Toscana of Desert Ridge is tucked away among the mountains that create the borders of the Phoenix area’s premier northeast valley. Not only does this create breathtaking views, but it also allows for various outdoor adventures. The mountains are often explored by locals, as well as visitors, and allow ample opportunities for activities like horseback riding, biking, and of course, hiking. Numerous trails wind through the peaks, providing options for beginners and advanced hikers alike. Selections of North Phoenix’s best hiking trails are detailed below.
Locals often refer to this area by its former name, Squaw Peak, though it was renamed some years ago in honor of the first female Native American soldier to die in combat. There is a less-crowded Circumference Trail that encircles the mountain, stretching a little over three beautiful, wildflower-covered miles, but most people trek the Summit Trail. The Summit reaches 2,608 feet into the air, making it the second-highest of all the Phoenix mountains. The climb up is a mere 1.2 miles, but few make it to the top due to the steep incline, areas of unsure footing and continual zigzags. At its best, the trail is considered moderate and at its worst, it’s difficult even for experienced hikers. Those who do make it all the way to the top are rewarded with awe-inspiring 360-degree views across the valley and surrounding mountains. Though the native wildlife tends to avoid the heavily traveled paths, a keen eye might be able to pick out a rabbit, kit fox, coyote, or one of the numerous species of reptiles that populate the area. Additionally, a glance skyward might reveal a turkey vulture, cactus wren, owl or hawk.
Located within Pinnacle Peak Park, and technically within the boundaries of the City of Scottsdale, lies one of the area’s most popular spots. The hiking trail is rated easy-to-moderate and can take anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete. The path curves around the mountainside, but does not loop back and each leg of the journey stretches about 1.75 miles with scores of ascents and descents. Although the summit can’t be reached without rock-climbing equipment, the hiking trail offers amazing views of the Sonoran Desert. The path is well-maintained, with numerous varieties of cacti dotting the landscape. Along the way, travelers might catch a glimpse of a bobcat, rattlesnake or lizard.
On the north side of the McDowell Mountains lays another gem. Though it’s also part of Scottsdale, it’s one of the closest hiking trailheads to Toscana and delivers one of the most rewarding expeditions of all the trails. Tom’s Thumb, occasionally called the East End Loop, is a trek best suited for experts and spans an incredible 11 miles. Unsure footing and steep slopes create a difficult hike, which often allows a hiker total solitude. Because this area receives slightly more rainfall than other portions, it also boasts more plants, as well as wildlife, and tends to be a few degrees cooler. The 1200-foot elevation gain allows for pristine views, including neighboring Pinnacle Peak. Hidden slightly off the trail is what’s known as “The Ogre’s Den.” Full of lore, this small cave holds some wall art, as well as trinkets that have been left by hikers of yore as offerings to its resident ogre.
The trails at Deem Hills are some of the newest in all of Phoenix. Because of this, they’re also incredibly well-maintained and have been meticulously marked. They’re not far from homes, and the surrounding recreation areas have become well-used by locals, which keeps much of the wildlife at bay. However, Deem Hills is unique in that there are numerous trailheads, of varying levels of difficulty close at hand. The Circumference Trail wraps around the entire area in an easy-to-moderate 5.73-mile loop that affords fantastic views of the city and adjoining mountains. Extending from the west side of The Circumference, toward the center is the Ridgeline Trail. This moderate-to-difficult hike reaches an elevation of 2,050 feet and stretches 1.25 miles. Two other moderate trails, Basalt and Palisade, cut through portions of the east end of The Circumference, as does Water Tank Road, which provides an easy 0.33-mile stretch of asphalt to walk.
Most of North Phoenix’s trails do not have water, so travelers must come well-prepared. The area has been nicknamed “The Valley of the Sun,” and for a good reason. Temperatures can climb incredibly high during the summer months, occasionally topping 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, hikers are encouraged to head out early during warmer months and also to bring a friend year-round. Despite the heat, the mountains of North Phoenix provide amazing hiking trails, exquisite views, and offer a one-of-a-kind experience.
For more information on these great hiking locations, check out Phoenix’s parks & trails website here!