One of the best reasons to visit the Phoenix area in the winter months is to take advantage of the winter hiking season. December through February, the weather is perfect for hiking, typically reaching highs in the 60s and low 70s. If you are afraid of hiking in Phoenix because of a fear of rattlesnakes and scorpions, fear not! Because the temperatures are lower, the insects and rattlesnakes are dormant in the winter. We have seen rattlesnakes, but only in March. We have never seen a scorpion on a hike.
Mountains at Perfect Height for Geezer Hiking
The reason why Phoenix is so good for hiking is because the “Valley of the Sun” is surprisingly flat with mountains encircling the valley. There is a reason why the land is so flat. Billions of years ago the mountains in the area were 14,000 foot peaks, like the Rockies, and over millions of years sediments have filled in the valley up to the level where it is now. (Read more about Phoenix Area Geology in this article by Cronkite News.)
Phoenix is at 1086′ above sea level, and the tallest mountain in the city, Camelback Mountain, reaches a height of 2707′ above sea level. The result is that there are numerous mountains around the valley reaching the perfect height for an half day hiking trip. It’s an elevation change that can be conquered by active geezers!
Retirees flock to the Phoenix area for the winter, and one of the draws is the outstanding opportunities for winter hiking in the area. Because of its geology, there are numerous hikes up to beautiful peaks with stunning views very close at hand.
Our favorite hikes close to the Phoenix metropolitan area
Best time of day: We recommend going on this hike in the morning so that you can get the best possible lighting on the mountains.
Difficulty: The first half of the trail is paved so you would be able to push a wheelchair or stroller on it. You can see petroglyphs on the paved part of the trail. After the paved part of the trail ends there are steps that are for the most part the size of normal steps. The trail isn’t rocky and hiking boots aren’t necessary. Right before you arrive at the waterfall there are some larger steps. Depending on how much water there is in the pools outside of the cave, it can be a bit precarious finding rocks to step on to keep your feet dry.
Why we like it: This easy trail is our favorite because it has several petroglyphs along the way and a beautiful finish with a waterfall at the end of the trail. The only downside of this hike is that it doesn’t have as much challenge and is a bit less of a workout. We have seen more wildlife at the White Tank Mountains than at any other Phoenix area hike, and we even saw a rattlesnake on a less frequented trail. All of the cacti are beautiful at all the parks, but they may be even larger with more flowers at this park than others.
Best Time of Day: For the best photography, start your hike mid to late afternoon. The late day sun shining on the cliffs at superstition make the mountain glow in the evening.
Difficulty: The hike is mostly uphill with some small steps up along the way. The trail is a bit rocky and you may be more comfortable in hiking shoes.
Why we like it: The trail is a bit more challenging so after hiking the treasure loop trail you feel like you had a real workout. It is always better to do a loop than an out and back trail. At the top of the hike you see the Green Boulder and have beautiful views of the cliffs and of the valley below.
#3 Camelback Cholla and Echo Canyon Trails
Best time of day: Morning for the Cholla side and Afternoon for the Echo Canyon side.
Difficulty: To do the complete trail from beginning to end is extremely difficult. We did the entire trail, and it took us 8 hours. Of note, in the segment between the top and the first part of the Cholla Trail there are several cliffs and precarious steps that may make it feel like your life is at risk. We suggest hiking the Cholla Trail up to the heliopad and back, skipping the precarious section to the top, or hiking up Echo Canyon to the saddle.
Why we like it: Camelback Mountain is the most iconic mountain in the Phoenix area. It is the tallest mountain in Phoenix and stands apart from the other mountains. Both trails have spectacular views of both sides of the mountain. On the Echo Canyon side, about 1/4 of the way to the top, there are large handrails to help you get over some steep terrain. These handrails are really fun to use. It’s like a playground for adults. I wish there were more of these handrails, because it would make this trail more accessible for Active Geezers. If you would like a short and fairly easy hike, you can hike to the Camelback Saddle, and see views of North Scottsdale and downtown. Even this short hike is very rocky with lots of steps and steep inclines.
Parking: The downside of hiking Camelback Mountain is parking, especially on the Cholla side. You will have to park a long way away. On the Echo Canyon side, you will either find a parking spot…or you won’t. If there is no parking spot left, you are out of luck and may as well park somewhere else and take an Uber over to the park. Finding a spot on the weekend is almost impossible; however, during weekdays we usually see one or two spots open.
Best time of day: Anytime of day is fine for photography. The hike is primarily on the south side of the mountain.
Difficulty: The path is relatively easy, but better if you are wearing hiking shoes. The loop is smaller than most. We inadvertently got off the main trail and it was a bit challenging.
Why we like it: The ancient Indian ruins are fascinating! There are a lot of educational signs on the trail. We go back every year to see how it is recovering from the fire.
Parking: We haven’t had problems with parking even on the weekends.