaded because ya know… no sun) up to the summit.
This trail is 5 miles round trip if you start at Lost Dog wash, hike to the peak and back; rating of 3/5 difficulty.
The trail is 10 miles if you decided to start at Lost dog wash, summit, then head down the other side of the mountain and back up to the summit and down to Lost Dog Wash (difficulty 5/5). I have done this twice and I love it because you see three different ecosystem types, but you definitely have to have enough energy and time for it. It takes me just over 3 hours to complete the 10 miles course.
Sunrise peak has two trailheads; both of the same difficulty, but Lost Dog Wash trailhead is a bit longer, prettier, has bathrooms, and water fountains. Also, it has a bigger parking lot.
This is my favorite trail for a plethora of reasons, but another thing that draws me in to it every time is the lack of people and the cleanliness. There are generally only 2 or 3 other people on the trail at any given time but I have been the only person at times. Its just quiet and calm, and not too hard that you feel like dying.
2nd favorite hike in Arizona
Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona (2/5 difficulty) parking permit required
I don’t know whether to call Oak Creek Canyon a hike really, as its more of a long walk but its one of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on. The entire hike is full of shade and greenery and you have to pass several creeks by strategically jumping over rocks which I love!
This trail is actually one of the most popular and famous in Arizona, but everytime I go there aren’t many people and its still very quiet. Plus the beauty really draws your attention the entire time. On days after rain, the creeks are very high and rapid and its pretty dangerous to pass so your concentration is strictly on not falling in. Going in the winter is particularly dangerous; its covered in sleet, raging water, and mud. I slipped roughly a million times along with my friends so we ere all cold and muddy and wet. I happened to get pre-frostbite as well so that’s good. BUT TAKE MY WORD, ITS THE BEST TRAIL. Oak Creek Canyon is a 6 mile round trip hike, but if you have the time and energy, it does continue an extra 11 miles in what’s called The Secret Mountain Wildnerness. Its given that name for good reason; literally no one knows about it.
Its pretty much a large area of canyons, panoramic views, cliffs, and arches. You can go as far or as near as you choose, but its 11 miles around the whole area. If you continue on the path you’ll end up back at the parking lot around 4-5 hours later.
The Hike with the absolute best views in Arizona
Humphreys Peak, Flagstaff (4/5 difficulty) free
Humphreys Peak is the tallest mountain in Arizona but it is not the longest trail. This is because you start at an altitude of 8000 feet and climb to 12000. Its a 9.5 miles hike out and back, and depending on your fitness level and willingness to take breaks it takes 3.5 to 6 hours to complete. I’m ridiculous and dont break until I’m at the top so the hike itself took me 3.5 hours (4 hours if you include my 30 minute picture/snack/taking in the view break at the peak)
Flagstaff is such a beautiful place to begin with, but on a clear day this peak allows you to see almost the entirety of Arizona, including but not limited to the Grand Canyon!
Definitely bring a lot of water and snacks. The altitude change does affect some so keep that in mind. Another thing to keep in mind is that the wind is SO STRONG at the top so go on a day that isn’t already windy at the bottom. The weather is spontaneous as well. When I went, it was actually a hot and sunny day but once I got to the top, storm cloud rolled in. But the storm clouds only hit the mountain and not Flagstaff which is why it wasn’t on the forecast. I found that soooo weird, Thankfully it started to rain when we were half way down and so we were covered by trees for the most part. If you live in Arizona you must hike this iconic mountain!
More favorite valley hikes
Toms Thumb Trail, Scottsdale (3/5 difficulty)
This trail is 4 miles round trip, well maintained trail, a moderate amount of people, but I find it to be a generally fun hike. I always spotted the Thumb shaped rock as I was driving north so I decided to google search what it even was. Upon learning that it is a popular trail, there was only one thing for me to do; HIKE IT. It was pretty steep and my butt felt it two days after which is my favorite feeling honestly!
Free, bathrooms and water at the parking lot, best when its cooler out because this trail gets full sun the whole way.
Piestewa Peak (formally Squaw Peak), Phoenix (2.5/5 difficulty)
I like this mountain because you can choose to summit, with the hoard of other people, or you can opt to do the circumference trail which is much longer, has no people, and offers better views. The Circumference trail is much more shaded and is 3.6 miles round trip. You can summit, making it even longer. Since the hike is only 1.5 hours I would definitely recommend summiting to add an extra half hour or hour.
Ellison Creek/ Waterwheel Falls, Payson (1/5)
This trail used to be top secret, but its recently become popular. Its only 2 miles but its so unique and has an interesting history behind it. It is a bit tricky to find (at least it was when I first went because it was not well known at all.
Start at the Water Wheel day use area in the Tonto National Forest. Follow the creek upstream and you’ll hit the first waterfall right away. You can swim in it if the water is high enough! Continue on to a second waterfall that is absolutely beautiful!
Continue upstream until you see the new sign “Water Wheel Waterfall and Swimming Hole”
Then you’ll see the famous little log that you can play on, because I’m a child, clearly.
Weavers Needle at Peralta Trailhead in east Mesa (3/5)
This trail is so cool; its rumored that there is gold hidden in the area so feel free to search for it. The needle is 1000 feet tall and you can hike to it or to a lookout. The entire hike is 6.6 miles round trip. Easy to find and moderately difficult.
You can stop where I am in this picture or you can climb down and walk to the needle (adds to the trip mileage and is not included n the 6 miles). It was extremely hot when my friend and I went so we chose to stop here (the most common thing to do), Very lush but not much shade; also very very few people. The trail is just very unique to Arizona. I’d recommend it completely. The drive is quite nice as well.
Flat Iron, Superstition Mountains (10/5 difficulty)
No seriously, this hike HURTS. I am in very good shape but my god I thought I’d die. Not only is this trail EXTREMELY steep, its also super slippery. Like I legitimately almost fell to my death because I slipped going down and slid at least a hundred feet; only stopping when I grabbed a rock in panic. Aside from that this hike proves your strength. If you can complete it, YOU’RE AMAZING. The view from the top is up there with Mount Humphreys. It took me about 5 hours to complete this trail because for once, I needed and wanted to take breaks.
The hike is just under 6 miles round trip with a 2,600 foot elevation gain. There is some rock climbing, but going up doesn’t require much thought; going down does however. The end requires to to climb up a large rock to get to the top. The difficulty of this trail makes it so incredibly fun. It really gives you an adrenaline rush and forces you to push yourself. Bring so much water and so much food. Seriously.
Devils Bridge, Sedona
Hidden Valley, South Mountain, Phoenix
Mount Lemmon, Tucson