[Published in the December 2018 edition of the Deer Valley Times}
Phoenix is well known for its fantastic hiking trails. There are over 200 miles of trails on more than 41,000 acres in the City of Phoenix park system. Maricopa County has 10 regional parks with over 120,000 acres of open space and hundreds of miles of trails, campgrounds and nature centers. With so many miles of trails to explore and the beauty of the Sonoran Desert just outside the door, our family tries to get outside and hit the trail as often as possible. Here are a few of the area parks and trails we like best for hiking with kids, right here in the Valley of the Sun.
The White Tank Mountain Regional Park is one of our favorite places to hike. Located in the far west part of the valley, the White Tanks have a huge variety of hikes, including many flatter, shorter, kid-friendly adventures. The Waterfall trail is a short, wide trail with tons of petroglyphs and a real waterfall at the end (but go early, because it is also very popular). Other shorter, and less populated, trails that are good for kids include the Black Rock short and long loops and the Ironwood trail. The park also hosts a great playground, tons of picnic areas, and an excellent Visitor Center. Check out the map before you get to the trailhead, as many of the trails also go straight up the mountain.
We have been hitting the trails in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park since we moved to the Valley many years ago. The park has some beautiful flat hikes that are short enough for young little legs. The park also has a nice play area and a good Visitor Center, with many picnic areas. Located just north of Fountain Hills, this park has great views where you can experience the quiet breezes and active wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. The North Loop is a good choice for kids. It has about three miles of flat, wide trail with excellent desert and mountain views, but keep in mind there is absolutely no shade here. Be sure to take snacks, water, sunscreen and hats – and go early so the little ones don’t get too cranky.
The Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve is a relatively new Phoenix City Park, located between 19th Avenue and Cave Creek Road on Dove Valley Road. This preserve has beautiful hiking trails in the North Valley and is now home to one of our family’s favorite hikes in the Valley. We like to take the shorter Apache Wash Vista trail, but there are quite a few longer trails we are planning to try this year. As you hike this trail, keep a heads up – it’s a big favorite of trail bike riders, as well as hikers. Remember that bikes (and horses) always have the right of way, because they are bigger and going to fast to stop. Be sure to step to the side so they can pass.
Important Hiking Tips
Before you hit the trail take time to prepare for your hike. Bring water, snacks a hat and sunscreen. Watch the weather and dress appropriately – bring layers in the winter months and be prepared to stash jackets part way through the trail. Stay on the trail and keep your cell phone handy for emergencies. Make sure your kids understand the rules for hiking, that you have plenty of snacks for a quick energy boost. And I strongly recommend using the restroom before you hit the trail. The City of Phoenix has a great Take a Hike, Do it Right campaign with information on how to hike safely in the desert. Over 200 hikers on average are rescued on our trails each year – please be aware and take time to stay safe.
There are so many great places to hike in the Phoenix area that this is just the tip of the iceberg. For more information about all of the hiking trails in the Valley of the Sun, see the City of Phoenix (https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails) and Maricopa County (https://www.maricopacountyparks.net/) websites. And be sure to check out Ladybug’s Blog for more trail recommendations and tips for hiking with kids everywhere in Arizona!