Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Serious Hiker? Head to Phoenix's Hottest Trailheads

Despite the fierce summer heat, Phoenix, Arizona is a great place for hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoorsy types. Hiking is a year-round activity in the Sonoran Desert. Over 200 miles of trails are available in the Phoenix metro area alone. If you're hitting the trails during the summer you'll want to get an early start — a very early start. While we all know it's a cardinal rule, always pack plenty of water. The dry desert heat wicks away sweat quickly and it's easy to get dehydrated without realizing it.

Weekends are especially busy at many of the parks and trailheads in Phoenix. You'll see (and pass) hikers of all levels. You'll even see families out enjoying nature. Though you're never far from civilization, don't forget that when you're on the trail you are in the wild. Be prepared to encounter snakes, scorpions, coyotes and other wildlife. Though run-ins are rare, it pays to be cautious and aware. Rattlesnake bites are only fatal in less than one percent of victims, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. They are, however, painful and can make it extremely uncomfortable to finish your hike and seek medical assistance.

Phoenix has a fantastic website you can use to find out more information about the trails and plan your hikes. If you're really hardcore though, these are our must-hike trails.

The National Trail - South Mountain

Can you hike 16 miles in one day? If you think "yes" the National Trail will test your mettle. While the trail itself is only 14.5 miles, you also have to account for one to one and a half miles of access roads. South Mountain is one of the most accessible hiking areas in the city. Cars can reach the top of the mountain via several roadways. Hiking paths criss-cross so you'll need to be aware of cairns and trail markers. Most of this beautiful and challenging hike is quiet and peaceful. Some portions will be busier as they are shared with more popular trails. We recommend starting on the eastern side of the trail to tackle the most difficult part of the hike early and finishing on the western side. Ideally you'll have a car to drop off at the end point and a second vehicle to drive to the starting point.

Lookout Mountain Summit

If you're looking for an aggressive and challenging climb, this is the trail for you. The summit trail itself is short, clocking in at just over half a mile each way. The challenge is in the elevation gain. This trail is rated difficult for the rocky terrain and steep incline. Like all hikes in Phoenix, this trail rating jumps in the summer. If you're feeling up for it, try the mountain loop before you summit. The elevation changes are relatively minor and it clocks in at about 2 and a half miles long.

Camelback Mountain

Unfortunately, through fall of 2013 or later, much of this mountain is closed for trail repair. Even though this is a difficult climb, it is a popular trail and is often crowded. If you do try Camelback, go early and try for a weekday. Weekends are hectic and hiking later in the day will have you exposed to full sun. The Cholla trail, the only trail to remain fully open to the public, is still a great challenge. Leave your trekking poles behind, you'll want your hands to help you grip the rock and make your way to the top.

Bonus Destination: Desert Botanical Gardens

When you're ready for something a little more relaxing, it's time to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens. You'll be in for less than two miles of flat walking, but you're really here for the scenery. Located in Phoenix, near Scottsdale, you can see the full gamut of indigenous desert plants. It's a bit of a hidden jewel, tucked away in the middle of the valley. The entrance is on Galvin Street, off of McDowell Road. McDowell is accessible from the I-10, Loop 101 or state route 143. If you're heading west on McDowell, Galvin is the first left after Hyundai Phoenix. If you're heading east, take your first major right after the tiny Papago airport.

Have you ever hiked in Phoenix? What was your favorite trail and why? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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