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The Best Hikes in Arizona

After living in New York for six years we decided to give another U.S. state a try. California was high on the list but one of the reasons to move was for more affordable living so that ruled that one out. Thinking it would be nice to have sunny weather (coming from England endless sunshine is a novelty) and having visited Phoenix a few times on business, we chose Arizona as our next home.

By Victoria Perkins
Managing Partner
Tuesday 21 Jan 2020
I can remember the actual moment we decided to go for it.  We were staying at the beautiful Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, sipping champagne on the terrace of our luxury hillside suite. Watching the most glorious sunset we both said, “Yeah, I think we could live here”. And we did for the next 12 years.

We moved back to England about 2½ years ago and seems like we are still getting adjusted to this familiar but new way of life. There are things and people I miss from Arizona. In this blog and more to follow I will share a few of my favourite things starting with … here are the best hikes in Arizona.

You are surrounded by mountains pretty much anywhere you go. Even in the urban/suburban areas the mountains are always there and become your compass. Not only does this make for great scenery but some of the most amazing hikes. You are rewarded for your hard work by endless views and hidden gems like the waterfalls in Sedona or the Native American hieroglyphics and ancient rockflows of Gold Canyon.

There are mountains and hikes to suit any mood – want a challenge and bragging rights? Then Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale is for you. With an elevation of 2,704ft it gets fairly steep in parts and there are hand rails to help you up. This is an intense workout and will test your fitness levels. Please be sensible and prepared, you don’t want to be that person that has to be air lifted off the mountain, and yes that happens more than you think.

A Gentle Stroll

Perhaps a more gentle stroll through cacti and wildlife is more your speed, if so head to South Mountain in Phoenix. This is a vast preserve with more than 16,000 acres containing three mountain ranges and over 51 miles of trails. You can also mountain bike or go by horseback if you prefer. Once you’ve finished here I highly recommend visiting The Farm at South Mountain for much needed refreshment. It’s a sweet outdoor spot with farm to table food, boutique shops and working gardens. Follow them on Facebook here.

Time on Your Hands

If you have plenty of time on your hands and want longer hikes in Arizona then I suggest Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa. The Pass Mountain Trail is 7.1 miles and has a good balance of easy to moderate moments. Give yourself at least 3+ hours to do this comfortably. This will give you time to rest, snack and take in the magnificent views. There is also a much shorter but much steeper trail in this park called the Wind Cave trail. After some leg busting climbs you will arrive at the top and once again the view will be your reward. This trail can get very busy at the weekends so arrive early to get a head start.

A Work Out

For a heart-pumping, cardio-vascular workout that will test your endurance and leg power check out Piestewa Peak Summit Trail in Phoenix. The elevation gain is 1,208ft in 1.2 miles which doesn’t sound too bad but this trail is much harder than it looks. At some points it’s like an outdoor stairmaster! If you make it to the top, go ahead and have your Rocky moment…you earned it.

Hikes in Arizona outside the Phoenix Valley

If you’re heading to Sedona at any point (about a 1.5 hour drive from Phoenix) there are many hikes with cooling water spots, falls and holes to choose from. Sedona is red rock country and the mountains will change colour throughout the day as the sun moves across them, so they never look the same twice.

There are over 120 trails in Sedona and the Oak Creek Canyon area is good place to start. Sedona is usually a little cooler than Phoenix so it will offer some relief from the (extremely) hot summer temperatures. Follow @VisitSedona on Instagram for inspirations – they do a great job showing off the beautiful mountain ranges and surrounding natural beauty.

The Grand Canyon

And lastly, we can’t talk hikes in Arizona without mentioning the mighty Grand Canyon. Their Facebook page is worth a follow, they keep you informed with weather conditions and tips. It’s possible to hike in and out the same day. That’s a hardcore way to do it and will have you digging deep into your “mind over matter” powers. Or you could hike down, stay over night in a cabin in Phantom Ranch, listen to some cowboy stories around the campfire and make your way back up the next day. This is not for the feint hearted either, it’s still extremely tough but your legs will have at least rested over night. If all else fails… we’ll send a mule down to get you.

This is just a handful of the hundreds/thousands of hikes and trails available in Arizona. It’s a vast and varied state and I think the change in landscape surprises most people. Wherever you choose to hike please be prepared, especially during the summer months when the temps can get up to 110f/43c. There is also very little shade to be found once you get going. These tips may seem obvious but having personally underestimated the sun and situation the first time we headed out, I’m going to share them anyway.

Hikes in Arizona – Top Tips

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate before you go and take plenty of water with you. Some but not all trails have a water station at the entrance but nothing throughout.

Wear sun protection and a hat all year round. Even when you think it’s a cloudy day, the sun will find you and do it’s best to burn you.

Start your hike early to beat the heat as much as possible. Unlike us newbies who rocked up to South Mountain close to midday, no water/hats/clue to be greeted by a Park Ranger who suggested we might want to come back another day. Mad dogs and Englishmen.

Keep alert for nature. Snakes and BIG spiders live in them there mountains. And cactus too. The Teddy Bear Cholla may sound cute and cuddly but its nickname is the “jumping cactus” because it will “jump” and attached itself to you, the dog and anything that brushes by it.

For more information on hikes in Arizona check out Arizona State Parks or Visit Arizona. “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” ~ Dr. Seuss

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